My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: Arizona
On Saturday, I was involved in a car crash that bent both my driver's side doors in and inflated the side airbags. (Preliminary determined it was 50/50 as we both turned blind corners and hit each other so each of our insurance companies will be only responsible for their insurers.) Not knowing I could have the police arrange a tow and storage, I had called AAA before the police had arrive. I also called my insurance company who said the shops were closed until Monday so just have my car towed to a locked yard. I decided to have my car towed back to my home as I had no way to get home and I could ride in the tow truck home as opposed to calling a cab from a lot.
When the tow arrived, I said I wanted to be driven home (about 13 miles away @ $5/mile). The guy, David, said he had a local auto body shop that I could store the car over the weekend and wait for my insurance company, X, to call on Monday, and they would provide a ride home for me. He stated they were on X's preferred vendor list, an A+ on Better Business, and would 'waive' my deductible. I said, ok, take it there -- but I wouldn't authorize service until I spoke with X on Monday morning. We got to the shop at 5pm and it was closed, however a mechanic in the back agreed to put my car in the back shop. I immediately found the back shop in disarray, dusty, and dirty and made a comment to the mechanic. I wrote my name and address and my X account number on plain paper and made a point of not signing anything. I again asked the mechanic if they were X approved and he said yes, they get referrals all the time. I made a point of stating, again, that I was not authorizing work until I spoke with the X adjuster. And, since the shop would be closed till Monday morning, that was ok.
Because David, the tow guy had promised me a ride home, he had to drive me, now 15 miles to my house in his flat bed tow truck. He didn't charge me, but I paid him $20 for getting me home safely.
On Sunday, I did a web search on the auto body company and found they had two cases filed against their BBB account in the last two years and was rated A (not A+). I also found about 25% of all comments posted on various rating services over the last year were negative.
X's insurance adjuster called on Monday morning and said that I could have their adjuster make an estimate and then I could use any shop - or -- I could use their list of shops and they would handle everything from car rental to life guarantee of work. I told them about the auto body arrangement and stated that if they were in the network and approved, I would prefer to use them -- but if they weren't, X could tow the car to their shop. X said they would reimburse the first shop for towing and storage. I said it was on my AAA account so there should be no charge for towing and they did not mention a storage charge.
X called the auto body shop to schedule a tow. The owner stated we (me or X) would have to pay $1400 for them to release the car to cover tow and storage as X obviously convinced me to go with a different shop. They said I had given a "verbal approval" for the work to be done. I stated I couldn't give a verbal approval for work to be done -- if any reason because I had not received an estimate. I told them the other reasons that rose my suspicions and that I was always clear and upfront that I wouldn't commit to anything until I spoke to X on Monday. I also learned that the tow company had cancelled the order with AAA and was paid directly by the auto body shop -- something I also had not authorized.
X has stated that we might need to call the police on Tuesday to have them release the car and the auto body shop could sue X or me or both. And if they won, it could go on my credit file.
The auto body has no signature from me, never showed me anything in writing regarding what they would do or what it would cost. The only thing that I "verbally" approved of, with the mechanic, was for them to hold the car over the weekend and they would get first shot at fixing the car, as I didn't know of any other shop, IF they were with the X network. I did suggest them to X, again, IF they were part of X's work guarantee network. Because they weren't, and I had other concerns that originated before I spoke with X on Monday morning, I opted to have X tow the car from their garage. It will actually end up costing me an additional $250 deductible to use X because the tow driver and mechanic both said it was shop policy to "waive deductibles."
My questions are along this line of thought:
1) How much am I legally obligated to pay the auto shop? I am willing to pay the actual tow charge and up to $20/night for storage (if I had gone with the AAA lot or the police tow lot, the cost would have been $16/day). To the best of our knowledge, no work was preformed on the car -- not even an estimate.
2) IF they refuse to release my car, under these circumstances (pay $1400 or else), what can I counter-claim? I feel they have no leg to stand on and as such they are holding my car hostage based on an alleged verbal agreement. Can I threaten a case of auto and personal property theft? (Personal property as I had been out shopping and those items are still in the car.)
3) To follow through, this is delaying getting my car repaired -- can I also claim they will owe me for car rental for the days they are holding my car from getting repaired? (I had already picked up my rental, paid by X, before the auto body shop concocted this story and charge.) That is, I have coverage for 30 days. If they hold the car for 3-5 days to resolve this, and my repair goes over 30 days, can I have them reimburse me for the days they delayed the repair?
4) Any other things that I can counter-sue on? Like court costs or fraud? (I really don't want this to go to court and would love to build a case against the auto body shop that they will think twice about pursuing this.)
5) "X" has said the other option would be that they would pay the $1400 and then turn the case over to legal. I am worried that amount will just be added on to the cost to repair my car and push it to a higher level and thus raise my insurance more than if it wasn't included in the costs.
Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.