“I was in there five minutes tops, it was ridiculous,” said Keith Kennedy, who faced one of Ohio State students’ worst nightmares: getting his car towed.
Last winter, Kennedy, now a third-year in mechanical engineering, drove to Raising Cane’s on High Street, parked his car and walked outside to find that Shamrock Towing, Inc. had towed his vehicle.
“I parked in the alley, ran a paper in, talked to the manager for a minute, came out, and my car was gone. And it was snowing,” Kennedy said. “Obviously somebody was waiting for someone to park there.”
Kennedy walked home in the snow and asked a friend to drive him to collect his car at the towing company.
“It was $145 — that number is burned into my brain,” Kennedy said.
Ohio law states towing companies are prohibited from charging more than $90 for towing and $12 per day for storage, but according to a lawsuit filed Aug. 29 with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Shamrock Towing and Camcar Inc. regularly charge an additional $30 administrative fee that the law does not allow.
Fred Gittes is one of three attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs, Bill McCartney and Marta Stewart-Bates, for overcharging customers. The suit seeks to bring an end to this illegal practice, Gittes said in a press release.
But Tim Duffey, president of Shamrock Towing, said he thinks the administrative fees are justified.
“It’s just like anything else, there’s going to be service charges, there’s going to be taxes,” Duffeysaid.
Kennedy said he talked to his parents about the added cost and, although they were informed it was against the law, Kennedy decided not to follow up with the complaint.
“Once the towing company has your car, you are basically helpless when it comes to what you have to pay to get it back,” Gittes said. “You can’t negotiate, you can’t refuse to pay, and in most cases, the person who just got towed has no idea what is reasonable, much less what the maximum allowed rate is.”
Duffey pointed to New York City’s towing rates as an example of how his company’s prices are reasonable. According to the New York Police Department’s website, the average cost of a tow in New York City costs $185 with an overnight fee of $20. This does not take into account added fees individual companies may charge.
Jordan Davis, general manager for Camcar, said he could not comment on what the company charges for its services due to the ongoing lawsuit.
Kennedy might have been right in thinking that someone was waiting for him to park illegally.
“(Tow truck drivers) have a little route they run, kind of like a trail out in the woods except this is through alleys,” Duffey said, though he added that most of the time, the trucks are responding to property-owner or resident complaints that their parking spots have been taken.
Shamrock and Camcar are responsible for more than 5,000 customers between them, including private tow-away zones on OSU’s campus, according to the lawsuit.
Both Duffey and Davis said an exact estimate of the number of cars they tow from the off-campus area is impossible, but agreed game days are a particularly high-traffic time.
“In a year’s time, it probably averages to about five a day, but on Saturdays it could be 30 or 40 in a 24-hour period,” Duffey said. “It comes in two waves. The first is during the game and the second is that night when people are either out celebrating or out drowning their sorrows in defeat.”
Duffey wanted people to know that as long as they park where they are legally allowed, there should not be a problem.
“People get this sense of entitlement. ‘There’s an empty spot, I’m taking it.’ But the fact of the deal is, we don’t have your keys, we didn’t park it there, and then all of a sudden everyone’s a victim,” Duffey said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way it works. Personal responsibility is a tough pill to swallow.”
The case does not have any scheduled action until January, and a trial assignment is scheduled for Sept. 10, 2013, according to Franklin Country Clerk of Courts records.