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JB Umphrey
JB Umphrey, Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Explains legal matters based on 14+ years experience.
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Towing company damaged vehicle I have what seems like an

Resolved Question:

Towing company damaged vehicle

I have what seems like an obvious question, but I wanted to check that I'm not missing anything. I got my pickup truck stuck in the mud on my driveway at the top of a hill. After failing to get it out, I ended up about 10' below the driveway and parallel to it --- right on the verge of being able to make it back up, but not quite.

I gave up and called Amex's Roadside Assistance, who sent a local towing company to assist. Initial quote was $65 flat-rate, but after inspecting they decided the driveway was too muddy for their big truck and that they would need to come back with a lighter vehicle at $185/hr. Late afternoon, needed to get places, so agreed.

Towing company returned, and very inefficiently got the pickup almost back on the driveway. They stopped to confer on how to do the last bit, and unhooked the chains. Apparently they did not properly set the parking brake and left the pickup in neutral. As everyone watched, the truck started rolling driverless down the hill into a ravine.

It went about 200' then solidly hit an oak tree in the middle of the front bumper and immediately came to a stop. Would guess it was going about 30 MPH at that point. Truck mostly undamaged other than deep fold in the middle of the front bumper, broken radiator, lots of broken chrome. Clearly undrivable, although possibly repairable. Also still located halfway down a hill lodged against a tree.

Multiple witnesses: I, my girlfriend, a friendly neighbor, and the 3 workers, one of whom owns the truck. Unlikely to be much dispute about the events, although they might claim that they set the parking brake and it failed. Only possible big factor is that there is no contract, waiver, or anything written involved yet, unless American Express did something on my behalf.

As it was getting to be evening, we left the truck there for the night. I'm meeting them tomorrow afternoon when they attempt to extract. It's an 92 Ford Ranger, Blue Book probably $2K. I'm not that worried about the truck in the short term, but want to end up with either a working vehicle or adequate compensation for loss and hassle.

How should I be approaching this?
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  JB Umphrey replied 5 years ago.
Hi and thank you for using JustAnswer!

I am sorry to learn about this experience. Even though there wasn't a written contract, the legal principles of general negligence apply. Things to consider include:

1. Going to the scene before the others and take photographs of the current condition of the truck.

2. Asking the tow company for their insurance carrier information so that you can file a loss claim with their insurance carrier.

3. Obtaining repair estimates and submitting them to the insurance carrier/tow company.

Depending upon the amount of damages, if they are not willing to make things good, the tow company can be sued in small claims court.

It has been my pleasure to assist you today with your information needs. It is my goal that you are satisfied. No expert can promise you an answer that is favorable to your circumstances. But I will do my very best to explain the legal principles that are related to the facts you’ve described so that you can better understand the “why” of things.

If you have a follow-up question, please reply and ask it.

If you have other questions on different matters, you can ask me at Or there are also other Experts ready to assist you in a range of Legal specialties, Veterinary, Cars and others – you can reach them via the homepage.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
OK, I appreciate for the info. These seem like good ideas.

One thing I was wondering about is the "value" of the vehicle in the case repairs are extensive. I'm guessing that it actually won't be cost effective to repair, and they'll just want to settle. Legally, would their liability normally be for the something like the book value of the vehicle (low), the actual cost of replacement (slightly higher), or would they be responsible full cost of repairing the vehicle?

I'm not particularly attached to this vehicle, although I do need to either get it fixed or replace it with something comparable.

Expert:  JB Umphrey replied 5 years ago.
Ideally, the financial exposure would be to restore you in the same position as if the accident never happened. However, they go about making you whole is up to them (or a judge). So long as you're not attached to the auto, that gives you/them a lot more flexibility in reaching and negotiating a satisfactory resolution.

Best of wishes to you.
JB Umphrey and 4 other Legal Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks! I'll accept, but might ask a followup after I meet with them today and we see better what the actual state of the vehicle is.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Following up for posterity: Towing company eventually managed to extract the vehicle from the ravine. Impressively, the damage to the vehicle was mostly cosmetic: hood, bumper, fender. The metal bumper did a great job of absorbing impact, and tree was largely unhurt. Towing company bought parts from a local junkyard, replaced bent items, rewelded bumper attachments, redid alignment, and returned vehicle in working order a week later. Everyone embarrassed and apologetic, no legal measures involved, vehicle back in working order.
Expert:  JB Umphrey replied 5 years ago.
Congratulations! Well done!! Bravo!