District Court Judge Keith Levy ruled Tuesday that tow truck operator Paul Nelson broke no laws when he charged a Whitehorse, Y.T. resident $780 to reclaim a trailer following a disputed charge June 30.
Levy denied a claim against Bigfoot Auto by Alexander Gubergrits for $4,616, including for lost pay and vacation time.
Bigfoot, the town’s only wrecker service, pulled Gubergrits’ trailer from behind a tree at Chilkoot Lake while Gubergrits was vacationing here. An argument over the $450 charge ensued and Nelson hauled the trailer to town, impounded it, then charged the visitor for hauling it away.
Levy said most of the facts of the case were not in dispute but it was clear there was “not a meeting of the minds” on when Nelson’s $300 per hour weekend rate kicked in.
But as to the rate, Levy pointed to another service order, provided by Nelson, in which Bigfoot apparently charged $1,177 on a Sunday to fix a flat tire on an RV at 33 Mile June 24.
“You have to consider what’s reasonable in the industry, or at least in Haines. (Gubergrits) may not feel that’s reasonable, but that’s the charge. I don’t see evidence anybody was taking advantage of anybody here,” Levy said.
Levy said there was a question whether Nelson should have charged nearly an extra hour’s compensation after he drove off with Gubergits’ trailer, without explaining what he was doing, but he said the law gave Nelson the right to place a lien against the trailer.
“The way it was done was not the best way to do it. Nelson should have explained what he was doing and why… but whether or not it was handled in the best way possible, it was legal for him to do that,” Levy said.
Levy said Nelson’s use of the Nazi salute to Gubergrits and his wife were inappropriate, but “not compensable.”
Nelson acknowledged to the court that the salute and saying “Heil Hitler” were not appropriate, but he said Gubergrits understood the $300 per hour charge and should have understood it started when he left his shop in town.
Gubergrits said Nelson didn’t explain to him that when he signed the service order he was also signing a lien, giving Nelson rights to seize the trailer. Gubergrits said that when he asked Nelson what he was signing when he put his signature on the blank service order, Nelson told him it was just for his permission to work on the trailer.
“Nelson didn’t explain what I signed. He said it was just permission to work. Now he explains it different,” Gubergrits said.
Nelson said the lien was explained on the small type of the form and that Gubergrits could have asked for a written estimate for the work that Nelson could not have exceeded without Gubergrits’ permission.
Judge Levy said it was clear there were hurt feelings and rude behavior, perhaps on the part of both parties, but he couldn’t compensate for that.
In an interview after the trial, Nelson said he felt vindicated. “I know what the law is. I’m glad the court agreed with me. That’s how I stay in business. If I’d lost, I wouldn’t tow another car in this town.”
Nelson said in the future he would try to be more explicit with customers that his hourly rate starts when the tow truck leaves the shop to answer the call.
Gubergrits declined comment following the judgment.
As they were exiting the courtroom, Gubergrits said to Nelson, “God will punish you.”
“Amen, brother. Alleluia,” Nelson replied.