More than three years after a Frederick, Md., man dashed inside a drugstore only to return minutes later and find his car had been towed, financial payback is arriving in the mail for thousands of victims like him.
The payments come from a class-action lawsuit filed against G&G Towing, one of the largest, and arguably most notorious, towing operations in Maryland. The case resulted in a $22 million judgment against the company for improperly towing an estimated 28,000 vehicles from April 2012 to June 2017. It also led to judgments against more than 500 property owners who had hired the now-defunct towing company to police their lots.
“One of the reasons we were interested in doing this is, we were told a lot of people who were towed were people of limited means,” plaintiff Mary Pelz said.
Pelz’s daughter, Darcy, had borrowed her Toyota Avalon to visit a friend at a Silver Spring apartment complex. When she left, she discovered that the car had been towed from a lot owned by Patner Properties. It cost $168 to get the car back from G&G, which claimed the reason for the March 2014 tow was a “flat tire,” according to the Pelzes and court documents.
Pelz, who is director of the Long Branch Senior Center, said she decided to participate in the G&G class-action lawsuit because many of the lots patrolled by the company were in areas of Montgomery County populated by large numbers of immigrants and low-income residents who did not always fight back or understand their rights under Maryland towing law.
“I’ve worked in low-income communities, and I’ve seen how people are taken advantage of,” said Pelz, 64, who was approached by lawyers to join the class action. “That’s what tipped the scales for me.” Her family’s payment of about $5,000 from the court judgment came some time ago, she said.
Overly aggressive towing operators are the bane of anyone who has ever parked in a lot without seeing — or ignoring — “customer-only” warning signs. Your vehicle can sometimes vanish before you can say, “I’ll be right back.”
Though property owners see trespass towing as a necessary measure to ensure their customers have room to park — a Bethesda shoe store owner griped that people who would not think of shoplifting a pair of socks somehow justify taking parking spots reserved for customers — some towing companies push the limits.
KDKA Pittsburgh reported this week that a lawyer is challenging a Pittsburgh towing firm for allegedly charging fees higher than allowed by law, while a Philadelphia towing company reached a settlement last month with the state’s attorney general over repeated violations of state and city towing laws, WHYY reported.
In Sacramento, law enforcement officials filed charges last month against the operators of an illegal towing scheme that targeted fans of the Sacramento Kings basketball team. The California Highway Patrol, in filing auto theft and conspiracy charges, says Davis Tow dragged 270 cars away from the team’s games and collected at least $80,000 in impound fees, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The Maryland case began Dec. 12, 2014, when Quan-en Yang, a doctor from Frederick, Md., parked outside a Rockville Walgreens, according to Montgomery County Circuit Court records and documents posted online by lawyers. Despite the wintry weather, he dashed inside without his coat to buy a snack, thinking he would not be long.
When Yang returned minutes later, his car was gone. He had to walk, coatless, more than a mile to G&G’s impound lot. He was required to pay $142, plus a $4.42 “processing fee” for using a credit card, to reclaim his vehicle. It was an experience repeated hundreds of times with other motorists.
Earlier that year, NBC News4 aired a report saying G&G Towing appeared to be using spotters at a Silver Spring shopping center in violation of a 2012 Maryland towing law. BethesdaNow.com wrote about the company, too.
Yang’s lawsuit — which was filed three years ago in Montgomery County Circuit Court against G&G’s parent company — alleged that the operators used spotters to identify potential targets, swooped in to hook the vehicles without following proper procedures and effectively held the vehicles for ransom.
In addition to taking legal action against the towing firm and its owner, Glenn W. Cade Jr., the plaintiffs also sued property owners, shopping plazas, condominium associations, banks, churches, dentists and a variety of merchants that employed the towing company, including the Stonebridge Homeowners Association, Kohl’s, Childtime Childcare and Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The size of the judgments against the property owners varied. A judgment of $218, 790 was entered against Glenmont Crossing Apartments, while $3,900 was entered against the Bradley Boulevard Shopping Center; a judgment of $75,660 was entered against the Flower Avenue Shopping Center, according to court records.
The settlement agreements — which occurred in phases and involved different groups of people depending on when and where their vehicles were towed — have been approved by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ronald B. Rubin. On Jan. 11, the court approved a settlement involving more than 400 property owners. An April 2 letter sent to a victim with a settlement check says any unclaimed funds will go to charity.
Cade did not return a call seeking comment. Efforts to reach Yang through public records were not successful. Calls to Richard S. Gordon, the plaintiff’s lead attorney in Towson, Md., were not returned. James P. Ulwick, who is listed as defense attorney for property owners in the case, did not return calls. A call to Bruce D. Patner — a Bethesda attorney who is representing himself and other property owners — also was not returned.
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