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TOWING&RECOVERY December 2009 Reaching thousands of industry professionals monthly The Scourge Of SPECIAL ISSUE! SPECIAL ISSUE! FOOTNOTES The Scourge Of ® www.trfootnotes.com Predatory Towing Predatory Towing This issue is of such importance to and destructive of the industry that we have devoted most of this entire edition of Footnotes to the following five-part analysis of rogue towing. It has seriously injured the indus- try’s image nationally and is now threatening the legislative and regula- tory future of towing and recovery. Only heightened awareness and concerted action by members of the industry can forestall federal, state, and local measures that will likely negatively impact their businesses through re-regulation. By Lynn Ford In Texas, public outrage over non- consensual tows started when hotshot towers hauled off dozens of cars from high-profile football games. That did Volume 20, Number 8 ❘ $3.95 Suddenly stranded:“What happened to our car?!” not please alumni, including most ma- jor politicos in the state. In Oregon, the same outrage started when a domestic abuse victim fled to her mother’s apartment, parked illegal- ly, and was towed. In California, it started when a sleep- ing four-year-old was towed away, and the anger reached a climax when a father of five was killed when he slipped as he ran alongside the tow truck. In each case, headlines screamed of abusive towing practices. Government response was swift. Some towers were arrested in sting oper- ations. Some were ordered to pay resti- tution.Others were put out of business. Civil lawsuits were filed.Perhaps worst of all, each of these cases led to swift leg- islative action to regulate towing and put an end to “predatory towing.” WHAT? YOU DON’T GET FOOTNOTES?! Go online today for a FREE subscription to T&R Footnotes See www.trfootnotes.com today For fast delivery, choose a first-class subscription for $30 a year © 2009 Dominion Enterprises. All Rights Reserved. Predatory towing. Objectionable words to legitimate towers, but like it or not, these words have been showing up in headlines and legislation with great frequency lately. It even appears in Wikipedia. We all know that rogue towers are the scourge of the non-consensual tow industry. They patrol lots, snatch cars See THE SCOURGE, page 4 BAD LAWS Fighting pg 8 Joy Hallock Towing&Recovery Footnotes® 10 Bokum Rd. Essex, CT 06426 PRST STD MAIL U.S.POSTAGE PAID Hanover,PA PERMIT 117
This issue is of such importance to and destructive of the industry that we have devoted most of this entire edition of Footnotes to the following five-part analysis of rogue towing.<br /> <br /> It has seriously injured the industry’s image nationally and is now threatening the legislative and regulatory future of towing and recovery.<br /> <br /> Only heightened awareness and concerted action by members of the industry can forestall federal, state, and local measures that will likely negatively impact their businesses through re-regulation.<br /> <br /> In Texas, public outrage over nonconsensual tows started when hotshot towers hauled off dozens of cars from high-profile football games. That did Not please alumni, including most major politicos in the state.<br /> <br /> In Oregon, the same outrage started when a domestic abuse victim fled to her mother’s apartment, parked illegally, and was towed.<br /> <br /> In California, it started when a sleeping four-year-old was towed away, and the anger reached a climax when a father of five was killed when he slipped as he ran alongside the tow truck.<br /> <br /> In each case, headlines screamed of abusive towing practices.<br /> <br /> Government response was swift.<br /> <br /> Some towers were arrested in sting operations.<br /> <br /> Some were ordered to pay restitution.<br /> <br /> Others were put out of business.<br /> <br /> Civil lawsuits were filed.Perhaps worst of all, each of these cases led to swift legislative action to regulate towing and put an end to “predatory towing.” Predatory towing. Objectionable words to legitimate towers, but like it or not, these words have been showing up in headlines and legislation with great frequency lately. It even appears in Wikipedia.<br /> <br /> We all know that rogue towers are the scourge of the non-consensual tow industry. They patrol lots, snatch cars Without proper justification or signage, demand exorbitant fees in cash, and refuse to stop a tow in progress when the owner shows up. But when victims complain loudly enough — or if the wrong person’s car gets towed — it can create a public relations fiasco for legitimate towers caught in the backlash.<br /> <br /> As mentioned above, bad guys in California earned national publicity a few years ago in what Orange County prosecutors called the “worst-case scenario when it comes to predatory towing.” A 42-year-old father of five lost his life trying to get his Chevrolet Suburban back as it was being towed from his Santa Ana apartment complex.<br /> <br /> On June 12, 2005, according to the Orange County Register, Leoncio Flore, a forklift driver, left his Suburban in a red zone to unload groceries. When he returned, Paul Sassenberger of Pepe’s Towing was towing the SUV. Flores offered Sassenberger the $50 drop fee to release his car but Sassenberger refused, according to the newspaper story. When Flores grabbed the tow truck to stop him, he lost his grip and was run over by the truck and his own Suburban. His wife later told the newspaper he had been parked for about 10 minutes.<br /> <br /> The following February, the victim’s family won a $2 million civil suit against the tower and the housing complex.