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What legal options do I have to free my car at a private impound lot?


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#1 PleaseHelpFreeMyCar

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 11:32 AM

Hi Everyone,

Can someone please tell me what my legal options are for this situation?

Due to a recent episode of a mental condition I have, I abandoned my vehicle in a borough of New York City on a particular day in late December 2012. I ended up being escorted by a stranger to my mother's home by subway train. That same night, I was admitted to the hospital and stayed there for a couple of weeks before being discharged.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to locate my car. I contacted various police precincts multiple times, but was unable to receive assistance from any of them. They claimed that unless I could recall where the car was abandoned, I wouldn't be able to file a lost or stolen vehicle report because that report has to be filed at the scene by a police officer. Each precinct is also responsible for only a certain region of a borough of NYC, so not knowing where the car was located when it was abandoned also meant not knowing which precinct to contact. I also called the police impounds in different boroughs multiple times, but the car was not located there either.

So, I notified my car insurance company, surrendered my plates electronically at the DMV in New Jersey (where my car was registered), and recently acquired another vehicle. After making reasonable efforts to locate the car, I assumed it was lost or stolen and that it would never be found.

A few days ago, I learned that my car was apparently towed on the same day I was hospitalized to a private tow lot in NYC where it has been impounded for the past 5 weeks. I only discovered the location of the car from a letter by the police precinct to my postal address in New Jersey.

After speaking with the general manager of the private lot, I've come to learn that he believes that I currently owe him almost $1400 for storage fees. According to him, the fees will continue to accrue at $27/day until payment is made. If payment is not made, he claims that the car will be sold at police auction and that balance of debt will be sold to debt collectors. He even claimed that he would try to get my drivers license suspended if I did not pay up.

According to the general manager, the private tow lot mailed me a package a few days ago (1/26). I have yet to receive it and he claimed over the phone that he wouldn't negotiate with me further if I chose to wait to receive the package from him. I decided not to give in to him.

Can someone please advise me of my legal options at this point?

What is the relevant law for NYC when a car is impounded at a private lot and due to a medical condition the owner of the vehicle cannot remember where the car was abandoned and cannot locate the vehicle?

Does the general manager of the private tow lot have a legal responsibility to notify the owner of the vehicle in a timely manner? There were New Jersey plates on the car and all he had to do was call up NJ DMV to get my mailing address. Instead of doing that, I had to wait 5 weeks to get notification from the police precinct?

Do I really owe the private tow lot almost $1400?

Can I fight this in small claims court? NYC lawyers want $400/hr and Legal-Aid lawyers won't touch this case because they consider automobile cases "luxuries" compared to housing cases.

Thanks,
PleaseHelpFreeMyCar

#2 pg1067

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 11:50 AM

According to the general manager, the private tow lot mailed me a package a few days ago (1/26). I have yet to receive it and he claimed over the phone that he wouldn't negotiate with me further if I chose to wait to receive the package from him. I decided not to give in to him.


I'm not sure what you mean (or what he meant) by "negotiate further." Nothing in your post suggests that any negotiating occurred at all. It only suggests that he demanded a certain amount.


Can someone please advise me of my legal options at this point?


Pay or don't pay and suffer the consequences.


What is the relevant law for NYC when a car is impounded at a private lot and due to a medical condition the owner of the vehicle cannot remember where the car was abandoned and cannot locate the vehicle?


Laws do not exist to cover every unique circumstance, no matter how common or uncommon. Apparently, you parked your car illegally, and it was towed. That this all happened because of some undescribed "mental condition" or "medical condition" is irrelevant. Whether you can use the delay between the unstated date of towing and "a few days ago" when you were first notified about the towing is impossible to say without reading the applicable NYS and NYC towing laws (all of which should be readily available with a google search or two). My inclination is that you should get some consideration for what appears to have been at least a three week delay.


Does the general manager of the private tow lot have a legal responsibility to notify the owner of the vehicle in a timely manner? There were New Jersey plates on the car and all he had to do was call up NJ DMV to get my mailing address. Instead of doing that, I had to wait 5 weeks to get notification from the police precinct?


I doubt and would hope that the NJDMV would not give out your mailing address in response to a simple phone call. Indeed, that this was an out-of-state vehcicle may make "timely" be longer than it would if the vehicle were registered in NY.


Can I fight this in small claims court?


I can't see why not.

#3 adjusterjack

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:03 PM

You can do whatever you want but, let's face it, your car was legally impounded and the towing company is entitled to its storage charges.

That it was towed in NYC and you live in NJ probably explains the delay in getting you notified.

Your situation is unfortunate but I suggest you pay the $1400 and get your car back.

You can certainly sue for your car back but, by the time you even get to court, you'll owe double or triple the $1400 and I doubt if you'll win.

Warning: Legal issues are complicated. Explanations and comments here are simplified and might not fully explain the ramifications of your particular issue. I am not a lawyer. I do not give legal advice. I make comments based on my knowledge and experience. I guarantee nothing. If you act on my comments without the advice of an attorney, you do so at your own risk.


#4 Guest_FindLaw_Amir_*

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:44 AM

Have you attempted to negotiate a lower price with the impound lot?

#5 disabled4life

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:47 PM

What I gathered from this:

1) Your medical condition does not excuse you from responsibility of a vehicle. This is just from my experience, and I don't think its fair.. but from my own personal experience, if you have a mental condition that might cause you to forget where the vehicle was, then it would be your responsibility, if you choose to own and operate a vehicle to make sure that someone else is able to take responsibility for the vehicle.

That said... you spent weeks trying to locate the car... it would seem to me that anyone who had the authority to tow away your vehicle should also have the liability to be able to be reached with reasonable effort on the part of the owner of the vehicle.

I am not sure I am understanding the extent of your condition, but if you left your vehicle somewhere and couldn't find it or know what town it was in.. then you shouldn't have been driving a vehicle. That said, I would consider contacting the State Department or the Attorney General.. if you spent as long as you did trying to locate your car it seems extremely far fetched that there is no statewide or county wide data base, that should have easily been able to tell you immediately which 'tow lot' had your vehicle. I came back once to find my vehicle missing and upon contacting the police,. no one had any record of it, I too assumed it was stolen and gone. They assured me repeatedly that the police had no record of it and it wasn't towed. Several days later after a thorough investigation on my part I found out that a certain tow yard had it. I wouldn't be surprised if the cops don't have some way of 'losing' the paperwork or having it fall through the cracks that then cause you to end up owing a big sum to get your vehicle back later. I'd contact the Attorney General of your State.. and be ready to show documentation of all you did to locate the vehicle through the various police departments.




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