Auto Accidents and Tow Truck Fees

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Sadly, after being the victim of a car accident, some drivers find themselves the victim of exorbitant tow truck fees and related storage yard fees.  After being involved in an accident, people are often in shock and aren’t thinking clearly.  Police and paramedics are trying to get traffic moving and inoperable cars cleared from the scene.  In their effort to get traffic moving, the  police may have called the nearest tow service to get the scene cleaned up and to move your car.  The officer is well meaning and doing his job.

Next thing you know, a tow truck has arrived.  You may even be breathing a sigh of relief when the tow truck arrives as the state of shock may have made you feel as if you didn’t know what to do. Next thing you know you have signed some documents and the tow truck operator has told us that ‘He’ll take care of everything.’  We go home, open a claim with the at fault insurance carrier and it’s not until two weeks after the accident do we get a bill for $700 in storage fees and $300 for the towing service.  What!!??

Things you need to know about tow trucks and auto accidents.  First off, you need to know that just because the police have called the tow truck operator to the scene does not mean they are an honest service, the most reasonable or that they are operating out of the goodness of their heart.  Tow truck drivers and storage yards are in the business of making money.  How do they make money?  The longer your vehicle is in the tow yard, the more money they make.  So, don’t allow yourself to by lulled into a feeling of security  or trick yourself into believing that everything’s taken care of just because they towed your car. You need to understand you have just entered a business transaction with them.  You also need to understand that the owner of the vehicle, not the insurance company, is responsible for the final bill.  The law has ruled that by your signing a document allowing a tow truck operator to take your vehicle YOU have entered a consensual contract with them.  Your insurance company nor your attorney entered into the contract with them.   Unfortunately,  as such, YOU  have a legal duty to mitigate your damages (costs incurred) involving tow truck fees and the tow storage fee.  While this can be tough to hear, the law states YOU are responsible for the bill as YOU consented to the tow.

If you carry your own emergency roadside assistance, use this service.  You may have purchased towing service when you purchased your insurance.  Use this service rather than whoever shows up at the scene.

If you are in a state of shock, ask a kind Samaritan to call your tow service like AAA or whatever else you have that is offered through your insurance carrier.  Perhaps calling a relative, spouse or friend to make the phone call to your own roadside assistance program would be better than allowing your car to go with whatever tow truck  that shows up on the scene.  Using your own carrier or roadside assistance program  purchased prior to the accident, will  limit a lot of problems and costs.

Second, before you sign that document allowing the tow truck operator to take your car, determine what’s the best scenario for you.  The most economical scenario does not involve a  storage yard. While you may end up paying an extra $20-$80 bucks in the initial tow fees due to your home being farther than the tow yard, remember, that the average Sacramento price is $50-$60 a day should your car sit in a tow truck storage yard. Do not allow yourself to be fooled by the operator telling you that the bill to tow it to the storage yard will be cheaper. In most cases, you will end up paying much more if it goes to the tow yard and your vehicle sits there until the claim is resolved.  While it may be painful, bite the bullet, get a credit card and pay for the initial tow bill out of pocket and let the car sit at your home for free.  While the car remains at your home until the claim is resolved, you at least do not have the worry of a growing storage fee.

If you were in a state of shock or simply did not know what to do and you have already allowed the car to be taken to the tow yard, make immediate arrangements to get your vehicle out of the tow yard as soon as possible to avoid personally being on the hook for large storage bills.

Additionally, since you signed the contract with the tow truck operator, remember neither your attorney, your insurance company and/or the responsible persons insurance company are able to remove the car from the tow yard and do much in regards to communicating with the tow yard. Only you can do that as you are the legal owner of the car.

If you have resolved the property damage claim and already went to the tow yard to pay the tow bill/storage fees to date and signed a document allowing the at-fault insurance company to take possession of the vehicle, only then can the at fault carrier remove the car from the yard.  If your car is declared a total loss but you have not paid for the storage fees, the at-fault insurance company may not be able to take possession of your vehicle which will impact the amount of money they are able to give you to resolve your property damage claim.

Additionally, some tow yards have strict laws about removing personal items from the vehicle.  Having the vehicle in front of your home allows you to remove these items with greater ease and will not require another trip just to get your cell phone out of the destroyed vehicle.  To avoid creating more stress, do as much as possible to have your vehicle towed from the accident scene to your home driveway.  If you live in a complex that has laws regarding inoperable vehicles being on premises, contact a relative or friend to discuss having your car towed to their home.

If you have comprehensive and collision coverage, remember to get the claim going with your insurance company first.  Your insurance company will move quicker in resolving the property damage claim than the the third party (responsible party) will.   Leave it to your insurance company to deal with getting reimbursement from the responsible party.  This will alleviate a lot of stress.

If you do not have comprehensive or collision coverage, you will be forced to use the insurance of the at-fault party.  Since you are ultimately responsible for the tow and storage bill, get the claim going with the at-fault parties insurance carrier as soon as possible which hopefully will get the claim resolved sooner meaning a smaller storage fee bill.

The insurance company of the at-fault party will want to know if police came to the scene.  If police came to the scene and a police report was prepared, the at-fault insurance company will not make a payment to you for your property damage losses until the police report becomes available and clearly identifies the other driver as being at-fault.  Courts have ruled that the insurance company is not responsible for your tow yard fees accumulating because the insurance company is not responsible for the speed in which the police report become available.  Depending on the county, the amount of vehicles involved in the accident, the number of holidays occurring during the preparation time of the report, if a fatality was involved or not, if a criminal charge is being bought against a driver or not, a police report may take anywhere from 5 -30 days to become available.  If a person allows their vehicle to sit in a tow yard for 30  days (at $50 a day) waiting for the police report to become available, a person will have accumulated easily a $1500 tow storage yard bill.  The at fault party may only be willing (and obligated) to pay 4-10 days of storage fees.  Therefore, drivers who do not carry comprehensive/collision coverage on their car want to be especially mindful of taking immediate action to get their claim moving and their vehicle out of the tow yard.

If you don’t have collision coverage,this office recommends that you take the initiative to get your car out of storage as quickly as possible thus minimizing costs while you work with the other driver’s insurer.

I’m Ed Smith, a  West Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney.  I have been handling cases for injured parties for over 30 years in Yolo County and Sacramento County.  If you have additional questions regarding tow and storage fees, please feel free to call our office.

If you were injured as a result of an accident, I’d like to set up an appointment for a free and friendly discussion about your personal injury case, please call me at (916) 921-6400.  I can be reached toll free outside of Sacramento at (800) 404-5400.

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Image Attribution:  By Jelson25 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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