Do I legally owe them even if I never contacted them ?

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Do I legally owe them even if I never contacted them ?

My husband was in a car accident at the same time my mother suffered a massive heart attack. As I rushed to my mom’s side, my husband was calling different companies for repair quotes. One company took it upon themselves to come out an illegally take my car my husbands name is not on the car tow it to another part of town and hold it there. When I was finally able to deal with the accident I contacted my insurance company to find out where my car was and called the repair company who than told me I owe them 1710 for storage and towing I told them I never even authorized them for repair or authorized them to take my car. They will not release my car, isn’t that stealing? Can’t I legally make a police report of theft?

Asked on December 31, 2016 under Accident Law, Oregon

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Yes, if you no one ever told them to take the car, then unless it was properly towed for being in a "no parking" zone, they had no right to take it. What they did would technically be theft, but the police may choose to not help you, incorrectly believing that this is a "civil," or business/contractual, dispute (e.g over terms or cost of a service). That means that if the police do not help you--though it would be a good idea to try them first, since their help if free if given--your recourse would be to sue the towing company for the return of your car. In that lawsuit, if the court agrees with you that the towing company had no right to take the car, the court should order its return and also determine that you do not owe any money. It is possible to file this action on an "emergent" (think: "urgent" or "emergency") basis to get into court more quickly--possibly within a week or so. However, to do that, and to sue for the return of a physical object (the car) generally, as opposed to suing just for money (like suing for an unpaid bill), you can't sue in small claims court but would have to file in "regular" county court, which is more complex and expensive. (If you choose to do this yourself rather than retain an attorney, you should be able to get instructions and possibly sample forms from the court.)
Alternately, instead of suing to get the car back, you could sue for its economic value on the grounds it was stolen ("theft" is a civil tort, or something you could sue about, as well as a crime)--when property is stolen, the thief may be sued for its then-current fair market value. This could let you file in small claims court (so long as the amount you are suing for does not exceed the limit for your small claims court), and the action could potentially be settled by them agreeing to give the car back; but you can't file on an emergent basis in small claims, so even though small caims is faster than "regular" court, this will not be as quick as filing an emergent matter in regular court.


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