Matthew B. Troutman
How to avoid the Towing & Storage Fees Dilemma If your car is undrivable after an Auto Accident
I have represented thousands of auto accident victims over 32 plus years of legal practice as an auto accident lawyer, but only in the last 4-5 years has a dilemma arisen regarding the payment of storage fees when a car is undrivable after a car accident. I will explain how this problem arises and provide some suggestions of how to deal with it.
How the storage fee dilemma became an issue in modern day car accidents.
In 1962, a law was passed to benefit the junkyards that received damaged and undrivable vehicles after accidents. The junkyards needed a way to get rid of these vehicles, because many people just left them there and the insurance companies were not paying them for storage. This law gave the storage facilities a lien against the vehicle and allowed them to sell the vehicle after 45 days. The insurance companies were stuck paying the storage fees after this law was created and if there was a delay in resolving the property damage claim, these storage fees could total a few thousand of dollars. Recently, many insurance companies are resisting payment of storage fees beyond a few days in order to cut costs. Their legal position for this practice is that the owner of the vehicle has a legal obligation to "mitigate"(means "reduce") their damages.
Although mitigation of damages is a valid legal concept, many of the insurance companies are taking a narrow view so as to put an unreasonable burden on the car accident victim. Here is how the dilemma normally occurs -it takes a month to resolve the property damage claim, then the storage charges for the vehicle total close to $1,000.00. The insurance company will agree to pay for the repair of the vehicle, but only agree to pay for a few days of storage. Now the owner of the vehicle has a real dilemma. He or she has the money to repair the vehicle, but no way to get the vehicle out of the storage facility to complete the repairs.
How to avoid the storage fee dilemma in a car accident.
There are several ways to avoid the storage fee dilemma. First, immediately after the accident, request the officer to have the vehicle towed to your house. All you have are towing charges and the at fault insurance company will reimburse you for these charges. If you have AAA, you will not have to pay for the towing charges. Unfortunately, this first option is not realistic. If you have been injured in the accident, you may have been taken from the scene with no chance to speak to the officer and even if you speak with the officer, avoiding storage charges will be the last thing on your mind.
Another way to avoid the storage fee dilemma is to use your own insurance company to pay for your property damage. Your own insurance company can resolve your claim quicker than the at fault insurance company because they do not have to conduct a liability investigation. In order to be able to use this option, you need to have purchased "collision" coverage. Even if you have collision coverage, you still need to contact them quickly, because they could still try to stick you with some of the storage charges. If you do not have "collision" coverage (sometimes referred to as "full" coverage), then it is important to contact the at fault insurance company as quickly as possible to make sure the claim is resolved quickly to avoid unnecessary days of storage charges. The longer you delay to resolve the property damage claim, the more difficult the claim will be to resolve without filing a lawsuit. If you have been seriously injured, it is sometimes impossible to resolve the property damage claim quickly, unless you retain a car accident attorney and he is willing to assist you on the property damage claim. I provide this service to my clients without any additonal charges for legal fees, but many car accident lawyers do not offer this service.
Ultimately, even if circumstances have prevented you from resolving the property damage claim quickly and you are staring at a large storage bill, do not believe that you should have to personally pay for the storage bill. I took over a case from another car accident lawyer a few years ago where the client had signed over the title to his vehicle to the storage facility to resolve a large storage bill. His lawyer advised him to do this and was not helping him directly. Fortunately, I was able to convince the storage facility to return the title to the vehicle and I was able to convince the insurance company to pay the large storage fee. The client not only received a personal injury settlement, but he also had his car restored that his previous lawyer advised him to give up to resolve the storage bill. This case required a lawsuit and your situation may require a lawsuit as well. It is important to hire an auto accident attorney, who is willing to help you with your property damage claim, because many car accident lawyers are unwilling.