Don’t know much about civil suits or liability law or wrongful death claims. I do know something about the public’s estimation of tow truck operators.
Insurers for Capitol Towing have a compelling incentive to settle a lawsuit filed against the company Thursday. Their lawyers surely dread the scenario of a South Florida jury calculating monetary damages in the Jan. 16 death of Elias Konwufine in Lauderhill. Capitol Towing will have more than its own lousy reputation to overcome. The defendant represents an industry regarded with less affection hereabouts than pythons or politicians.
Elias Konwufine, an associate dean with Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale, was bashed against his own car as it was hauled away from a no-parking zone by a Capitol truck. Konwufine’s wife filed suit in Broward Circuit Court eight days after the truck had hooked up her husband’s Mercedes-Benz just outside their Lauderhill home. Konwufine, 38, a father of three, had run out of his house to the cab of the truck beseeching the driver to stop.
The suit claims the unnamed driver, instead, “gunned” the engine and pulled away. Konwufine, the complaint alleges, “grabbed hold of the tow truck as it began to leave because as the tow truck left it swerved into him and was going to run him over. He was then dragged by the tow truck for several hundred feet until he could no longer hold onto the truck because it continued to accelerate and he was run over by his own vehicle.”
State law requires that a tow truck driver “must stop when a person seeks the return of the vehicle” and negotiate on the spot (The tow operator, by law, can’t charge more than half the usual towing fee to simply unhook the car).
Lauderhill police have not filed criminal charges against the tow truck driver. The driver, identified as “John Doe” in the lawsuit, told WPLG-Channel 10 that he was only trying to get away from the angry Konwufine. “He’s cursing me out, trying to get in the door, broke my handle off the tow truck, running next to the truck, jumped on the floor boards, pulling on my door handle, beating on my window.”
AN UNSAVORY REP
But in a civil case, Capitol Towing, a subsidiary of Superior Lock & Roadside Assistance LLC of Plantation, is up against more than the allegations in this particular lawsuit.
Towing operators have built themselves an unsavory reputation in South Florida. Certainly, in the 1980s and 1990s, they were as loathed as any legal business around, regarded as not much more than roving bandits, on constant patrol for cars they claimed were illegally parked, snagging them whether the property owner wanted them moved or not.
Leonard Elias, Miami-Dade’s consumer advocate, said the operators during that era often “held consumers hostage,” holding the cars in distant compounds, then charging exorbitant, cash-only fees for towing, then tacking on inflated storage costs. Elias said that based on the volume of consumer complaints they generated, towing operators were rivaled in those days only by those notorious independent moving outfits — the operations that commonly jacked up charges after customers’ possessions were already on the truck, refusing to unload until the customers paid their ransom.
“It’s not as bad as it used to be,” Elias said Friday. Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties all passed consumer protection ordinances that tamped down the worst towing abuses. But a few renegades still roam the streets and highways. In 2011, Elias filed suit against three pirate operations that misrepresented themselves to stranded motorists, falsely claiming they had been dispatched by police or AAA or by the state Road Rangers, then wildly overcharging for towing, storage and mileage (He wrung a $20,000 settlement out of Nu-Way Towing).