A Clark County Superior Court judge will order a Washougal towing company to compensate three active-duty military personnel for illegally selling their vehicles at auction, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday.
Ferguson alleges that Chuck’s Towing engaged in an unfair trade practice and violated state consumer protection law by failing to have policies and procedures in place to comply with the Military Civil Relief Act. The law requires companies to obtain a court order before auctioning vehicles belonging to active-duty military personnel.
The attorney general’s office said the owners of Chuck’s Towing cooperated with the investigation.
“We have worked tirelessly with the Attorney General’s office to address this issue,” Val Wedin, co-owner of Chuck’s Towing, told The Columbian. “We would never, ever do anything to harm any of our servicemen.”
Chuck’s Towing will pay $13,087 to the three service members and $4,000 to the attorney general’s office for future service member civil relief law actions. The order will also require the company to implement specific policies to prevent this from happening again.
The case is part of the ongoing Ferguson Military and Veterans Initiative to protect the rights of active duty and veterans in Washington and educate them about the resources available to them, according to a press release. from his office.
“We are working to reform the towing industry so that it complies with our laws protecting active duty military personnel from the illegal sale of their vehicles at auction,” Ferguson said in the press release. “Prosecutions are not my goal, but we will reform this industry one enforcement action at a time, if necessary. My goal is to ensure that the rights of service members are protected.
More than three dozen people have received compensation in Ferguson’s lawsuits against towing companies across the state, according to his office.
The Department of Defense provides a database of active duty members that companies can use to verify military status. The search is free for businesses registered on the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act website and requires a date of birth or social security number for verification.
Background to the case
In February 2020, a woman serving in the U.S. Coast Guard filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office after her vehicle was auctioned off while stationed in Oregon, according to the news release.
Wedin said Chuck’s Towing was dispatched by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office after the vehicle appeared to be run over and left in a ditch. The company legally towed the vehicle, then issued a 24-hour notice, completed an Abandoned Vehicle Report, and sent a Certificate of Dispatch to the owner stating it would be auctioned off; but the company did not hear back.
Chuck’s Towing then auctioned it off without first determining whether a service member owned it — which would have required the company to get a court order to sell it, the press release said. The service member was still making payments on the vehicle through USAA, a financial services company that serves service members and their families.
The attorney general’s office investigation found that Chuck’s Towing had auctioned off two other vehicles, also owned by service members, that were totaled or inoperable, the news release said.
The woman serving in the Coast Guard will receive $12,500, and the other two service members will receive $437 and $150, according to the attorney general’s office.
Ferguson said his office sent a letter to every licensed tow truck operator in the state in September, outlining their legal obligations to service members and providing resources to ensure their companies are compliant. The letter was sent to over 400 tow truck operators.