Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Trailer Saga: The Final Episode


It's Homecoming. Parkside PTO borrows a trailer that we have used two years previously. The Town of Normal will not let us park it on the street. One of our members owns a business about four blocks from the members that were in charge of the float. It is a lit premises but not a locked area. There are several other trailers stored there as well. The lot is behind the building which is also the parking lot for customers/employees. The local Boy Scouts even have a trailer back there. The hitch is not locked nor has it been in previous years - especially since it is not a theft prone area. The owner did not provide a lock or instructions to do so.

Two days before the parade, the trailer is stolen. A Police Report is immediately filed and the owner is notified via a PTO member but not the people in charge of the float. This particular member secured the float as the owner of the float was a good friend. The copy of the Police Report was sent to the owner in order for his to file on his insurance. A new trailer was found in time for the parade.

That was September time frame.

PTO meetings became ugly. He did not have insurance for the trailer. The owner started harassing the friend - who was devastated. He wanted his trailer back. The owner claimed he was having to rent a trailer to haul things. The friend went to the PTO to get help. The PTO had not been contacted by the owner whatsoever and did not even know what his grievances were. The PTO board refused to write a check - especially since no one knew if insurance had been filed or what a check would be written for. PTO's insurance would not cover something like this. The family building the float felt responsible but they were doing this for the PTO - so they felt the PTO should step up. The business owner felt responsible and was willing to write a check - but yet again, PTO had not been contacted and he was encouraged to not make that offer. And the meetings just kept getting uglier and uglier.

This went on for months. It caused the end of friendships, stress on the PTO, hardship on the PTO officers, stress trying to get the Unit Office's attorney to help us - just ridiculous.

Eventually, we started hearing dollar amounts. Emails were flying back and forth to different officers - different members - each email had a different twist/amount to it. The trailer had new tires worth $900; the trailer was valued at $2000; the trailer was valued at $1500. It was just a ridiculous situation.

Oh - I forgot to mention that this trailer was from 1983, wood floors, no rails and no tailgate with supposedly new tires.

Chris became an officer in late 2010. He attempted to mediate and talk to the trailer owner and called him at two different occasions. It was an ugly conversation (I was listening) and the owner just repeated over and over - I want my trailer back. Chris kept telling him that we did not have the trailer to give him so we needed to come to a monetary arrangement. No deal.

Did I mention that Chris and I worked with this guy when all three of us worked at Bloomington Computers? Yea - that was an added twist.

So - the same ugliness continues until the PTO is served. He was asking for $3000 plus attorney fees plus filing costs.

Now, I got permission to attend court since I work at the same place the owner does now - not in the same department luckily. And I tell you - I can't believe the lies that can come out of someone's mouth.

His case short version -

*no one from PTO offered to replace his trailer
*he bartered for the trailer - so no cash outlay
*the tires really cost $347 - he forgot that he bought truck tires at that time too
*legally registered at 8000 lbs.
*he stores his trailer behind a friends house - unlocked
*he presented his comparables - one was a 2003 trailer for $1750 on Craig's List and from Ebay - $3500
*he bought a new trailer last week for $2300

Cross -

*confirmed it was a 1983 registration
*showed pics of our float from 2009
*confirmed how it was stored by the owner (no lock and not gated or inside - at a farm)
*what do you use it for? i don't use it much at all - the people that store it for him use it
*repairs? new floor in 2007 - did he know that PTO replaced boards? no
*did the trailer have brakes? yes - one on the front axle
*went thru several emails - owner corrected some of his remarks that he had made in the email
*owner actually did have insurance - liability only
*and then our attorney ripped apart the comparables as not valid

Then his attorney called our PTO President - who wasn't there. I guess it costs extra money to subpoena someone.

Our attorney then tried to move for a Prima Facie. I obviously have not been to law school - but it seemed like there is a bailee and a bailor and a bailment - and something about the trailer owner didn't prove the PTO was negligent. Judge ruled against us....

So - we call witnesses.

First was the float builder.
*didn't see any brakes
*2010 - they replaced boards since they were afraid kids would fall thru
*police put a value of $500
*owner told her value was $1500 w/ $900 tires - months later - $400 tires

Cross -
*basically silly stuff - the worst was he asked if she had told anyone where the trailer was parked. She said her husband knew - the business owner & wife knew and that was it. He asked her several times in fact.
*He then said - don't you think it was a little strange that this one was stolen? As he sat down - he said - I believe you told someone and one of your PTO members stole it.

WHAT??????????? Wow - over the line on that one....

Then the business owner.
*Our attorney just went over the lot - lights - etc.
Cross -
*basically claimed that we used no care to store it
*And then made the snotty statement as he sat - well, that's what happens when you park something on the West Side.

Whatever... Our town has the uppity East Side - and the blue collar West Side. And yea, there is trouble sometimes on the West Side and there are areas to watch out for. Technically, we are in North Normal which crosses over both the East & West. I know - silly - but that's how some people think... Like this uppity attorney obviously...

Then our attorney called an actual trailer dealer.
And that was the downfall for the trailer owner.
Nuts and bolts -
*First - it is not registered legally as the registration has to be in increments of the trailer hitch load - which in this case was 3500lbs per axle. No way it can be registered for 8000lbs regardless of the load.
*Second - the trailer cannot be driven on a highway or interstate since it only has one brake. To be legal, it needs brake per axle plus a breakaway brake.
*Value - $500 since it would have to be made street legal.

Judge said that the only evidence that she could trust was the value placed by the trailer dealer and ruled for $500.

So - the owner should have taken one of our offers. PTO is out $500 plus about $200 in filing cost (since we did still lose). Owner only has $500 to apply to a trailer - and has at least $750 in attorney fees. Wow - hope this was worth it to him! And to think - the PTO knew we should compensate him for his loss and actually tried....

And I bet Parkside PTO doesn't have a float again for a long time...