One of Lincoln Towing’s storage yards.
Screenshot: Google

It took Amanda Ogle, a homeless woman living out of her 1991 Toyota Camry, over a year to get her car back from Lincoln Towing of Seattle, which towed it from the parking lot it was left in after being stolen from her. Two court orders and a $21,634 bill later, she’s still fighting the company over damages.

Ogle’s story emerged by way of the Seattle Times, which published an article about her year from hell this week. Ogle reported her car stolen from North Seattle in October of 2017. Luckily, it was located just a day later—it had been parked in the lot of an apartment building and then towed by a company called Dick’s Towing, as the Times reports.

But Ogle’s troubles didn’t end there. Dick’s Towing, despite knowing she was homeless and that the car had been stolen from her, billed her $427, which she couldn’t afford, per the Times. Instead, Dick’s Towing offered her a form to challenge the tow in King County District Court, presumably shortly after realizing she wouldn’t get her car back.

But when the court date came up, Ogle, representing herself, was the only one to show. The judge ordered the car be returned to her, but there was a jarring catch: the form Ogle had filed with the court had the towing address down as Lincoln Towing of Seattle, a sister company of Dick’s Towing. The towing company made the claim that it wasn’t notified of the court hearing.

That’s when it got even worse for Ogle, via the Seattle Times:

It turns out the towing company had already sold off Ogle’s car—for a measly $175.

“So I win a court order on my own, but I still lose,” Ogle recalls thinking at the time. “I almost gave up right there. I might have, if they had ever just called and said they were sorry or something.”

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But the company didn’t apologize. Ogle went to the Northwest Consumer Law Center, which was formed specifically to help low or no income people like Ogle with consumer problems. Ogle’s attorney approached Lincoln Towing with the judge’s order, but the company only agreed to return her car if she dropped any claims on damages. From the Times’ report:

“So basically they were using the car as leverage to get out of any liability,” Kevin Eggers said. “The car is Amanda’s home, and it was the middle of winter. But to them it’s a bargaining chip.”

Lincoln then played tow-company hardball. The company started gouging her $75 per day to store the car. That’s $2,300 per month—enough to rent the 27-year-old car its own apartment with granite countertops in a downtown high-rise. By Monday, the bill, with tax, had reached $21,634.

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Ogle went in front of a second judge. Lincoln Towing argued that it had gone to great lengths to return Ogle’s car, referring to an offer of $1,000 a few months prior for her to drop her lawsuit. But the new judge saw through the bullshit. Citing the previous court order that Lincoln Towing had ignored for over a year, the judge ordered that, “for every calendar day Lincoln Towing does not return the vehicle, Lincoln Towing will forfeit a sum of two-thousand dollars to the court.”

That got results, via the Times:

Message delivered, as Lincoln released the car that afternoon (though not the title). The two sides will continue to battle about damages in court, the title and that outrageous $21,634 bill. But Ogle said she feels like a lost year of her life has been found.

“I drove down the freeway, with the windows open, saying ‘I’m free! I’m finally free,’ ” she said.

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It’s stupid that Ogle still has to fight for the title to the car in court, concerns over damages aside, and illustrates how the system can trap someone in poverty. Here’s hoping everything works out for her.