As a trucking company, you deal with unique challenges every day, especially since the COVID shutdowns. However, no one ever wants to get the call that there has been an accident involving one of your trucks. Most important of course is checking on the health & safety of your driver, any other persons involved, and making sure emergency services are on the way as appropriate. Then, you will focus on getting the accident reported to your insurance company so they can begin the claim process. However, one of the under the radar things that is also taking place at this time – depending upon the extent of damage – is the request to a local towing company to arrive on scene and perform their services. Many times the police officer on scene initiates the call to a towing company they are familiar with. Sometimes it’s a towing company assigned by an emergency roadside services vendor. One thing is certain though; amid all the chaos of the accident your trucking company rarely is given the option to choose the towing company in an attempt to mitigate the eventual towing and related charges.
When the towing bill is sent a week or two later, it can be an anxiety-inducing experience. In recent years, it has become common to see towing companies charge $20,000 to $40,000, which can be ridiculously inflated, and then stubbornly refuse to release the truck, trailer, or cargo until the entire bill is paid. Sometimes the claim adjuster (or adjusters depending on whether multiple insurance companies are involved) can assist in negotiating the amount of the bill down to a more reasonable amount. However, if those efforts are not working, what can your company do to investigate and dispute an inflated tow bill? Here are some tips from an insurance claims journal article¹, along with some additional notes:
- Determine the circumstances of recovery, including the terrain, locale and hazardous material.
- This helps you determine whether the work performed matches up with what you know about the accident and the damage.
- Confirm the date of loss.
- If the towing bill is showing a different date of loss/date of accident, that’s a red flag.
- Find out who called the tow company.
- If the towing company was called by an emergency roadside services vendor, for example, are there standard rates or limits on what they can charge per agreement with the vendor?
- Find out when the tow company responded to the scene.
- Is the towing company showing they arrived on scene at 4pm, when your driver says it was much later in the evening?
- Determine if the insured signed anything.
- Was an agreement signed that obligated your company to pay the towing company according to the terms in the agreement? It’s always good to remind your drivers not to sign anything before speaking with your company’s Claims/Safety Manager or other designated company contact.
- Determine the type of equipment/vehicles used and whether each was necessary to the recovery effort.
- If the towing bill is showing that they used multiple heavy-duty types of equipment when the details of the accident/damage didn’t require it, that’s also a charge to question.
- Verify the number of employees used in the recovery and how long each was on site.
- A common line item in towing bills is 4 hours times the hourly rate, then multiplied times number of employees used. Many towing companies list 4 hours even if the actual work involved took much less time. Ask for actual times for when the work began and when it ended along with the actual number of employees used.
- Clarify the work performed.
- If the towing bill line item give a generic description such as “labor” or “work time”, that’s not good enough.
- Verify whether cleanup was performed.
- Another common practice of towing companies is to automatically include charges for hazardous material/spill clean-up, even if that type of work wasn’t actually performed.
- Obtain any photos taken of the scene.
- Photos don’t lie, and can be great proof to support reducing the amount of the bill.
- Verify mileage claimed.
- Is the distance/miles listed between the tow yard and the accident scene not accurate? Many times towing companies are calculating cost per mile/distance.
As always, we are also happy to assist in reviewing tow bills with you and answering your questions. Please do not hesitate to give us a call at 913-451-3900, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you many safe and accident-free miles!
Director of Risk Management
Cline Wood, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company
Source: ¹Johnson, D., 2012. How To Combat Questionable Towing Bills. [online] Claims Jounal. Available at: <https://www.claimsjournal.com/news/national/2012/05/14/206743.htm> [Accessed 24 June 2020].