Two Columbus towing companies have violated state law by charging a $30 or $35 "administrative fee" to those whose vehicles are towed and impounded, a Franklin County judge ruled yesterday.
Two Columbus towing companies have violated state law by charging a $30 or $35 “administrative fee” to those whose vehicles are towed and impounded, a Franklin County judge ruled yesterday.
The court could order refunds for everyone who has been slapped with such a fee in recent years, according to one of the attorneys for five people who filed a class-action lawsuit against the towing companies in Common Pleas Court.
“The class could be thousands of people, tens of thousands,” said Fred Gittes, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
Shamrock Towing and Camcar Towing had argued that they could charge the fee because it isn’t prohibited in state law.
Judge David E. Cain called that argument “ludicrous” in granting summary judgment in favor of those who challenged the fees in the lawsuit, filed in August 2012.
No one from the towing companies was available to comment on the decision late yesterday, nor could their attorneys be reached last night. The decision could be appealed to the Franklin County Court of Appeals.
The judge scheduled a status conference for Monday to “come to a precise definition of the class,” including how far back in time the claims against the towing companies can be made.
Gittes said the plaintiffs will argue that the practice of charging the fee began in 2008.
William McCartney of Heath, Ohio, one of two original plaintiffs, said last night that the case was about more than the $30 administrative fee he was charged after his car was towed by Camcar from a parking lot on E. 5th Avenue in June 2010.
“My whole goal was to stop what I viewed as an illegal practice,” he said. “Thirty dollars for one person isn’t a big deal, but saddled on the backs of thousands of people is ridiculous.”
The Ohio Revised Code authorizes towing companies to charge $90 for towing and a storage fee of $12 a day for vehicles towed from private tow-away zones. The law makes no provision for the administrative fee that Shamrock and Camcar were charging on top of those amounts.
“To argue that the fact that the statute does not mention an administrative fee authorizes the charging of such a fee is ludicrous,” Cain wrote. “It would be like saying that defendants could ... sell towed cars just because there is no statute saying that they can’t.”
Gittes said partial records illustrate how large the class could be. Receipts and invoices supplied by the companies show that Shamrock charged the fee to about 10,400 individuals between November 2011 and May 2013. About 7,800 individuals paid the fee to Camcar from December 2009 to October 2012, he said.
The Ohio House unanimously passed a bill last month designed to address complaints about towing companies, including price-gouging. The bill, which still must be considered by the Senate, would control the stacking of administrative fees on top of state-authorized fees.