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Hawkins’ bill to help tow-truck operators moves to state House (WA)


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OLYMPIA — After getting stuck with $15,000 in costs last year for answering a call from law enforcement to remove a truck that had landed in a creek, Randy Houston, owner of Randy’s Auto Parts and Towing, suggested a change in the law was in order.

 

His idea turned into Senate Bill 5406, a bipartisan bill introduced by 12th District Sen. Brad Hawkins, which passed the Senate Tuesday in a 47-1 vote and is now headed to the House.

 

If approved, registered tow-truck operators dispatched by state or local agencies could bring civil action against owners or insurance companies to cover unpaid costs on calls stemming from negligence or illegal operation of a vehicle on a public highway. The covered costs would apply to vehicle recovery, impound and storage fees, as well as costs associated with incident response and traffic control.

 

Houston, who has offices in Wenatchee, Okanogan and Ephrata, spoke with Hawkins about the ongoing problem and testified in favor of the proposed bill. He shared, as an example, the call in February 2020 to recover a truck that had landed in a creek near Coulee Dam after losing its brakes, hitting a building and crashing through a guardrail.

 

“We got called to get the truck out of the creek to stop the pollution,” Houston said. “I called 20 people out to get there as fast as we could with the equipment we needed. As soon as I get a call, the checkbook opens and I start writing checks. I have to hire people, outside equipment, trailers.”

 

The insurance company later denied payment for the towing operation, saying the crashed truck owner’s collision coverage had lapsed and towing services are not covered by the liability insurance that would cover damage to the building and the guardrail. Houston then tried to collect from the truck owner, but the company, by then, had disbanded. His only other opportunity to cover costs was in the sale of the abandoned vehicle at auction, but it had no takers, which wasn’t surprising, given it had flipped several times on its way down the bank, leaving nothing much to bid on.

 

Responding to that particular call left Randy’s Towing about $15,000 in the hole, Houston said, one of hundreds of unpaid calls for service incurred by registered towing companies statewide responding to call outs from law enforcement agencies. His company, which handles about $1 million worth of towing a year, writes off $50,000 to $100,000 in unpaid fees, he said.

 

Houston said he believes allowing tow companies to seek damages through civil action would help recover most of those losses.

 

“These tow-truck operators are helping to provide a great service throughout our state,” Hawkins said. “These are often local, small businesses whose owners are trying to put food on their tables just like the rest of our families. They shouldn’t be stuck with the bill. That’s not right. If this keeps up, they might just say no if it looks like a situation where they won’t recover their costs. That would be a bad outcome for everyone.”

 

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