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Man on the hook for towing fees after stolen scooter parked illegally, B.C. tribunal says

A tow hook is seen in an undated Shutterstock image. A tow hook is seen in an undated Shutterstock image.
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A B.C. man who was forced to pay towing and storage fees after his scooter was stolen and abandoned on private property has lost a bid to have the money refunded.

Keith Collyer took his dispute with North Vancouver-based Mitchell's Towing Ltd. to the province's small claims tribunal, hoping to receive back approximately $590 in fees he was charged after the thief left his scooter illegally parked.

Collyer told the Civil Resolution Tribunal he only paid the fees “under duress,” while also arguing the company took too long to confirm his scooter had been stolen, which contributed to what he considered an "excessive" invoice.

But tribunal vice-chair Eric Regehr was not convinced, ultimately finding that Collyer – despite being the victim of a theft – was legally on the hook for the nearly $600 he’d already paid to retrieve his vehicle.

“I recognize that Mr. Collyer had no choice in the matter and believes the charges are unfair, but this is how (B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act) operates,” Regehr wrote in his Feb. 13 decision, which was posted online last week. 

The tribunal heard Collyer’s scooter was stolen from his driveway on the night of July 11, 2022, then abandoned in a private carport at a townhouse complex. 

Someone reported the illegally parked scooter to Mitchell’s Towing the next day, and the company retrieved and impounded the vehicle.

According to Regehr's decision, Mitchell's notified police six another days later, after confirming the scooter had been stolen by running the plates through a stolen vehicle database.

Police then contacted Collyer, who went to pick up the scooter – only to discover he had racked up a $150 impound fee, a $39 fuel surcharge, a $28.02 “processing fee,” and storage fees of $49.25 per day, plus taxes. 

Collyer argued he only paid under duress, as the company insisted on payment before releasing the vehicle – but to prove duress under common-law doctrine, Regehr noted the scooter owner would have had to demonstrate that Mitchell's Towing "exercised improper or illegitimate economic pressure to override (his) free will."

There was no evidence the company did so. 

Collyer’s argument that Mitchell's could and should have checked whether his scooter was stolen earlier – which would have spared him some of the daily storage fees – was also rejected.

The towing company told the tribunal its policy is normally to check the database of stolen vehicles after 10 days.

“Mitchell’s Towing’s says that it waits because most people whose vehicle is either lost or stolen proactively call towing companies to try to find it. It says there is no legal obligation for it to do more,” Regehr wrote.

The vice-chair considered it “reasonably prompt” that the company discovered the scooter was stolen after six days. 

Collyer's argument that Mitchell's charges – which he compared to ICBC's towing and storage rates – were excessive was ultimately considered moot as well. That's because under the Motor Vehicle Act, the scooter owner had technically "authorized" the towing of his vehicle on the company's terms, Regehr found. 

Under Section 192(1), when a vehicle is abandoned on private property, the owner is “deemed to have authorized and empowered the occupier (of the property) to be the owner's agent for the purpose of towing it to a place of storage and of storing it.”  

“Given my conclusion that Mr. Collyer is deemed to have accepted Mitchell’s Towing’s terms, it follows that he agreed to Mitchell’s Towing’s standard private charges,” Regehr wrote. “This is true even if they are higher than the industry standard or higher than it charges ICBC.” 

The tribunal vice-chair found Mitchell's Towing was entitled to full payment, and dismissed Collyer's claim.

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