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Small Claims Corner: Who to Sue if Your Car Has Been 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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About the Author
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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