West Virginia adopts new, fair tow rules

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/29/2016

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed into law a bill that addresses concerns from truckers about questionable towing and recovery operations in the state.

The bill signed on Friday, March 25, changes how the West Virginia Public Service Commission enforces its own rules and regulations on towing and recovery operations.

OOIDA says small-business truckers in the state are increasingly subjected to unreasonable charges from towing companies engaged in nonconsensual towing and recovery operations.

The Association has highlighted a June 2014 incident where a truck driver was double-billed $30,000 for a third-party tow.

To address concerns of truckers, Rep. Scott Cadle, R-Mason – who is a truck driver and OOIDA life member – worked to get a bill through the statehouse that covers multiple issues, including a requirement for the PSC to review and make changes to their complaint process.

“(The new law) basically brings a third-party tow in line with regulations on other tows,” Cadle told Land Line. “For whatever reason a third-party tow has not been regulated in West Virginia.”

Cadle said as the legislation made its way through the statehouse he provided to lawmakers a copy of one truck tow bill that topped $180,000.

“These tow companies have found a little gray area, and they have taken full advantage of it,” he said. “They see a way to basically screw the insurance and overcharge costs for small truckers, and anyone else for that matter. It drives up the cost of insurance for everyone.”

One change in HB4186 gives the commission more direction regarding factors to consider when determining whether a charge is reasonable. Factors to consider include the total time to complete the recovery or tow, the number of employees required to complete the recovery or tow, location of vehicle recovered or towed, and materials or cargo involved in a recovery or tow.

In addition, the commission will not be limited to the factors listed in the new law when determining whether or not a tow or recovery was fair, effective and reasonable.

The new law also addresses complaints filed against tow operators relating to nonconsensual tows, or tows ordered by police. Specifically, the burden of proof to show that the tow company’s charges are legitimate would be on the tower.

A separate provision puts in place a process for truck drivers to recover costs associated with tows determined to be in violation of PSC rules.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, says the changes will better protect truck drivers from inflated towing bills in the state. The Association has about 1,000 members residing in West Virginia, and thousands more that travel through the state.

“Towing invoices in West Virginia are among the highest in the nation and the state’s enforcement is severely lacking,” Matousek said.

Cadle said it could take up to one year before the changes are implemented.

He also points out the rule changes do not harm those in the towing industry that operate their business the right way.

“I don’t think the legitimate people have a problem with any of this. It is a regulated industry anyway. It’s just for the bad actors.”

 To view other legislative activities of interest for West Virginia, click here.

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