Towing And Storage Charges And Auto Insurance In Texas

Someone living in Flower Mound, Haslet, Grand Prairie, Arlington, Mansfield, Crowley, Cedar Hill, Carrollton, Irving, or anywhere else in Texas may wonder what happens or who is suppose to pay the towing and storage charges resulting from an accident. This was the issue in a recent court case.
The Court of Appeals, Eastland, Texas, decided a case on June 3, 2010, where this was the issue. Or more specifically, the issue was more along the line; How much does the insurance company for the at fault driver have to pay for these charges? The opinion was authored by Justice, Rick Strange. The style of the case is, Underwriters at Lloyds of London v. Robert Harris, Individually and d/b/a Harris Garage.
In this case, Robert Harris (Harris) filed suit against Underwriters at Lloyds of London (Underwriters) seeking towing and storage charges and attorney’s fees. The jury found in favor of Harris in all three causes of action and Underwriters appealed.
The basic facts are that a tractor-trailer owned by Kasse Transportation was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Law enforcement officials asked Harris to tow the vehicle from the accident scene, and he took it to his storage facility. Underwriters was Kasse’s insurance company. Harris contacted Underwriters and demanded payment of $14,972.50 for towing and storage. Underwriters paid Kasse’s towing limits of $6,000. Harris filed the lawsuit seeking to collect the balance.
This appeal was the result of Harris’s victory in the trial court. This Eastland court reversed the juries finding on attorney’s fees and the reasons for that will not be discussed here. However, the court upheld Harris’s judgment on the other two causes damages. In doing this, the court looked at the Texas Occupation Code, Section 2303.001, which is where the Texas Vehicle Storage Facility Act is located.
This case was a challenge to the legislative intent in passing the Texas Vehicle Storage Facility Act (The Storage Act) into law. And it got into discussing the meaning of the word “or” in the statute.
Section 2303.156(b) provides:
“An insurance company that pays a claim of total loss on a vehicle in a vehicle storage facility is liable to the operator of the facility for any money owed to the operator in relation to delivery of the vehicle to or storage of the vehicle in the facility regardless of whether an amount accrued before the insurance company paid the claim.”
Underwriter contended that, if the legislature had intended for carriers to be responsible for towing and storage charges, it would have written the statute conjunctively by using the word “and” rather than the disjunctive “or.”
The court got into a discussion of how courts are to interpret statutes written by the legislative branch of government and the policy reasons for such interpretation. In doing so they said, “Assume that Harris towed the vehicle to a storage facility owned by Acme, Inc. and that Harris incurred only towing charges and Acme only storage charges. Underwriter’s construction of Section 2303.156(b) would not prevent them from both recovering.”
As the court further discussed, “Treating the “or” as a disjunctive conjunction provides an incentive for companies such as Harris’s to provide necessary towing services, vehicle storage, or both; this construction is consistent with the statute’s language that operators can recover “any amount owed” for towing or storage; and it produces a just and reasonable result by providing private companies a means of securing compensation for services that promote public safety. Underwriter’s construction on the other hand, would provide a disincentive for no apparent purpose beyond limiting the carrier’s exposure. Because we presume the legislature favored public interest over private interest, we cannot agree that the legislature intended Section 2303.156(b) to allow Harris either towing or storage compensation but not both.”