My car was illegally towed! What can I do?

Illegal Towing Quicker 

Have you ever had your car towed after parking it somewhere? If so, you are the proud recipient of what is referred to in Texas as a “nonconsent tow.”  Nonconsent tows happen every day throughout Texas and tow companies make a great deal of money charging you for the towing and storage of your car. Notwithstanding the fact that you did not ask for the tow company to snatch your car, you must now pay them for the privilege of returning your vehicle to you.  What are your remedies, though, when the tow company had no right to tow your car in the first place?

The Texas Towing and Booting Act (Tex. Occ. Code Chapter 2308) provides a unique remedy for Texans who have a few hours of spare time and wish to have the merits of the tow decided by a local judge.  This remedy is commonly known as a Tow Hearing, though it is sometimes also called a “452 Hearing” – so named for Section 2308.452 of the Texas Occupations Code.

What is a Tow Hearing? A Tow Hearing is a judicial proceeding at which a judge determines whether “probable cause” existed for the removal of the vehicle and whether or not the towing charge imposed or collected was greater than that authorized by law.  Whether or not probable cause existed to the removal of the vehicle depends on a number of factors specific to your case. Whether a charge exceeded the amount authorized by law can depend on both state and municipal regulations in a particular area.  Basically this means you need to be certain you know what the rules are before you go show up to the hearing.

Timelines.  Typically, the person requesting a Tow Hearing must do so within 14 days of the date their vehicle was towed, excluding holidays and weekends.  The Tow Hearing must then be conducted within 21 days after the court receives the request.  While these deadlines make a Tow Hearing a very quick remedy for those wanting their money back following an illegal tow, they also create a strict filing deadline that can be easily missed.  As discussed in another blog article on illegal towing, available HERE, the language describing this deadline is somewhat unclear, so it is best to get the Tow Hearing application to the court early.

Evidence.  Generally, evidence at a Tow Hearing will be very limited.  The reason for this is that there has been no discovery period as there is in a traditional lawsuit.  Thus, at a Tow Hearing, you will generally be relying on the tow receipt and your own photographs and testimony.  Judges in these hearings will typically ask questions of both parties in order to help develop the case.  Tow Hearings are held in Justice Court – thus, the rules of civil procedure and evidence are typically less strictly enforced.

Will there be Lawyers? Possibly.  Both you and the tow company may retain and be represented by an attorney.  The prevailing party in a Tow Hearing may be awarded attorney’s fees under the Texas Towing and Booting Act.

How do I get a Tow Hearing?  You apply for one with the Justice Court in the county where your car was towed.   Tex. Occ. Code 2308.456(b) lists the requirements for a proper requests for a Tow Hearing.  While more and more justice courts are providing application forms for Tow Hearings, the good folks at the courthouse cannot give you legal advice.  That means that even though they provide the form for you, they will not be able to tell you whether the application you complete meets the statutory requirements.

Statutory Update.  Because of recent statutory amendments, any justice court in the County where your vehicle was towed may hear your request a tow hearing.   A link to the amendment may be found below:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/HB00338F.pdf#navpanes=0

Remember – A Tow Hearing is Not a Game.  Any time you are in front of a judge, it is a serious matter.  You need to be polite, professional, and fully prepared to present your case to the judge in a coherent manner. Treat everyone in the courtroom, including the tow truck company’s representative, with the utmost respect and courtesy.  Having a disagreement does not give you license to be disagreeable, so be nice!

What other remedies are available?  Texas provides for numerous other remedies in addition to the Tow Hearing.  In addition to the Tow Hearing, the Texas Towing and Booting Act provides for civil damages against a towing company that knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly violates the statute.  Further, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which regulates towing companies and towing activity in Texas, has online complaint forms which can be used to alert TDLR to violations of the statute or improper behavior. To read more on the different types of liability under the Texas Towing and Booting Act click HERE.

Ryan (that's me) also has a life outside of the law. I love spending time with my beautiful wife and my dog in the Heights, live music, and long walks on the beach.

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