This is an insane story coming from some of the most vulnerable people in Seattle. A homeless woman was hit with a $21,634 bill from a local tow truck company. The woman is homeless and lived in her car. It was the only item she owned. So when that car was stolen, police found it the next day and it was towed. That is when the year long saga begins.
Via Seattle Times
Ogle went down to the tow yard and tried to get the car. No dice unless she paid $427, which she says she could not do. The tow yard, run by Dick’s Towing, refused to give it back to her — though they knew it had been stolen, and she told them she was homeless.
At this point, nobody had really done anything wrong.
But then Ogle filed a request for King County District Court to review the tow. This is a standard thing, and the form was provided to her by Dick’s. But pre-typed on it was the name and address of Dick’s sister company, Lincoln Towing of Seattle. The companies have the same president and general manager and are both owned by Road One West.
This triggered the court notifying Lincoln Towing of the hearing (it was their form, after all). Ogle says she also called both tow companies, pleading with them to hold onto her car until the hearing.
But the tow company claimed later they hadn’t been properly notified, and so didn’t show. Ogle represented herself. The judge, learning the basic facts of the story, concluded what any common-sense person would: The old car’s everything to her, and she is blameless. So just give it back.
“The vehicle was stolen,” Judge Ketu Shah wrote on his order. “Vehicle must be returned to registered owner.”
Well that’s where it gets infuriating. It turns out the towing company had already sold off Ogle’s car — for a measly $175.
“So I win a court order on my own, but I still lose,” Ogle recalls thinking at the time. “I almost gave up right there. I might have, if they had ever just called and said they were sorry or something.”
Instead, Ogle found the Northwest Consumer Law Center, a tiny two-lawyer shop formed in Seattle recently to help the poor with consumer problems. An attorney there, Eggers, sent Lincoln a letter citing the judge’s order and asking for damages. Lincoln responded that it had bought the car back and Ogle could have it — but only if she first released any claims against the companies.
“So basically they were using the car as leverage to get out of any liability,” Eggers said. “The car is Amanda’s home, and it was the middle of winter. But to them it’s a bargaining chip.”
Lincoln then played tow-company hardball. The company started gouging her $75 per day to store the car. That’s $2,300 per month — enough to rent the 27-year-old car its own apartment with granite countertops in a downtown high-rise. By Monday, the bill, with tax, had reached $21,634.
“Additional fees may apply,” it says helpfully at the bottom.