I met with a lady (to protect her anonymity, we’ll call her Mrs. Jones) recently whose car was wrongfully repossessed by TitleMax. She had bought the car from an individual who had bought it from an auto repair shop as an abandoned vehicle. In Alabama, if a motor vehicle is abandoned at a repair facility, then the owner of the repair facility has a mechanic’s lien on the vehicle. If the vehicle is abandoned and unclaimed for long enough, then they can notify the owner and lienholder by certified mail of their intent to sell the vehicle. If the owner and lienholder want to redeem the vehicle, they must pay the fees associated with storage of the abandoned vehicle. If they don’t object to the sale or claim the vehicle within a certain amount of time, then the repair facility can sell the vehicle. The sale must also be noticed in a local newspaper for a few weeks in advance of the sale.
In this case, a local repair facility had been holding onto a Toyota Camry for a while, and conducted a proper abandoned vehicle sale. Title Max had previously held a lien on the vehicle, but failed to redeem the vehicle. Rather than redeem the vehicle and get it back, they took another route: they just decided to wait until someone else bought the vehicle and then repossessed it.
A proper abandoned vehicle sale extinguishes all liens on the vehicle, which means that Title Max no longer had the right to repossess the vehicle. So when they repossessed Mrs. Jones’ vehicle, it was a wrongful repossession. When you take something that doesn’t belong to you, lawyers call that conversion – basically a civil (rather than criminal) form of theft. Wrongful repossession is a classic example of conversion.
But Title Max was clever. A few days after they got Mrs. Jones’ vehicle from the mall parking lot, they figured out that they had really screwed up, and they directed their repo agent to return the vehicle. But that wasn’t until after Mrs. Jones had missed work, had to pay to borrow a vehicle, and had gotten late on bills she was unable to pay because she couldn’t drive anywhere. Normally, she’d be able to sue them for the harm they caused her, plus punitive damages for their intentionally wrongful conduct.
But as a condition of the return of the vehicle, they had her sign a release, which stated that she held Title Max and their repo agent harmless from all claims arising from the repossession. They had no right to demand this, as they were clearly in the wrong. She could have refused to sign the release and they would still owe her a duty to return the vehicle. Because they never had the right to take it in the first place!
But she didn’t know that, so she signed the release. Now Title Max got away with a wrongful repossession, and they’ll never have to pay for the harm they caused her.
If your vehicle is repossessed wrongfully, you have an unqualified right to get that vehicle back – WITHOUT signing anything. If they refuse to return a wrongfully repossessed vehicle, that is on them, not you. Your proper remedy is to immediately contact a lawyer in your area who specializes in consumer rights. Then you can sue them for damages. If your vehicle was wrongfully repossessed in Alabama, call us at 251.272.9148 to discuss your rights.