NBCPhiladelphia.com Harry Hairston
A local man is involved in an accident that sent him to the hospital. But the bill he got from his towing company left him even more dazed and confused. And he reached out to Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators for help.This story was published on March 28, 2012.
Cornelius Simpkins broke some ribs and suffered a concussion when he was in a car accident last month in Philadelphia. Then he got hit with a $615 bill from Clearfield Towing, the company that towed his car. That really hurt.
“My wife was ballistic. She couldn’t believe it,” Simpkins told NBC10 Investigator Harry Hairston.
He called the city and found out that a new law allows towing companies who have contracts with the city to charge a maximum of $150 to tow your car from an accident scene. That’s the only charge allowed, outside of a $25 a day fee for storage. But Clearfield does not contract with the city. Their itemized bill shows eight additional fees. Here is the breakdown:
NBC10 Investigator Harry Hairston went to Clearfield Towing to get some answers about the additional charges. No one wanted to talk on camera, but the manager, who would only give us his first name, Moses, told Hairston:
“We can’t please everybody but we try to help everyone . . . We are not here to harm anyone. Our charges are fair and identical with the Philadelphia Parking Authority charges.” The manager also said, “We tell customers to read the tow bill before they sign it.”
Simpkins said he was in the back of an ambulance when a Clearfield tow truck driver approached him that day. “He said, ‘You know, I’m gonna tow your car to a secure lot. It’ll be covered, um, and nobody will be able to get to it.’ You know, I’m slightly dazed, it sounds like a great idea, so I say, ‘OK, fine.’”
Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenny sponsored the new towing charge law to protect accident victims from high charges.
“Do not sign anything at the scene. Ever,” Kenny says. He warns that some tow companies that are not under contract with the city often race to the scene to get victims to sign towing agreements with them.
“If you’re unfortunate enough to sign something, it’s like the Pirates of the Caribbean – they have your car and they’re not giving it back to you until you pay exorbitant fees.” Kenny says once you’ve signed an agreement, there is nothing the city can do to help you.
Simpkins says he doesn’t recall signing anything. But Clearfield gave us a copy of the agreement with what they say is his signature at the bottom.
Simpkins says he has now hired an attorney and is considering legal action against Clearfield.
“Something has to happen. Somebody has to make me whole.”