Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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If you have collision coverage on your damaged vehicle, file a claim with your insurer. If not, the insurance company does not have to pay you for the costs of repairs to your vehicle, even if the insurer asked for or requested the tow, UNLESS the tow truck operator was its employee (and not a contractor or subcontractor). You could also (or in addition to) file suit against the tow truck driver if you can show that it was through his negligence or carelessness that your car was damaged.

Whether you are guaranteed compensation from your insurer depends on whether your own auto insurance policy has collision coverage. Collision insurance is optional coverage you have to specifically purchase and pay for; it covers the cost of damage to your vehicle regardless of who was to blame (was at fault) for the collision. If you have this coverage, you can be reimbursed by your own insurance carrier simply by filing a claim for damages. If you do not have collision coverage, however, your insurer is not under any obligation to pay for your damaged car, even if they asked for or requested the tow, unless the tow truck operator was its employee. That because when there is collision coverage, they would only have to pay if they are liable for the damage. Under the law, an employer is liable for the damage or costs caused by its employees under the legal theory of respondeat superior (basically, “let the superior”—or boss—“answer”). But a contractor or a subcontractor is not an employee for this purpose; they are a third party.

Another option for compensation for the damage to your vehicle is to file a suit against the tow truck operator who was “at fault” in damaging your vehicle. In this case, you will have to show that he was at fault: that is, that he caused the damage through his negligence or carelessness. If he wasn’t at fault, he is not responsible for the damage—though if someone else was at fault (e.g. another driver who hit your towed car), you may be able to sue that person.

If the costs to repair the damage are relatively modest, consider filing suit in your state’s small claims court. It is a quick, simple, and inexpensive way to resolve legal cases that involve small amounts of money. Better yet, you do not need to involve a lawyer; you can proceed on a “pro se” basis, or as your own attorney. (Small claims courts typically impose a specific dollar limit on the amount of compensation one party may seek from another; check out our Small Claims Courts Resources to find out the dollar limit in your state.)

If the tow truck driver worked for someone else, you could also sue his employer because as discussed above, an employer is generally liable for the actions of its employees, so long as the employee is acting within the scope of his employment. If the driver did work for someone else (was not his own boss), sue the driver and the employer both. The more people who may be liable for your loss, the greater the odds of recovering money from someone.

See our discussion about who pays when an accident occurs in a company car.