February 4, 2019

A Cup of Joe | "Dude, Where's My Car?" - Auto Shop Law Update

In this week’s case, we meet Osyma who had her car parked on the street in Brooklyn as she went shopping. When Osyma returned from her errand a few hours later, her car was nowhere to be found. Gone, without a trace. A few miles away, Osyma’s car was bouncing on the hook of a wrecker as it ripped down Neptune and sparked as metal hit concrete during a hard right up Cropsley where the tow truck and gaffed car were swallowed up by the garage perched on the eastern mud bank of Coney Island Creek. Home of Cyclone Auto Body Collision. Back at the spot where once rested her beloved car, Osyma scratched her head. Osyma had no idea where to begin looking for her car.

After many calls and Google searches galore, Osyma discovered that car had been towed away at the behest of the NYPD. After more time, more calls. and more searches, Osyma found out that the car had been towed to Cyclone Auto. “Yeah, it’s still here,” a tired voice uttered followed by the clicking of an abrupt hang-up on the other end of the line.  Osyma got a ride to Cyclone Auto on the creek, and she went to the rickety office with calendars from the 1980s with pictures of Valvoline bikini girls and an ancient Marlboro man on a cigarette ad.

“That’ll be $75 for the tow and $3,527.54 for storage.” Osyma did not have $3,527.54.  Osyma was sent away as she watched her car pull back in reverse as it squealed into a sea of orphaned vehicles. Osyma came back to Cyclone Auto the next day and paid the balance of $3,527.54 and was finally given her car back. Osyma drove right to small claims court on Livingston Street in Brooklyn and sued Cyclone Auto for $3,527.54.

In court, Osyma argued that she never agreed to have her car stored at Cyclone Auto. Cyclone argued that the law allows a company that tows a vehicle at the request of a police agency a lien for reasonable costs of the towing and storage.

The court agreed with Cyclone but told Cyclone that there was something missing:  Cyclone had to prove that complied with the notice requirements of the Lien Law before being entitled to claim a garageman’s lien.

Here is what the requirements are: The notice must state 1) the name of the company providing storage of the motor vehicle; 2) the amount being claimed for storage; 3) the address and times at which the motor vehicle may be recovered; 4) that the garage claims a lien on the motor vehicle; and, 5) that the motor vehicle shall be released upon full payment of all storage charges. (You can go to https://dmv.ny.gov/forms/mv901c.pdf  to see all of the Notice requirements.).

Cyclone Auto did not comply with the notice requirements. (Here is a Form Notice of Lien and Sale https://app.towlien.com/Examples/NewYorkLetterExample.pdf). Therefore, the court ruled, Cyclone did not have a valid lien for storage fees and could not recover for storage in the absence of a specific agreement.

The court held that because Cyclone did not have a valid lien on Osyma’s car, the car was wrongfully withheld and awarded Osyma $3,527.54 plus interest and the cost of filing the small claim.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_50100.htm

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