Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a court order on Wednesday requiring a Clark County towing company to pay military service members damages for illegally selling their vehicles at auction.
The company, Chuck’s Towing, based in Washougal, will also be required to implement policies to ensure similar actions do not happen in the future.
In February 2020, a woman serving in the U.S. Coast Guard made a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office regarding her car being sold at auction by Chuck’s Towing while she was stationed in Oregon. The car had been legally towed, but the company failed to determine whether the car belonged to a service member prior to auctioning it. After receiving notification, Chuck’s Towing and its owners, Richard Irwin and Orvilla Wedin, cooperated with Ferguson’s office for an investigation. In addition to the Coast Guard service member, Chuck’s Towing had also auctioned off two other cars, but they were totaled or otherwise inoperable.
Once signed by the judge, the court order will require Chuck’s Towing to pay a total of $13,087 to compensate the three service members for illegally auctioning their cars. The woman serving in the Coast Guard will receive $12,500 for the value of her car and to compensate for the time she no longer had access to it. Two other service members will receive $437 and $150.
Chuck’s Towing will also pay the Attorney General’s Office an additional $4,000 to fund future investigations and litigation of Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) actions. The legally binding agreement requires Chuck’s Towing to comply with SCRA in all future actions with vehicles it tows.
Assistant Attorney General John Nelson handled the case for Ferguson’s office.
The case is part of Ferguson’s Military and Veterans Initiative to protect Washington’s active-duty service members and veterans. Under the Initiative, Ferguson’s office prioritizes the enforcement of legal protections for veterans and service members while educating these groups about their rights and the resources available to them.
The payments to the three service members means Ferguson’s office has now won restitution for over three dozen people against towing companies in Washington state.
“We’re working to reform the towing industry so that it follows our laws protecting active duty service members from having their vehicles unlawfully sold at auction,” Ferguson said. “Lawsuits are not my goal, but we will reform this industry one enforcement action at a time, if necessary. My goal is to ensure that service members’ rights are protected.”
Under the SCRA, companies are required to obtain a court order before selling vehicles owned by active-duty service members at auction. According to Ferguson, Chuck’s Towing also violated Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act by failing to have policies in place to comply with SCRA.