State police says woman's $9,000 towing bill from I-696 pileup crash not illegal

Call it shady, call it opportunistic, but don’t call it illegal.

The company that seemingly took advantage of stranded drivers after that pileup on I-696 in Farmington Hills - 10G Towing and Recovery -- did nothing criminal, according to Michigan State Police, when they charged those drivers insanely high prices, including one of them a $9,000 bill.

"As an attorney, I can tell you that so many people call my office asking for help after they have been ripped off, and ideally you want to avoid being ripped off," said Steve Lehto.

Although 10G Towing and Recovery claims several police agencies called them to the scene of the accident, state police, which had jurisdiction over it, says it never did. Had state police called the Redford Township company, there would have been limits for how much it could charge.

"It makes me frustrated, because how as a civilian do we feel protected from people like this?" said Kellie Rockwell.

Even so, MSP says drivers like Kellie Rockwell hired 10G to tow their cars - and 10G did not misrepresent itself as being in cahoots with state police.

"The woman’s in a car accident, she sees police officers, she sees tow trucks, the cops say to get your car out of here, and there’s a tow truck right there," said Attorney Steve Lehto. "So she assumes the tow truck is with the police or is called by the police - and that’s the problem."

Lehto specializes in consumer protection. He says the state’s high court struck down a law that made it illegal to charge a price grossly in excess of the value of a good or service, like the $9,000 bill that 10G gave Kellie for one towing job.

"But that law is gone now, it’s been gone for more than 20 years," Lehto said. "And as a result of that, a lot of unscrupulous merchants are learning, 'Hey we can do what we want, because there’s so little recourse if we get caught.'"

"I’m not happy with the fact that we don’t have a law to protect us and I’m going to hopefully get people to join me to push that we get that law back," Rockwell said.

As for Kellie, her insurance company negotiated that $9,000 bill down to $2,500 and got Great Lakes Towing to get her car back from the 10G Towing and Recovery lot. Now it’s being repaired at a collision shop.

"Obviously you felt you weren’t worth it or you knew you were overcharging if you are willing to lower it that much, but even still, $2,500 is still a lot and I’m extremely upset my insurance paid them to take my vehicle," Rockwell said.

FOX 2: "You think ultimately you’re going to have to pay this in higher premiums?"

"Oh yeah," she said.

"If you’re in this situation, ask the tow truck driver if they were called there by police," Lehto said. "Or ask police, if police are right there. And if they say yes we are, you’ll have more protection. If they say no, we’re not, then you say how much are you going to charge me for this?

"Any consumer anywhere always has the right to ask. And if somebody tells you that they can’t tell you what it will cost or it’s going to cost you $9,000, you might want to start making more phone calls."

Now, an employee with 10G says it charges the prices they do, because they "provide such exceptional service" and they say they have to consider insurance and rising fuel costs.

The towing company also charged another driver $4,000 for a tow job but later lowered that amount.