Guest blog: Doug Marcello, trucking defense attorney, Marcello & Kivisto, LLC
The trucking industry needs towing companies. They respond to breakdowns and accidents to keep our industry rolling. They invest their money in the equipment needed to keep us on the road. They respond day and night, and in all weather. Therefore, they certainly earn fair payment for the services they provide.
However, there are times when you can be hit with larger than expected tow charges. A towing company can demand payment by holding your vehicle, including the load. They also apply techniques to maximize return of the recovery. These may include excessive dispatch, mark-ups on supplies, and use of related (and marked up) “subcontractors” or “suppliers.”
Due to these excessive charges by towing outfits, I have even had to challenge a carrier tow bill in a jury trial. While this is fortunately the exception, these bills can have a huge financial impact on motor carriers and your shippers. The keys to avoid these situations, like almost everything in our industry, are to prepare and act immediately when problems occur.
Pointers for prevention.
Build relationships. One of the most important steps you can take to prevent excessive tow charges is to develop a relationship with the towing company or companies within the footprint of your loads. You may not find tow partners to cover all the lanes in which you haul, but the more you can, the better the chance you can avoid the “nuclear tow bill.”
Know your rights. In some states, you have the right to choose the towing company prior to the tow. Make sure you know your rights in the states in which you haul.
Inform your drivers. Drivers should have a well-documented and easy to follow process in the event of a tow. If they have the authority to choose a towing company, make sure they have a cab-card with the name, phone number, and area for that tow company. While dispatch can provide the information, the urgency of law enforcement may require the drivers be prepared to provide the name of your preferred towing company immediately.
Know tow bill experts. Connect today with a qualified expert in towing procedures, requirements, and billing. Have them on the ready for whenever you get hit with an excessive bill. You should also have an attorney experienced in tow bills. Locate attorneys in the footprint of your loads who are ready to respond immediately to a hostage vehicle or load.
Check your insurance today. Verify how much coverage you have for a tow bill. Immediacy is crucial in these situations. You should confirm who to call and that they can respond immediately to an issue. And while you are talking to your insurance agent, broker, or insurer, ask them how you can get a bond on short notice.
Direct the driver. Your driver should contact the chosen towing company. Then, they should take photos of the truck, load, and the towing company equipment and what the tow company is doing.
Contact the towing expert. One of the largest towing related expenses is often storage. Get a fair value from your towing expert and offer to pay immediately. Offer a fair amount based on fair value without trying to low ball.
If rejected, this is the amount you will argue was fair at trial. You want to be the reasonable party – the one who was willing to make a fair payment for the work performed. Not only is this evidence against the overcharge, it will be a potential defense against storage charges. Your attorney can then argue that if you offered the fair amount immediately, why should you be liable for storage? They can also take an offensive approach by counterclaiming for loss of use of your truck and/or the loss of the load.
Mobilize your attorney. Most states have a procedure to get back your property. It is often called an “action in replevin.” An attorney experienced in towing should have the forms on their computer.
This procedure is a legal way to petition the court and get an order quickly to release your vehicle and the load. This is crucial for time sensitive loads. Moreover, getting your vehicle back quickly stops accumulating storage fees. However, in many jurisdictions, you have to post bond. The bond is often based on the value of your vehicle and shows that you can pay the charges pending the ultimate conclusion of the case.
Prepare for the release. Be ready when the tower releases your vehicle. No big deal, right? Just go and pick it up? Wrong. Many tow companies that hold your equipment have hurdles you must overcome to get back the equipment for which you have paid and/or have a court order. These include certificates of workers’ compensation insurance by the tow company that is coming to retrieve your vehicle. Find out the necessary documents ahead of time to avoid multiple starts-and-stops in the process.
The bottom line is that towing companies are vital to our industry. They are entitled to be paid fairly for their work, risk, and investment. However, for those instances where the charges are excessive, prepare today and act immediately.
Doug Marcello is a trucking defense attorney with a Commercial Driver’s License. He represents trucking clients across the country, having been specially admitted for cases in 35 states. He can be reached at Marcello & Kivisto.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from PrePass or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.