Huge reimbursement 'sends message' to tow companies that inflate bills

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 5/13/2016

A convincing message has been delivered to tow companies who attempt to overcharge truck drivers for nonconsensual tows.

The Public Service Commission of West Virginia issued a staff recommendation on May 5 that Hutch’s Wrecker Service refund the full amount of $185,894.91 to A.D. Transport Express after it determined the towing company’s invoice included several overcharges and non-allowable charges.

Hutch’s can request an appeal within 10 days of the recommendation and receive a hearing. If there is no objection, the staff’s recommendation will likely be adopted.

This complaint was not represented by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, but it serves as a win for truckers in the Association’s fight against overcharged nonconsensual tows. OOIDA has filed three complaints against Hutch’s for inflated tow bills.

“This is just a staff recommendation at this point,” said Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs. “The tow company can still appeal it. But the fact that the commission gave this recommendation in West Virginia is huge. It sends a message. You’ll still have a company in West Virginia that will try to inflate a bill, but people in the towing industry are going to hear about this recommendation.”

On Jan. 21, A.D. Transport Express filed a formal complaint against Hutch’s for being billed rates outside of the approved tariff and for services, equipment and hours that were not performed or needed. In the complaint, A.D. Transport included a computer-generated invoice in the amount of $182,794.91, along with a second invoice that showed no itemized totals but indicated that the bill had been settled for $80,000 for tractor, trailer and cargo.

Hutch’s filed its response to the complaint on Feb. 24. In the response, it included an original invoice in the amount of $185,894.91 and a settlement invoice of $80,000. While the response offered an explanation of the scene, the commission said it had more questions. On April 18, Hutch’s sent an itemized invoice for $185,894.91.

The invoice included multiple overcharges. Hutch’s charged $200 per hour for a tractor, while the maximum allowable rate is $125 per hour. In other instances, the bill included rates that were $50 or $65 per hour more than the allowed maximum. Hutch’s also charged a flat rate of $1,450 for a saw rental when the allowable charge is only $20.

In addition, Hutch’s billed A.D. Transport for a dump trailer, side by side and reclamation. The commission said “since no rates have been approved, these items are considered non-allowable charges and should be removed completely.”

The invoice also included a subcontracted charge from K&N Contracting for $19,987.77. When K&N was contacted about the charge, it showed an original invoice for $15,000, which was discounted to $8,000. The approved tariff allows subcontracted services to be charged at a rate of cost plus 20 percent. When you apply the 20 percent, the total should have been $9,600, which was $10,387.77 less than what Hutch’s charged. 

“According to Hutch’s and to A.D. Transport, the recovery of this accident scene lasted several days, but at no time has any documentation been submitted as to the start time or finish time for each day,” the Public Service Commission of West Virginia wrote. “Due to Hutch’s lack of required information, the lack of requested information and no supporting documentation, along with the apparent hourly overcharging, non-allowable charging for equipment and overstated subcontract and rental invoices, Utility staff recommends a total refund.”

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