First off, I live in southern California and that is where this all occured.
A few months ago, in July '05, I sold a car to a guy for about $1700 (the car was nothing special). The sale went by the book - I made a bill of sale with all relevant information (plates, VIN, buyer/seller signatures, price, etc.), he paid me cash, we signed the title, etc. etc.
What I failed to do was send in the Release of Liability which CA law requires the seller to do within 10 days of sale.
Fast forward to November '05. The man I sold my car to reported his car (the one I sold him in July) stolen. 2 or 3 days later, his local police department found the car, abandoned and wrecked. The police dept. used their contracted towing company to tow the car to their lot and the car was impounded.
A couple of days later, I received a notice in the mail from the police department/towing company, that "my" car was in their lot and was collecting fees. Immediately I knew that the current owner had never registered the car, and that was why I had received the notice.
That very night I called the police department to discuss the matter. I was told that since the owner of the car had the title in hand with buyer and seller signatures, and a copy of the bill of sale from July, that they could release the car to him and everything would be OK. The PD called the current owner, discussed it with him, and he came down and signed and received the release paperwork for the car. I was then told by the PD that everything was set and should be OK.
Fast forward again to early December '05. I received a notice that the car was still in the lot and had collected considerable fees. Thankfully I still had the current owner's phone number so I gave him a call. Basically he made up something about how there was never anyone at the tow yard when he went there to pick it up, and that he wanted to get it but he just hadn't gotten around to it yet.
By that time I knew that the owner had no intention of picking up the car from the lot and paying the fees, since the car in its wrecked condition was probably worth half of what the tow and impound fees were.
I called the tow company and spoke to the owner. I informed them of the issue. The owner told me that I was "contractually obligated" to pay the fees and that there was absolutely no way around this. I brought up the issue of how the PD had released the car to the owner - I asked, "but the PD released the car to him, and only him. Even if I came in and paid all these fees, I still wouldn't get the car because they released it to him. So why am I paying these fees if the car won't even be given to me (not that I want it)?" To which he responded with the same line about how there was nothing he could do, the law was the law, and I was going to have to pay.
A few weeks later I received a notice that the car would be sold at auction, and if the price it fetched did not cover the amount of the fees, I would have to pay the remaining balance. At this point I figured, fine, let the car sell, it might cover the fees and I can stop dealing with this nonsense.
Fast forward again to January '06. I received a notice from a debt collection agency on behalf of the towing company, that my bill was about $900 and I had to cought it up.
At this point, I wrote an intelligent, thoughtful letter to both the towing company and the collection agency, stating the facts, and that I was displeased with the unethical treatment of this issue by the towing company. I stated that although I may have been listed as the legal owner and as such, to the letter of California law, would be forwarded any fees, clearly it was only the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law that I should have to pay these fees, especially when I have proof that I did sold the car. I also stated that if they continued to try to collect the fees I would pursue legal action (even though I'm not sure what I would do )
I also attached a copy of the bill of sale to show that I do indeed have proof that I sold the car long before it ended up in their tow yard.
Today, I received a response from the towing company, which, as I had assumed would happen, stated that they would not drop the issue and that I am, once again, "contractually obligated" to pay these fees. He (the owner of the tow company) even mentioned that he was upset that I called there practice unethical.
Now I need to know what to do. First off, if this matter ends up before a judge, do I have a chance of winning? Personally, I find it obscene and ludicrous that I might have to pay these fees despite everything in my favor. Although I may indeed be listed as the registered owner of the car since the current owner never registered it, obviously the spirit of the law was not meant to sock the previous owner with all fees and charges so that some grubby towing company can get their money. The Release of Liability law was, in my understanding, created so that any such issue of determining who is liable in situations such as this doesn't happen, NOT so that the previous owner is automatically and without doubt, liable for everything no matter what.
What do I do? Please help, and thanks for reading the long post.