What Happens if your Car is Damaged While Being Towed
A tow truck can be a lifeline when a car becomes inoperable on a dark stretch of road on a rainy night. We grow impatient for the trucks to arrive, but this feeling is quickly assuaged when we see the tow driver with jumper cables, a can of gas or a tire iron to change the flat. This feeling is quite the opposite when a truck seems to appear from nowhere to tow your illegally parked car.
But, what happens should your car become damaged from the tow connection or in traffic on the ride to the repair shop or to the tow yard?
This blog will focus on the unfortunate happening of a car damaged during any part of the towing process by the acts of the driver who is there to help.
The Tow Company’s Duty of Care
If a car is damaged during any point in the towing process, then the tow company is liable for its failure to exercise due care. The standard of this duty of care is the expectations of a reasonable person in a similar situation.
This reasonable duty extends to the tow connection, the drive in traffic and the proper display of warning lights indicating a vehicle in tow.
Steps to Take if Damage Occurs
The common damage to a vehicle during the tow is to the bumpers, the windshield or the tires.
Typically, before a car is towed, the driver will assess the condition of the car for dents, scratches or missing parts to protect the driver and the tow company from future damage claims. The vehicle owner should take photos alongside the driver when the condition is being assessed. This independent information will be helpful should any dispute or discrepancy arise regarding the condition of the vehicle prior to the tow.
If you accompany the tow truck to the destination of the tow, it is advisable to take photos when the vehicle is disconnected from the truck. Photos evidencing the before-and-after condition are hard to counter if damage did, in fact, occur during the tow.
The next step is to get a written estimate from a repair or a body shop for the damage.
It is always best to arm yourself with tangible proof of the damage and the cost of the repair. This is the time to speak to the tow company about its responsibility.
The best scenario is the tow company’s willingness to pay, or to reimburse the owner, for the cost of the repair without any involvement of an insurance company or pursuing the matter in small claims court.
Your Insurance Policy
If the tow company should refuse to repair the damage and is not willing to admit responsibility, then your choices become to:
- ascertain if your insurance company will cover the costs of the repair;
- repair the damage on your own without an insurance claim; or
- pursue the matter in small claims court.
Comprehensive coverage is optional under an insurance policy. Any damage caused while the vehicle was being towed would fall under comprehensive coverage, not collision with a deductible, because the damage was not the result of an accident with you at the wheel.
It will be important for you to determine whether:
- your policy contains comprehensive coverage;
- there will be a deductible; and
- there will be a change in your rate at the time of renewal.
When the above information is known, then an informed decision can be made as to how to handle the repair. The value of your time is an important consideration.
The Liability of the Tow Driver
In California, property damage is a type of tort where is it the responsibility of one party for damage it causes to another. Physical injury is not a requirement under tort law. In order to seek restitution against the tow driver separate, and in addition to, the tow company, you will need to establish the following:
- the terms of the agreement between the tow company and the driver, if one exists;
- whether the company had inherent control over the driver; and
- whether the driver’s actions were within the scope of duties.
If the damage to your vehicle is to the extent that an attorney needs to be retained to determine liability of the tow driver under tort law, or of the tow company under the doctrine of vicarious liability, then this would be the right decision upon which to proceed.
A pragmatic approach as to the extent of the damage, the coverage under your insurance policy, the position taken by the tow company and the value of your time will lead to the best decision.
Is the tow company liable for damage to a vehicle that results from any stage of the towing process?—yes. However, the approach to the recovery of the costs of repair is yours to make.