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COA: Storage fees capped per statute

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that the owner of a car involved in a fatal accident must pay storage fees to a towing company, but those fees must be capped at $1,500.

In Northwest Towing & Recovery v. State of Indiana, No. 18A02-0905-CV-409, Northwest Towing & Recovery appealed the denial of its motion to correct error after the trial court capped its storage-fee lien at $1,500 based on Indiana Code Section 32-33-10-5(b). The company had the lien against Frances Brinkley, the owner of the car involved in a fatal accident caused by her son. Brinkley cross-appealed arguing she shouldn't have had to pay anything to have her car returned.

The accident happened Oct. 8, 2006, and Northwest - based on a contract with the city of Muncie - towed the vehicle and stored it at a rate of $20 a day. The car remained in storage until the court ordered on Oct. 28, 2008, that the car be returned to Brinkley.

The trial court concluded Brinkley should be responsible for storage from the time of her son's sentencing in August 2007 until the car was released, but because of the statutory cap, she would only have to pay $1,500, plus other miscellaneous costs totaling $250.

Northwest argued the trial court order can't stand because Brinkley wasn't a party to the criminal proceedings, violating Indiana Trial Rule 17(A). The Court of Appeals decided that Northwest waived the issue because it invited the alleged error and never objected under Trial Rule 17(A) until the trial court ruled against it, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

The appellate court also affirmed that I.C. Section 32-33-10-5(b) is applicable and capped the storage costs at $1,500. Northwest argued that I.C. 9-22-5-15(a) could apply - which has no caps - but that statute is only applicable when work or storage is done at the request of the owner, wrote the chief judge. Brinkley never requested her car be stored at Northwest - the Muncie Police Department originally requested it and her son asked for continued storage until his trial so the car could be preserved for evidence.

To allow Northwest to proceed under I.C. 9-22-5-15(a) "would permit Northwest to proceed with a lien that would effectively ignore the specific limitations and circumvent the statutory cap that became effective in 2005," wrote Chief Judge Baker.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed the order that Northwest title the car back to Brinkley.

The appellate judges ruled Brinkley should be responsible for the $1,500 in storage fees even though her son caused the fees to be incurred. She never requested the car returned to her after her son was sentenced, so the trial court could reasonably infer she permitted the continued storage of the car.

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