Law would reimburse impound fees

The law would cover up to $300 in towing and storage expenses accrued at the lot.

by Courtney Blanchard

Brett Weik-Ulrich had no idea that a stolen jacket would lead to a weeklong nightmare.

Weik-Ulrich’s keys were in his jacket, and his car went missing last week. He filed a police report and replaced all his other keys, which included his condo and mail key.

“This whole ordeal has already cost me a lot of money,” he said, estimating that he had to fork over upwards of $500 for new keys. On top of that, he discovered he’d have to pay to get his recovered car out of the impound lot.

Some Minnesota lawmakers want to make life a little easier for people like Weik-Ulrich, though. A proposed law would reimburse victims of car theft for impound lot fees.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said he got the idea for the bill after a constituent explained it was unfair to have to pay to release his son’s stolen car.

“People feel revictimized,” Paymar said. “With this, at least you will get some of your money back.”

He said the bill would establish a state account to reimburse victims of car theft when they have to bail their car out of the impound lot. The one-page form would be available at county attorney’s offices. The grant would cover up to $300 in towing and storage expenses, he said.

The Minneapolis Impound Lot charges $138 for towing a car, even when stolen, City of Minneapolis spokesman Matt Laible said. He added that the lot makes some accommodations, and will waive the $18-per-day storage fee for three days once people know their stolen cars are waiting for them at the lot.

Some insurance plans already cover that cost, however. State Farm Insurance spokeswoman Missy Youmans said if someone purchased an auto policy in the state with full coverage on the car, insurance will generally cover a stolen car’s towing and storage charges, figuring in the deductible.  Also, if the policyholder has “Emergency Road Service” coverage, the towing expense (but not storage charges) would be paid under that coverage.

“If you have full coverage on the car, it is covered – subject to your deductible,” Youmans said.

Eagan State Farm agent John Curlee said if insurance companies don’t have to pay for the impound fees, it could lead to slightly lower premiums for everybody.

“Ultimately, that money we pay out is what we pay in for that insurance pool to protect us,” he said.

Twenty cars were stolen from the University area in 2006, according to University Police.

University Police Deputy Chief Steve Johnson said if a car was illegally parked and towed, it might look like it had been stolen.

A police report will immediately put the information into a nationwide database, he said. If police find it after checking the plates of an abandoned vehicle, for example, they will notify the owner and send the car to an impound lot.

If police catch and charge the suspect of a car theft, Johnson said, the car’s owner could work with county attorneys to recover money for damages.

But finding the suspect or recovering money can be difficult, he said.

“A lot of times we recover cars that were just dumped,” Johnson said, “Or, a lot of times cars are stolen by juveniles, and they don’t have anything.”