Yes, you can sue a towing business for a number of reasons. They can illegally tow your car. They could damage it. They could damage your property. You may find that the property you had in the car is gone when you go to retrieve it from the impound.
You may be able to resolve your dispute by negotiating with the towing company without having to go to court. Since claims against towing companies are based on state law and state laws vary widely, you may want to speak with a lawyer to determine what your rights are and whether a lawsuit makes sense. in your situation.
What are towing companies doing?
Most people who own a car will need to hire a towing company at some point. Towing companies do more than provide towing services. They can:
- Get out of a snowbank with a tow truck if your car gets stuck
- Restart your battery if it dies
- Change punctures
- Bring you gasoline if you run out
- Make emergency repairs on your car so you can take it to a gas station
- Transport assistance for motorcycles and other vehicles
Calling in a towing company usually means something is wrong. Plus, having to pay towing and storage costs can be frustrating for any vehicle owner. But they can provide vital services to stranded motorists.
What gives towing companies the right to tow your car?
Most states allow towing companies to tow and impound your car in certain special cases. For example, if you are parked on private property without permission, a private owner can usually have your car towed. This may include towing your car from:
- An apartment complex
- The residence of a private owner (as if you are blocking a private driveway)
- Private parking (especially if the owner gives proper notice)
- Private locations in front of a business owner’s store (especially if it is marked as a towing area)
You can also be towed if you park illegally on public property. For example, if you have received multiple tickets from law enforcement and park at an expired meter, the police may have your car towed. You can park on the wrong side of the street during a snow emergency and your car will likely be towed.
There are many circumstances in which unauthorized vehicles can be towed. State laws vary widely, so if you are wondering if a towing company had the right to tow your car, you should consider speaking with a lawyer.
What claims could you bring against a towing company?
A towing company should exercise reasonable care when towing and storing your car. If it does not act as a reasonably prudent towing company under the same and similar circumstances and damages your car or your property inside, you may be able to sue for negligence.
In virtually all states, you must submit the following four items to make a negligence claim:
- Obligation: The towing company must exercise due diligence
- Contravention: The towing company failed to exercise due diligence.
- Causation: The towing company directly caused foreseeable damage
- Damage: you must show what your legally recognized damages are
If you are able to prove that the towing company towed your car without the owner’s permission or otherwise without legal authority, you may be able to prove that they did not exercise due diligence and commit careless towing.
Likewise, if you show that the towing company damaged your car while towing, you may be able to demonstrate a breach of their duty of care. A towing company can cause many forms of damage, but the most common are:
- Damage to the windshield
- Damage to the bumper
- Tire damage
Breach of the deposit
You can also sue for violation of a bail. Again, it depends on the state, but in general, a surety bond is a legal relationship in which custody of property is transferred from one person (the “lessor”) to another (the “lessor”) for the keep.
By taking possession of the property, the custodian (here, the towing company) agrees to exercise due diligence in the storage of your car and any personal property inside. If they do not exercise such caution, they are in breach of the deposit and may be held liable to you for any damages.
What damage could you recover?
Depending on the basis of your claim, you may be able to collect various types of damage, including compensatory and punitive damages.
If you base your claim on improper towing or illegal towing, you may be able to recover towing and storage charges. In some states, you can also take legal action for a legal minimum amount. Consult a lawyer to find out if your state has such a minimum.
If your car is damaged, you may be able to recover the cost of the repairs. You will want to get estimates from several repair shops and take lots of photos that show how your car was damaged.
If you had any property in the car that was lost or damaged, you may be able to recover the cost of the items or the cost of repairing them, depending on the circumstances. You will want to have pictures of the items as they were when they were in the car. You will also want all receipts for the items you purchased.
Under certain circumstances, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate a victim for a loss, but to punish an offender for particularly outrageous behavior. The circumstances of your case may justify a claim for punitive damages, depending on the seriousness of the towing company’s action. You may want to consult a lawyer to see if you have a valid claim for damages.
What should you consider when deciding to take legal action?
There are several things that you may want to think about before pursuing the towing business.
1. Notify your insurance company
The first thing to do is to inform your insurance company. Damage caused can be covered by insurance. You may be able to be compensated for these losses, leaving you to worry only about towing and storage costs.
2. Talk to the towing company
The second thing to do is to contact the towing company. They may be willing to make a settlement, especially if you can prove they were responsible for wrongful towing, damage to your car, or loss of property.
3. Consider filing a claim in Small Claims Court
A third option is to file a claim in Small Claims Court. Each state is different, but usually in small claims court you are not represented by a lawyer. You are also limited in the amount of damage you can recover.
Small claims court may be a less expensive way to resolve your dispute with the towing company. You can read more about this, including the filing procedure, here, or by visiting the website for the court in your area. You will only have to pay a small filing fee.
4. Consider seeing a lawyer
If you are unable to make a deal with the towing company and don’t want to bet on small claims court alone, you can contact an attorney. Given the magnitude of most claims, you are unlikely to find a lawyer in your area who specializes in lawsuits against towing companies.
A plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, however, handles cases of negligence and may be able to help. Many lawyers will offer a free initial consultation, and even if you decide not to go to court, it can be helpful to have a lawyer on board when negotiating a settlement with your insurance company or the towing company.