PORT ORCHARD — Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently announced a court order will require Bethel Garage, a Kitsap County towing company, to pay a former Navy sailor for illegally selling his car at auction. The order also requires it to implement specific policies so it will not harm service members in the future.
The case is part of Ferguson’s ongoing Military and Veterans Initiative to stand up for Washington’s active-duty service members and veterans. It involves engaging and educating service members and veterans about their rights and the resources available to them, vigorously enforcing the legal protections within the Attorney General’s authority and promoting and facilitating access to civil legal services.
According to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), they opened the case after receiving a complaint about the company from a sailor based in Washington. In December 2018, Bethel lawfully towed the sailor’s car. The sailor was deployed outside of Washington state at that time. However, Bethel failed to check whether the car was owned by a service member. Consequently, Bethel Garage later unlawfully sold his car at an auction.
The case follows a letter Ferguson sent in September to every licensed tow truck operator in the state emphasizing their legal obligations to service members and providing resources to ensure their companies comply. The letter went to more than 400 tow truck operators.
“Unfortunately, some tow truck operators do not comply with the law,” the letter states. “My goal is not to file lawsuits. My goal is to ensure that servicemembers’ rights are protected; a goal I am sure you share.”
“The law is clear — towing companies have an obligation to determine whether a car belongs to a member of the military,” said Ferguson. “When our service men and women are deployed away from home and family, they should not need to worry whether their possessions are safe. There are specific laws that protect our service members and I will enforce them.”
In an Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Kitsap County Superior Court on Dec. 16, Ferguson asserted Bethel Garage violated the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a federal law that provides protections to active-duty service members, including the protection from having their property sold at auction while on active duty. This law, which Washington mirrors in a nearly identical state law, requires companies to obtain a court order before selling vehicles owned by active-duty service members at auction. Ferguson asserted the company committed an unfair business practice and also violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by failing to have policies and procedures in place to comply with the SCRA.
The court order will return money from the sale of the car at the auction to the sailor as well as an additional $2,000 to compensate him for a year when he did not have a vehicle.
Bethel Garage owners made immediate changes to follow SCRA and CPA guidelines after it first received correspondence from the Attorney General’s Office about the sailor’s car.