If your car was damaged while being towed, in most cases, the towing company is liable. However, the burden of proof can sometimes fall on you, the car owner. Be aware of the most common problems you may encounter that can affect your auto insurance coverage or rates and read your policy terms before taking any action.
The Small Print
The reason your car was towed may affect a damage claim. For example, if you were illegally parked and the local police ordered the tow, you’re required to contact the police and get their permission to release the car to you–after paying all tow and storage charges for the towing company.
Do not just automatically sign the documents you receive to get the release of your vehicle. Read both the large and small print in these documents first. Why?
Many tow companies, particularly those with city, town or county contracts to remove vehicles, insert clauses in their release documents stating that, by signing, you release them from all liability for damage to your car during the tow. Should you sign this document before viewing your car, you won’t know if it was damaged, but you’ve effectively stated that the tow company was not liable.
Another common clause involves your agreement that the tow company is not responsible for damage to your car or missing items in it while the vehicle is in the storage lot. Storage lots may be tow company or municipal property, which will affect your insurance or civil claim procedure, if your car suffers damage or theft while in the storage facility.
Burden of Proof Issues
Most often, the primary object of contention becomes the source of the damage to your car. The party who has the burden of proof has more work to do.
For example, if the tow company denies that your vehicle suffered any damage during the tow, how would you prove that your car didn’t already have this damage prior to the tow? If you’ve filed a claim under your insurance policy, it would be difficult to prove that your vehicle was damaged by the tow company.
Many tow companies also take pictures or write down any existing damage before they hook up your vehicle. Should the damage you believe is their fault be noted or pictured, you’ll have difficulty proving it occurred during the tow. In these cases, the tow company’s claim that they are not liable, may be upheld by your insurance company or in a court of law.
The bottom line: Understand your burden of proof responsibility if the tow company denies it damaged your vehicle or if you sign a waiver of liability as part of your car recovery process.