Q: In Iowa, what is the liability of a boat owner if a towing company overcharges without an agreement?
I asked a towing company if they could tow a jet ski 300 yards up the Missouri River in Iowa. No pre-estimate of price, no agreement was signed or verbally given, and I repeatedly asked when to bring my trailer to pick it up at the dock if they would bring it up the water. They brought the jet ski up to the dock without my knowledge and towed it to their facility, charging over $2000 to do so. With no cost estimate, agreement, or communication for me to get access to the jet ski to put on my trailer, what is my liability? Is it limited to the jet ski itself? If so, can I just let them have it?
It looks like the towing company may be asserting a salvage claim as a result of the towing operation. The distinction between a simple tow to a gas dock or a valid salvage action could hinge on the circumstances. To give rise to a salvage claim, maritime law generally requires that there be a peril, a voluntary act on the part of a salvor (towing company), and that the efforts are successful. This principle is applied under general maritime law. You could check with a local attorney as to applicable state laws and also check with your insurance carrier as to the scope of coverage. Some policies provide simple towage, but salvage coverage could be treated separately under a policy. Good luck
Addendum: I should have provided additional information to help explain the fee. Simple towage is generally billed at an hourly rate by commercial marine salvors. On the other hand, a marine salvage claim is generally asserted as a percentage of a vessel's value. Good luck
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