<br /> <br /> That September, the tow truck driver pleaded guilty to accidentally crushing the man to death and was sentenced to six months in jail.<br /> <br /> No Quick Fixes While much of the legislation resulting from such incidents has been effective, the towing industry can’t afford to be caught by surprise and pulled along into a whirlwind quick fix, especially if they are labeled “the bad guys” and are barred from giving input or protecting their interests. Sometimes such swift retaliation expands to net the entire industry, even consensual tows.<br /> <br /> Those who have been through it warn that if fair regulation is not put in place ahead of time when heads are cool and legislators calm, the results can damage the entire industry.<br /> <br /> On the other hand, preemptive fair regulation can get rid of predatory towers while helping legitimate towers.<br /> <br /> Done properly, good legislation guarantees fair treatment to consumers, a fair price for a tow, and can even provide a means of arbitration if there are disagreements about what is fair.<br /> <br /> “Texas has ended up being the most regulated state in the country, I’m sure,” said Jeanette Rash, the government affairs representative for the Texas Towing and Storage Association. “We were doing a good job of putting legislation in place when the whole thing blew up in our faces. The message is: Be engaged with the legislative process.<br /> <br /> If you’re not, you’re going to get regulated out of business because of the bad guys.” Another high-profile case, this one more recently in Texas, led to extensive government action against individual drivers, towing companies, and the entire state’s towing and recovery industry:<br /> <br /> Running A Scam<br /> <br /> In the fall of 2008, a towing firm allegedly ran a scam at the celebrated Texas-Oklahoma game. A total of 40 complaints resulted from that weekend, including complaints that fans were parked by flaggers in orange vests, then towed. There were also allegations of towing contracts signed days before the game for kickbacks and tow trucks moving in immediately after kickoff.<br /> <br /> The towing company had its license revoked the following November and was investigated by state officials.<br /> <br /> According to a Dallas Morning News report, the company allegedly charged more than the city cap of $95, used faulty signage on property, towed from lots where it didn't have permission to tow, and failed to report tows to police as required.<br /> <br /> While the company initially defended its actions, it agreed to refund $200 each to 26 drivers whose cars were towed from the game. As part of the government crackdown, several other towers were arrested for outstanding tickets and criminal warrants and had their trucks impounded.<br /> <br /> “The state has collected over $2 million in fines from the industry already.<br /> <br /> They are putting people totally out of business,” said Rash, explaining how the actions of rogue towers can impact the rest of the industry. “What the towers were doing was wrong. They had no signs. They basically baited people, took money to let them park, then towed them anyway. There’s not a state representative or senator who didn’t graduate from Oklahoma or Texas universities or Texas A & M. You start messing with their football game, you’re in trouble. We had a major public relations problem.” Broad Authority In Texas, new legislation that takes effect in September gives officials broad authority to shut down businesses and fine towers for overcharging.<br /> <br /> In addition, drivers can be charged with misdemeanors for illegal towing.<br /> <br /> Tow trucks can be impounded and business licenses revoked. “They can immediately close a company,” Rash said. “It’s scary. It could easily be abused.” Still, said Rash, rogue towers must be shut down. “We need to focus in on the bad guys and get them out of here,” she said. “The price the whole industry is paying is high. Worse, the attention paid to non-consent takes the focus of industry leaders away from reforming police towing and other issues, like the number of towers being killed on the highways.” Texas is one of the few states with a statewide licensing system requiring training and certification. It is also one of the only states that offer consumers immediate grievance hearings before a Justice of the Peace. In Texas, both parties can state their cases without attorneys and the judge decides whether the tow was legal and charges were reasonable.<br /> <br /> A federal congressional report cited lack of redress for consumers as a needed reform to towing regulations.<br /> <br /> “Giving an easy civil remedy to consumers is one of the best things we’ve done,” Rash said.<br /> <br /> Self-Policing One of the best things towing associations can do, while they are working to put reforms in place, is to police their own, said Joe Pedigo, first vice president and legislative chair of the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA). “No one is in a better position to monitor the industry. If someone is creating a black eye for the industry, we need to be on top of it. As we have found out, anyone outside the industry trying to pass laws makes a horrible mess of it because they don’t understand the business.” The answer, Pedigo said, is to approach local and state governments with model legislation. Admittedly, there are those in the industry who don’t like that plan, he said. “They don’t like change,” Pedigo said. “They like to do it the way it’s always been done. But this is a changing world and if you don’t stay on top you get buried.” This Footnotes special edition on Predatory Towing continues in the following articles.