Monday, August 17, 2009
Help Me Howard: Towing Fight
Getting your car towed is frustrating enough, but imagine if it was towed, you didn't know it, and by the time you found the car it had racked up hefty storage fees. It happened to one man who is fighting back against a tow company he says didn't notify him they had his car. It's tonight's Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Larry Fawcett has been in the construction business in Georgia for 40 years, 40 pretty good years.
Larry Fawcett: "I have a number of cars, four or five cars, an airplane, boat. I only have one now, I had two."
Larry lives in Atlanta but keeps this 70-foot yacht in Fort Lauderdale.
Larry Fawcett: "That's my retirement home."
And when he flies into town to go out in the water, he has an old '92 Buick to get around in.
Larry Fawcett: "This beats taking a taxi, let's put it that way."
Earlier this year, one of his workers used the car and couldn't find his way back to the marina, so he parked it and went home.
Larry Fawcett: "The next day, I started looking for the car, and I couldn't find it."
There was a good reason for that, one Larry didn't know at the time. The car had been towed away already.
Larry Fawcett: "Talked to Florida Highway Patrol, Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, Davie, all these people, trying to find out where the car was."
Larry returned to Georgia, but he kept calling to try to find the car. Finally, on the 14th day after it disappeared, he was told it was towed, so he flew to Fort Lauderdale and went to the tow company to pick it up.
Larry Fawcett: "It's turned into a big nightmare. They are hunting, trying to get $862 or something like that is what they are trying to get."
Larry offered them $300. When they said, no, his first thought was to give up the car, it's not worth $800, but then he decided this is not fair.
Larry Fawcett: "The car didn't mean that much to me, but if it did, or if I was poor, I'd be out a car, I wouldn't have transportation. I like a good fight, being in the construction business, so I took it on myself to beat the towing company."
Larry was determined because he believes the towing company purposely held the car to jack up the recovery fees.
Larry Fawcett: "You've got seven days to notify the owner by registered letter. All the paperwork was in the car, insurance certificates and everything, so they knew who the owner was."
But to fight the court battle is not cheap. Fortunately, Larry can afford it.
Larry Fawcett: "I went down to the courthouse, posted a bond, filed a lawsuit, filed a complaint, posted a bond. I Had to give $1100 to the court, and they gave me a paper that said that the car is to be released."
After putting the $1100 in the court registry, Larry got his car. Then got ready to do what people in Florida seldom do, fight a towing company.
Larry Fawcett: "I'm old, being in the construction business and dealing with large projects, I've been sued, and I've sued people in and out of court, so I'm not afraid of being in front of a judge."
Well, Howard, before he gets to the judge, is Larry wasting his time?
Howard Finkelstein: "No, he is not. In many cases, the law favors the tow company, and they had the right to tow Larry's car, but by failing to notify him that they had his car, the law tilts to Larry's side. The tow company disagrees, that's why we have judges."
Judge Robert Lee: "The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"
All: "I do."
Larry then faced off against the owners of Superior Roadside Towing. Larry made his case first.
Larry Fawcett: "Under the statute, they are not entitled to storage."
Judge Robert Lee: "Because they didn't send you a certified letter."
Larry Fawcett: "Right, that's the difference between towing and stealing someone's car, is the paperwork."
The tow company argued that they had no way to know that Larry was the owner and no way to notify him with the seven days the law requires.
Judge Robert Lee: "Did you look in the vehicle?"
Tow Company: "No, we don't go inside the vehicle."
Judge Robert Lee: "That's your standard procedure."
Tow Company: "Yeah, we don't go inside anybody's vehicle."
Judge Robert Lee listened.
Judge Robert Lee: "OK, folks, the matter is submitted."
He then ruled in Larry's favor, deciding the tow company should have checked inside the car to find the owner. Not only does Larry not have to pay for storage, the tow company has to pay him $243 for his time and trouble, but the money wasn't the reason Larry went to court.
Larry Fawcett: "It just irritated me that people lose their cars, and if somebody is poor and their car breaks down and it gets towed, they are not going to get it back."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, Larry did have to pay $135 for the towing of his car because his worker parked it illegally, and if I had a nickel for every complaint we get about a car being towed, I could own a boat as big as Larry's, but in most cases towing signs are posted. Look for them. Don't park there, or you will get towed."
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