A towing company in Washington state has been told to pay thousands of dollars to a former U.S. Navy sailor for towing – and then selling – his car while he was deployed.
The resolution in the dispute between Bethel Garage Inc. and sailor Vincent Rowell was announced recently by the office of the state attorney general.
The Military Times reported that Bethel towed the sailor’s car in December 2018, even though he was deployed at the time.
He was assigned to the submarine Connecticut and left the car with a friend, state officials explained. The car then was involved in an accident, towed and sold.
But Bethel apparently failed to check a database listing vehicles belonging to deployed members of the military, because auctioning off those vehicles violates the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, a federal law.
“Despite operating in a region that is home to thousands of active-duty service members, Bethel had no policies to comply with SCRA nor did it check a free, publicly available Department of Defense database to see if service members owned any vehicles going to auction,” state officials said.
The report said the car, a 2016 Hyundai Elantra, was auctioned for $5,200.
The court order in the case explains the resolution is to “return money from the sale of the car at the auction to the sailor as well as an additional $2,000 to compensate him for a year when he did not have a vehicle.”
“The law is clear — towing companies have an obligation to determine whether a car belongs to a member of the military,” Attorney General Robert Ferguson said in a statement obtained by Military Times. “When our service men and women are deployed away from home and family, they should not need to worry whether their possessions are safe. There are specific laws that protect our service members, and I will enforce them.”
State officials said the tow company was unaware of the requirement, and immediately changed its procedures to comply.
It’s not the first time such a fight has developed. WND reported in 2020 when San Antonio was told to pay nearly $200,000 to resolve a Justice Department complaint that it auctioned off multiple vehicles belonging to service members.
And in separate cases in Florida and Massachusetts, the Justice Department filed lawsuits against companies that illegally sold off a towed car and auctioned household goods left in storage.
Under the agreement in the San Antonio case, the city “must pay $47,000 to compensate two servicemembers who complained that the city unlawfully auctioned off their cars while they were in military service.”
“The city must also establish a $150,000 settlement fund to compensate other servicemembers whose SCRA rights may have been violated and pay a $62,029 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.”
The DOJ found the city actually had auctioned “at least 227 vehicles” belonging to protected servicemembers.
The DOJ also announced at that time a case in the Middle District of Florida alleging Target Recovery Towing and Target Recovery & Transport of Tampa, Florida, illegally auctioned a vehicle belonging to a service member.
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