Being in a car accident is overwhelming as it is. Unfortunately, a network of unauthorized, predatory tow truck companies have elevated that overwhelming situation into a nightmare for California drivers involved in accidents. Many drivers have reported their vehicles being held hostage at the ransom of these rogue tow truck companies. The LAPD and National Insurance Crime have recently warned of the increasing frequency of the unscrupulous practices which have led California drivers to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal or predatory fees.
These rogue tow truck companies will monitor police radios and respond to accidents, hoping to take advantage of the scared and weary after the accident. Typically, the towing company will tow the vehicle to their body shop or storage facilities and are then held hostage until the motorists and/or insurance companies pay extremely inflated towing, storage and repair charges just to get their own vehicle back. To say the least, this type of illegal and predatory business practice makes California motorists feeling more confused and helpless than they already feel after being involved in an accident.
First, it is illegal for a tow truck company to respond to an accident scene without being specifically requested to do so. (Cal. Veh. Code section 22513(b). Further, if requested by the owner of the vehicle, a tow driver must immediately and unconditionally release the vehicle that is not yet removed from private property and in transit. (Cal. Veh. Code section 22658(B).) In other words, even if a tow truck operator shows up to your accident scene and hooks your car up without you noticing, you can demand they release the vehicle off the hook without paying a dime. The tow truck operator's refusal to do so is illegal.
If you are involved in a car accident, here are some tips to keep in mind to prevent your vehicle from being taken hostage:
(1) Use your intuition - if the situation feels off or abnormal in anyway, trust your gut and do not give into high-pressure, predatory tactics.
(2) Contact law enforcement - if you believe you have been a victim of unlawful towing/storing, file a police report with the relevant law enforcement agency. These practices are becoming more frequent and some law enforcement agencies have dedicated resources to combat them.
(3) Act quickly - if your vehicle does get towed and taken to an undisclosed body shop, act as quickly as possible. Many times, even if a tow is illegal, tow truck companies may be lawfully permitted to charge storage fees which can quickly rack up if you wait too long.
(4) Hire an attorney - after you are involved in an accident, hiring an experienced attorney will deter these predatory companies from taking advantage of you.
The attorneys at Miller Wilmers, APC have extensive experience in handling all aspects of motor vehicle accidents, including challenging and deterring unlawful towing practices. If you have been involved in a car accident and your car was held hostage, reach out to us TODAY!
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