Towing And Recovery Lessons Learned

A few years ago, we were working a tractor-trailer rollover that proved difficult. But it wasn’t the recovery that was the challenging part, it was getting paid for our services, that was the issue.

Allow me to explain…

The rain that night was relentless, and we were sick of it. The mangled trailer we were unloading was flat on its side while the road-tractor, somehow, was miraculously balancing on one wheel.

Unloading the cargo required a full crew of laborers, including the recovery team. We then had to palletize the hundreds of boxes of instant potatoes and mac & cheese, wrap everything up nice and tight, and then use a skid-steer to load the pallets it into our dry box. When that was done the fun could begin.

Ahh, the Recovery!!

With the rigging already in place, the recovery team did their part, up-righting the mangled mess in minutes. Now, with the tractor-trailer separated, loaded and secured to two heavies, it was time to head back to the yard. The hard part was almost over.

Or was it?

The next morning the owner of the wrecked rig came to the shop to assess the damages. The trailer was a gonner, he agreed, but the road-tractor, he surmised, could be fixed. So, he requested that we tow it to a repair shop some three hours away.

How To Get Your Towing Bill Paid

Many times, there are three insurance companies involved in a tractor-trailer rollover.

  1. There’s the insurance company for the road-tractor, and, if the trailer is not owned by the same person or company who owns the road-tractor…
  2. There will be an insurance company for the trailer.
  3. Also, then the cargo may be insured by an entirely different company.

The problem is this…Once the recovery is complete, the insurance companies will all come calling—asking that we separate the recovery, towing, and storage charges accordingly. How much for the road-tractor? How much for the trailer? And, sometimes, how much for the load?

When this happens, if you’re not careful, getting paid for your towing bill can be hard.

You see if Insurance Company A pays the separated charges for the cargo and you release the load…And, you’ve already towed the owner’s road-tractor to the repair shop without first getting paid for all of the outstanding towing and recovery charges, you may get stuck with a busted trailer (which has very little value) and quite possibly stuck with a partially unpaid bill.

When you release anything to the insurance companies or owners, (truck, trailer, or load) without being fully compensated, you’re diminishing your chances of ever collecting, because you’ve relinquished some of your collateral.

How To Get Your Towing Bill Paid First

First, know this, if you’re a “hard-ass” and demand payment before relinquishing their stuff, the insurance companies may accuse you of being unscrupulous. So, here’s what you should do after a car accident.

If you refuse to release their property before you receive compensation in full, the insurance companies may accuse you of “holding their cargo hostage.” Of course, a statement like that is an utterly ridiculous position for them to take but it may happen. And if it happens to you, I suggest that you not back down.

Think about it…Is Walmart holding the bread and milk, they sell in their stores, hostage? Is my insurance company holding my coverage hostage if I fail to pay my premiums? No, of course not.

When you encounter an insurance adjuster who thinks this way, state, “We are maintaining possession of the property to ensure we receive payment in full.”

In the situation described above the owner believed his property (the road-tractor) to be repairable. And, since downtime means loss of revenue for truckers, he wanted the truck towed to a repair shop as soon as possible.

However, as explained earlier, we needed it as collateral to avoid having an insurance company cherry pick our invoice. The real problem is…How do you tell that to the owner of the road-tractor?

A couple of ideas.

You could suggest that he pay your bill.  The problem with this is, you and I know that trucking company owners have no idea what it costs to run a towing business. And, the owner would, most likely, fall over upon seeing the bill. But that’s what he has insurance for…right? He shouldn’t be paying the bill.

Rather than suggest that the property owner pay your tow bill, you could contact his insurance company as soon as possible.

How To Ensure You Receive Payment For Towing and Recovery Services

  • Work up a bill as soon as you get to the office.
    • Contract Labor: If you use contract labor, you must request invoices and pay them ASAP. (You want to ensure they show up next time) Which means you may need to get in contact with more than a handful of people to provide an invoice.
    • Additional costs: Do you have any hazardous cleanup costs? Include those on your invoice. Will you be required to store any of the cargo or units inside?
    • Costs Going Forward: Will you be required to unload the cargo from your dry box into another trailer? Are you renting the dry box or do you own it? And, even if you do own it, you can’t use it until the cargo is gone.
    • Value Your Service: Remember…You provided a valuable service and should hand down every expense incurred as a result of the incident and its recovery. And, mark your costs up accordingly to ensure you remain profitable.
  • Call the insurance agent.
    After you have a bill worked-up for the entire towing and recovery services, call the property owner’s insurance company and ask to speak directly to the insurance agent handling the claim. Of course, this depends on if you know who the insurance company is. If you do not know, then a call to the tractor-trailer owner will be required to get this information.
  • Once you get in contact with the insurance agent handling the claim you must learn if…
    • A Claim Has Been Made: Ask if the property owner has reported the incident, (in most instances it will be reported) then
    • Ask the agent for the claim number(s) (remember, there may be more than one).
  • Learn if all three components are insured together or separate, the truck, the trailer, and the cargo.
    • Determine Who Is Paying For What: As mentioned earlier, there may be three separate insurance companies involved, so determine what is covered by each particular insurance company. If they do not cover all three portions of the incident, then call the property owner again and ask for the name of the other insurance company or companies.
    • Freight Broker: If the property owner works with a freight broker, then you may need to contact the freight broker to determine who insures the cargo.
  • Once you discover which insurance company is covering what, ascertain the adjuster’s name and number for each separate claim.
  • Then call each adjuster and…
    • Record Claim Numbers: Gather the claim numbers for each component,
    • Submit An Invoice: Provide each adjuster with the appropriate portion of the invoice.
    • Request Payment In Full: Request prompt payment in full for the towing and recovery services provided.
  • Remember the invoiced amount at the time of the initial conversation will be for towing and recovery plus whatever daily storage fees have accrued to date. There may be additional charges going forward, like storage and other requested services. So, you will need to communicate those ongoing charges on your invoice in some way.
  • Unless negotiated otherwise, or if local regulations prohibit it, storage costs will continue to accrue on a daily or hourly basis. I reiterate this point because it can help you to get paid faster. Communicate these fees to the insurance adjuster, as this creates a sense of urgency in their minds. The sooner they pay your bill, the less it will cost them.

How To Salvage The Relationship With The Property Owner

In some instances, the call to the adjusters will be too soon, and he or she will not be able to submit payment promptly. And, with no idea of when you will receive payment, you might feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, regarding your relationship with the property owner. Don’t despair, you still have options.

Out of a desire to maintain a good working relationship with the property owner, you may be motivated to go ahead and tow the road-tractor without receiving payment first. It’s up to you to determine the best course of action in each instance, but standing firm will help ensure you are fully compensated for the towing and recovery services provided.

If you’re still worried that you may ruffle some feathers in the process, try this.

A simple explanation of the issue may do the trick. Talk with the property owner and let him know that the insurance company hasn’t given you the OK to tow the road-tractor to the repair shop yet. Explain that a tow that far will incur substantial additional charges and that, if warranted the insurance company will be the one paying the bill.

Additionally, you could explain that many times, the insurance company will want to send an adjuster out first. They do this because they want to determine if the damages are too extensive for repair. If it is beyond repair, they won’t want to pay for a second tow to the repair shop only to be required to pay for a third tow to the salvage yard once it is determined to be a total loss.

Going the extra mile and attempting to gain understanding from the property owner doesn’t always work, but it may salvage your relationship while helping you to avoid being stuck with an unpaid bill.

Have you had similar challenges with your towing business? Join the conversation and help out the towing community by commenting below.