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Other Towing Scam
How to win against a tow truck company
A couple months back I was involved with a sleazy tow truck scam. My son wanted to eat at Subway. I found one on the way home next to Utah Valley State College. There was a bit of maneuvering to get there because of how it sat on the corner and having to either do a U turn of wade through the Walmart and McDonalds parking lots. We chose wade through the parking lots. The Subway parking lot was packed. I did notice the McDonalds parking lot was empty. It was a no brainer. We parked and started to walk in. I noticed through the corner of my eye a shady acting man about 3 parking spaces away. At first I felt like he was going to break into a car. I watched him like a hawk as we walked into Subway. My son and I ate and came back out 15-20 minutes later. My truck was gone. I turned to my son and said "I think the truck has been stolen". Within seconds the shady man appeared and said "Your truck has been towed, not stolen. It's behind McDonalds in the Walmart parking lot. We walked over to get the truck back and were charged roughly $133. What did I miss? I can't imagine intentionally parking somewhere if I knew I would get towed. I went home and read the rest of the day and night about tow-truck laws. I called the sheriff's office to try to get as much information as I could. From what I could gather, that area was a nasty hot spot for getting towed.
While reading, I came across some really interesting laws. In Utah law there is a whole section on Tow Trucks. R909-19-23. Information to be included on a Company's Receipt stood out very strong. Some items seemed fudged a little, such as the name of the company. It had K.P.E. on the receipt. Those were only the initials of the company and not the company name. The name of the drive wasn't on the receipt, only initialed. Is it really legal to substitute initials for a name? I thought you couldn't take a check to a bank made out to anything other than the company name you have registered with the state. Maybe I'm wrong, but the question definitely has to be asked. The most obvious thing missing was the address of the tow truck company. One a sidenote, R909-19-24. Personal Property. Was of interest because I can think of a couple occasions in the past I've known someone that a tow truck company wouldn't let them get their private property back. R909-19-6. Penalties and fines. Stood out also. It read "a civil penalty as authorized by Section 72-9-701, and 72-9-703;". Civil? My understanding of the law was limited, but I thought there were criminal and civil cases. My case was civil. So did this apply to me? It stated $500-$2000 per violation. I must add, I called the tow truck company and talked to them about the receipt missing the address and some of the information on it. They lady told me "Oh, that's not really needed on the receipt. We've been in business a long time. We're not going away". This really got me curious about filing a small claims suit. Another small thing I really didn't have the answer for was "What was the difference between R909-19-23 and R909-19-11. R909-19-11 had more items, and were separated out for each item and not in a paragraph like in the R909-19-23.
The next morning, I did drive back to the location to see what I had missed. I found it interesting that the main no-parking sign had been turned perpendicular so that you had to be right next to it and look to the right to actually see it. It was a bit sneaky if you ask me. No wonder I missed it. Promptly, I went and filed a small claims suit with the city of Orem. Even though I had no clue what I was doing, the people at the counter kept it simple and assured me that most people don't know what they are doing. Just recently the courts had raised the small claims limits to $10,000. It's tiered for $60 fee for claims under $2500, $100 fee for $2500-$7500, and $160 for $7500-$10000. I paid $100 and took my chances. There were a couple options of how you wanted the papers served. I used a constable and it only cost me $25 in the end. It was interesting to see how the court date got pushed back a month. I almost missed it, but the court date changes were in the paperwork I got back from the constable.
The big day finally came. I wasn't going to miss it for the world. I showed up 30 minutes early. They let all the lawyers go first since theirs went really quick. I was surprised that there were a couple people that didn't show up. That is really bad, because you get a default judgment against you. That means you lose. I was shocked at one case where neither parties showed up. Finally came my turn. Both tow truck drivers showed up, but without a lawyer. The judge said something about burden of proof falling on me. I started from the beginning by getting towed. They started clarifying a bunch of things and finally I stopped and said "In all reality these guys know the tow laws inside out, I'm not going to win in that direction. What I do know though is that the receipt is missing some information on it". The judge asked me if I had a law to reference. I gave him R909-19-22. I was asked to provide a copy to the tow truck guys. I wish I had made copies at this point. Anyhow, I showed my R909-19-22 paperwork to tow truck guys and the judge. I started talking about the company (Knights Parking Enforcement) name being just initials (K.P.E) and also just the driver initials and not a name. The tow truck guys started to argue that they get death threats all the time and it is common practice to only initial receipts. The judge asked for a reference of law. I didn't have one. This makes sense now, because the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. The courts are just there to hear the story and make a ruling. They won't help you figure out what the law is. I was shocked to see how much leeway the judge was giving them. I cut to the chase and pointed out the address was completely missing on the receipt. Out came a huge story about how if I had driven to the lot, then the receipt would have had the address on it. Since they have 2 lots, they didn't want to confuse people so they left it off. The judge asked why both addresses can't be on the receipt. They claimed mine was an isolated case. At that moment I wish I would have pointed out they had my receipt in a book with a bunch of other receipts, and to verify that mine was not an isolated case. It would have just been icing, but I knew that there was someone else that had a boot on their car the same time my truck was towed, so I knew the next receipt was probably just like mine... without an address.
The judge listened to them for quite a while. It really seemed like the judge was buying their story. Finally the judge asked if we had anything else to add. Neither of us did. He said he was ready to rule. Even though I had misunderstood the law, the judge ruled in my favor for a missing address on the receipt. They had to give me back my money on the towing, pay for the small claims fee and also the serving of papers. It came out to roughly $250. How I am going to collect the money is a whole different story, because I've heard you still have a problem getting people to pay up. Looking over the whole incident, small things standout such as the tow drivers saying "We've been in business 20 years and this is the first time someone has brought us to court over receipt information".
The reason I wrote this up, was for other people to read and know what their rights are. What the tow truck drivers are doing isn't illegal, but I do consider it sleazy. The last burning question I have is about the name vs. initials. Is there a law out there that says a name is a name and initials are initials? Legally can you or can't you substitute initials for a name? The reason this question is so important is because it sounds like it is common practice for all tow truck drivers to initial the receipt instead of giving their name. I do recall another instance where another drive did only initialed the receipt. If there is a law to prevent initials from being substituted, then anyone could take a tow truck company to small claims and get their money back.