Mar 072013
 
Who to sue when your car has been illegally towed?

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If your car has been towed without proper cause, you have a right to sue those involved in the towing. When filing a small claims action, you should consider suing the tow company, the owner of the property where the vehicle was parked, and the property management all at the same time.

There are specific reasons that you can sue each of the three parties associated with the towing. You can sue the owner or representative of the parking lot for failure to have a proper sign posted or for failure to state the grounds for towing. In order to legally tow cars from a parking lot there must be appropriate signs posted. The signs must be displayed in plain view at all entrances to the property. The sign must be at least 17 inches by 22 inches in size and the lettering cannot be less than one inch in height. It must say that public parking is prohibited, must indicate that vehicles will be removed at the owner’s expense and must contain the telephone number of the local traffic law enforcement agency (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (a)(1)). If the owner fails to post a sign that meets these requirements or fails to state the grounds for towing, they can be liable for up to double the cost of towing and/or storage charges associated with the towing (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (e)(1)). Failure to state the grounds for towing means that the owner does not tell you the reason for having your car towed (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (f), Section (e)(1)(a)).

If you believe that the posted signs do not meet the requirements set out by the Vehicle Code you should take pictures of all the signs that notify drivers that their car may be subject to towing. Photographs of these signs are crucial evidence for your small claims suit.

You may also sue the towing company that impounded your vehicle for excessive charges, for removal without the lot or land owner being present, for not having current written authorization by the lot or land owner, and for failure to accept Visa or Mastercard. If you are charged an excessive towing, service, or storage fee by the towing company, you can sue for up to four times the cost of towing and storage charges (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (i)). If you believe that the towing company charged you excessive fees you should contact the police or sheriff department in the city where the vehicle was towed to find out if the fees that you were charged were excessive.

The person who called the towing company to remove your car must be present at the time of removal. If the towing company removes your vehicle without having the lot or land owner present or without having current written authorization by the lot or land owner, they can also be held liable for up to four times the cost of the towing and storage (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (l)(5)). Blanket authorizations are not permissible unless the vehicle is blocking an entrance, an exit, or a marked fire lane (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (l)(1)(A), Section (l)(1)(E)(i)).

The towing company is required by law to accept valid credit cards as payment for towing and storage charges (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (k)(1)). If the towing company fails to accept valid credit cards they can also be held liable for up to four times the cost of towing and storage, with a maximum of $500 (Vehicle Code 22658 Section (k)(4)).

If your car has been towed and you intend to pursue a case in small claims court, you should take pictures of any signs that are posted to notify drivers that their car may be subject to towing. You should also take pictures of the entrances to the lot and the location of where the vehicle was parked before it was towed. You should obtain copies of the towing and storage bill. Call your local city or county law enforcement and find out how much a towing company will charge to tow or store your vehicle upon their request to find out if the amount you were charged is excessive. If the charges you paid were more than the amount indicated by local or county law enforcement then the towing company may be liable for up to four times the amount you paid. When you go to pick up your car from the tow yard you should either call the police or bring your own witness with you. You should politely ask the towing company for the name of the owner of the parking lot or the person who authorized the tow. You should also ask the towing company who was there in person when the vehicle was towed and ask to see the authorization document that person signed and gave to the tow truck driver at the time the vehicle was towed. If they don’t give you a copy it is likely that they don’t have it, which gives you grounds to sue the towing company. Ask the owner or representative of the lot if they were present when the vehicle was towed. If they were not present, the towing company may be liable for four times the cost of towing and storage.

If you need more assistance with your Small Claims suit, you can call our Small Claims advisory program at (714) 571-5277.

Disclaimer: Each situation is unique and this article is intended to provide general information and should not be construed as, nor is it intended to be legal advice.

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Hayley Penan

Hayley Penan is the Managing Editor and Staff Writer for The Notice. She graduated in 2011 with a BA in Media Studies from UC Berkeley and currently attends UC Irvine School of Law. Ms. Penan is passionate about the law, the environment, journalism, and the community.
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  16 Responses to “Small Claims Corner: Who to Sue if Your Car Has Been Towed”

  1. Hi I live in San Diego CA. I firmly believe my car was towed ilegally and they denied to show me a towing authorization form with a signature or name of the person authorizing. How can i file a small claim? Where can i get more info? Thanks.

  2. Hi,
    My car was towed from an apartment complex parking lot. The sign did not have a phone number available, so I ended up trying to find my car. Do I have a case? I’m in California.

  3. Question for everyone my friends girlfriend wants to sue me for a towing fee that they already paid off can they do that

  4. My car was towed where there were no markings on the floor or wall and I called the sheriff department to see if they towed my car and they told me they did not have any business with this towing company. Can I sue in small claims?

  5. My car has expired tags and was parked in the lot at my apartment complex. It was towed overnight at 1:30 am, the leasing office immediately gave me the tow company’s info and said they didn’t have permission to tow any of the 5 vehicles they stole (my word :)). The tow company gave me my car back for free, but my wife and I both missed out on half a day’s work, as well as not having a carseat to take my infant daughter with an ear infection to the dr as the carseats were in that vehicle. The hookup fee was $250, but as I said they waived that. Does that get them off the hook for stealing my property? Thanks

  6. Hi katrina, My car got towed in a bank parking lot, after I used their ATM machine for a withdrawal (ATM is Marked with the bank logo right on top of it and around it, and the receipt given by this ATM also has the Bank Logo on it). The sign said “Bank Costumer Parking Only” I don’t have an account in this bank but i think that I conducted businesses with them since I used their money dispenser. According to the towing company receipt my car was taken 30 minutes after I parked (I was doing another errand in a place nearby)
    I was charged $300 for the towing and since I couldn’t make it back to work, I lost $350 more that day….Do you think that I have a Case in this scenario?

  7. Do the sign size requirements apply to city streets as well? I was towed and charged $600 for parking in a “yellow zone” in San Francisco today. The only indication it was not legal was some small writing on the parking meter. The big signs by the street said nothing about it. Do I have some claim?

  8. Is this only in the state of california or is this legal documentation you noted her apply to other states?

    • Hi Katrina! Great question. This only applies to California law, although other states may have similar laws. There may be a Small Claims adviser in your state. Call the local court in your area to inquire. Best of luck.

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