A vehicle towing company provides vehicle transportation. If a vehicle is inoperable and needs to be moved, a tow company could be called to move the vehicle to a repair shop, or some other location. A towing company may also be called to remove a vehicle that is parked somewhere illegally, or if the driver has been arrested and cannot move their vehicle from the scene.
Such companies may also:
- Change flat or popped tires;
- Deliver fuel if you have run out on the highway;
- Jumpstart a stalled battery;
- Provide emergency repairs to sustain the vehicle until you can get it to a repair shop; and/or
- Remove stuck vehicles.
Generally speaking, a vehicle towing company is required to exercise ordinary care that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation. What this means is that if a tow company fails to use due care, and a car is damaged when towed, the tow company may be liable for injuries caused by their negligence.
An example of this would be how a tow truck could be held liable for injuries it caused when it was attempting to tow a car in one lane, and the truck extended into another lane. Doing so caused damage to the vehicle they were towing.
Another example of when a vehicle towing company may be liable would be when a tow connection is hidden, or discovery of the connection is difficult. The tow connection is required to be indicated by warnings or lights. If the connection cannot be easily located, or is not properly indicated, any resulting damage or injury could be the fault of the tow company.
What To Do If a Towing Company or Tow Truck Damaged My Car
The most common examples of damage to vehicles caused by negligent towing include:
- Bumper damage, such as dents, scratches, cracks, or removal;
- Tire damage, such as accidentally slashing the tire; and/or
- Windshield damage, such as cracks, scratches, or shatters.
What to do if a towing company or tow truck damages your vehicle will largely depend on what state you are in. State laws vary in terms of negligence lawsuits. Generally speaking, you should take the following steps:
- Regardless of why your vehicle is being towed, do not sign any paperwork without thorough review;
- Once you notice damage, obtain the papers which detail the exact state of your vehicle prior to being towed;
- Take photos before and after, if possible; and
- Determine whether your auto insurance will cover the damage, before attempting to pursue any action against the towing company.
If your vehicle is damaged, or items inside the vehicle are stolen while inside a tow yard, the tow company may be found liable for breach of contract or negligence. As previously mentioned, the tow company is required to utilize the same standard of care that any other reasonable person in similar situations would use.
The tow yard’s security is generally considered to be the major factor in determining reasonable care standards for towing companies. This could include the use of motion detecting lights, security gates, and security personnel. If contents have been stolen from inside your vehicle, the contents stolen must have been foreseeable to the tow company in order for the company to be liable. What this means is that the items:
- Must have been in plain view when the vehicle was towed, such as sitting on the passenger seat;
- Were the usual or ordinary equipment of the car; and/or
- Were items that could reasonably be anticipated to be there.
Are Tow Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?
In order to determine whether the tow truck driver could be responsible for damages, we must first understand the legal theory of liability. Liability is a type of tort, or, a violation in which one person causes damage, injury, or harm to another person. Although tort laws may vary by state, most tort laws state that the injury suffered does not necessarily need to be a physical injury. The person responsible for the injury could be required to pay damages for other types of harm, such as property damage.
There are many different types of liability. However, in terms of towing company and tow truck driver liability, the theory of vicarious liability would likely be the most applicable. Vicarious liability refers to the process of holding a person accountable for the actions of another person. The concept of vicarious liability applies to employer liability for the actions of their employees.
If you wish to hold a tow truck driver’s employers accountable for the actions of their employee, you will need to establish the following elements:
- The employee agreement required the employee to work under the direction and control of the employer;
- The employer had the inherent authority to control the employee, while the employee was operating under the employer; and,
- The employee’s actions are within the scope of employment. Scope of employment is what requires an employee to act as expected under the terms of their employment.
What Damages Are Available?
If your vehicle was damaged while being towed, or while being kept in a tow yard, you may wish to file a lawsuit against the towing company. You would likely pursue a breach of contract claim, as the company owed you a duty of care to keep your car intact while providing towing services. If the vehicle was damaged while in their care, this would indicate that they breached the contract.
A damages award is intended to restore the plaintiff to their position before the injury occurred. Damages are generally categorized based on their purpose and function. Some common damages in a breach of contract lawsuit include:
- Compensatory Damages: Damages that are designed to cover the losses directly caused by a breach. An example of compensatory damages for towing damage would be reimbursement for the cost to repair the towing company’s damage to the vehicle;
- Expectation Damages: A specific type of compensatory damages. Expectation damages cover the amounts that a party originally stood to gain from the written contract;
- Consequential Damages: Another type of compensatory damages which cover losses that flow directly from the breach itself; and
- Nominal Damages: A type of damages award issued for losses that are difficult to calculate. Nominal damages may also be awarded for injuries where the plaintiff doesn’t actually incur financial loss.
There are various other types of damages which may be issued in breach of contract cases. An example of this would be punitive damages, which can be issued in cases where the defendant acted intentionally. They may also be awarded where fraud was involved. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their actions, and are typically reserved for especially egregious cases.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Tow Damage Issues?
If your vehicle was damaged while being towed, or while being kept in a tow yard, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney can help with tow damage issues, such as determining liability and under which legal theory a lawsuit should be filed. An attorney can also defend your rights, as well as represent you in court while working towards an appropriate damages award for your specific case.