Like other instances of non-consensual towing, problems often begins at the scene of an accident. Cars piled up, trucks jack-knifed across the road, or a breakdown in the middle of the highway. Law enforcement officials must handle these situations swiftly. Officers make a report and call out a wrecker company to move the vehicle off of the road and clean up the scene. To be fair to all the tow/wrecker companies in the area, the police officers work off a list of towing companies called a “rotation list.” As the name implies, they call each company in succession through the list until they reach the end and start over.
For large trucks or accidents involving cargo, this may require a lot of equipment, people, and organizing to get the vehicle off the road and back to a tow yard. They must also work with the buyers and sellers of the cargo, truck owners, insurance companies, and drivers. Unfortunately, tow companies are aware of the volatility in these situations and often take advantage.
To a small wrecker company, being called out to work on a big-rig means big money. Even on a small accident, the insurance company can pay out claims in the tens of thousands of dollars. The towing company is often the one in control because they dictate what equipment and people are needed at the scene. Regrettably, they can use their position to artificially inflate the final bill.
They can do this in several ways. Sometimes, they send out all the equipment they have and, while it may not be necessary, they bill for it using the justification, “we had to bring everything, just in case.” Other times they will charge for extra people that weren’t there or required to be there. Every so often, they disingenuously add on bogus fees and charges like “Emergency call out fee, fire department charge, etc.,” or charges they are forbidden to charge for.
So how do they get away with it? By taking advantage of a delicate situation. The tow companies get an upper hand from the start because the parties do not choose which wrecker is used and have no ability to find the best available option for what they need. Although the insurance companies may be skeptical or know the charges are fraudulent, they have added pressures from the parties involved needing to recover their equipment or cargo expeditiously. Some tow companies exploit the situation by holding the cargo and truck hostage until the bill is paid. They know that there are many people dependent on the cargo/vehicles so they use it as leverage to get paid quickly with no questions asked. A single claim can have malicious adjustments totaling into the tens of thousands.
This leads to more than an estimated half billion dollars in loss annually for insurance companies. Insurance companies get countless claims with non-consensual tows in a year and could retain millions from loss by combating this unjust practice. When insurance fraud like this occurs often nothing is done because wrecker lobbyists have had influence in the politics surrounding regulation.
Many states and local areas have tried to impose regulations to stop situations like this from occurring. For instance, in some areas, towing companies are bound by regulations involving the rate and amount they are permitted to charge. Other municipalities have little or no regulations at all. Frustratingly, each state’s towing regulations vary sometimes from county to county. With variations on rules, rates, and regulatory bodies it can be hard to keep track of the correct and proper way to handle excessive towing bills throughout the country. This allows towing companies to exploit insurance companies with false charges.
Insurance fraud like this is a common occurrence but insurance companies often feel immense pressure to take care of the situation, so they just pay out hoping to get the situation taken care of as promptly as possible. Non-consensual tows occur all over the country with little to no repercussions. The first step to overcoming this problem is education on the issue. If a situation like this has happened to you of if you would like to know more about non-consensual towing call Morgan, Cohen, & Bach at (619) 503-1642 or (520) 442-1303.