Lethal buy: Wrecker ad offers refunds

One of the more unusual ads The Daily Progress has ever published appeared last week, and it was hard to miss. First, it was big– 45 square inches– and positioned near the top of Page A6. And second, it invited unhappy customers of Lethal Wrecker Service to let the City collect any money owner George Morris had illegally charged them. But here's the kicker: Morris paid for the ad.

That was one of several things he agreed to do– or, more precisely, agreed not to do– to settle a suit the City brought against him last December. According to the suit, the City had officially warned Morris in February 2002 to stop charging more than state law allowed for towing passenger vehicles from private property: $85 for the tow, $10 extra for nights and weekends, and $10 per day for storage after 24 hours.

Morris persisted in what Deputy City Attorney Lisa Kelley called a "pattern" of overcharging, however, and customers began suing Lethal in General District Court to collect the excess. His errant behavior got more expensive for Morris in October 2004, when Jonathan Coleman sued after he'd been overcharged. Because Morris had also violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act by overcharging for towing, Coleman was awarded the $500 penalty state law prescribes. With court costs and interest, the total came to $615.

In the settlement, which was reached this past June, Morris agreed to stop overcharging, to issue written receipts, and to pay for one of at least three ads that will appear in local papers, including the Hook.

Kelley said last week that while consumers don't need to produce a receipt (Lethal usually demands cash and often declined to provide a receipt), they do need to meet certain conditions: Their passenger vehicle must have been towed from private property (such as a parking lot), and they have to know the exact amount they were charged and at least the approximate date. Anyone passing muster will be asked to submit an affidavit.

It's important that consumers act quickly, however, as the City needs to submit a final list to Charlottesville Circuit Court by 5pm on November 21. If you think you might qualify, call Kelley's office at 970-3131.

Nordin writes the Fearless Consumer column, which has covered Lethal topics at least a dozen times.


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