Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Firm pays judgments months after rulings

Stoneridge was found liable for damage done to two vehicles in tows

By Rob Perez


Months apart, the two men each sued the same towing company.

They both had the same result.

Maximo "Max" Mida, a Coast Guard aviation rescue specialist, and Ale Porteous, a flight attendant, each were awarded damages after towing company Stoneridge Recoveries failed to show up to defend itself in court.

The default judgments were approved by the court for damage done to their cars during separate Stoneridge tows.

Even though Mida's award of $1,185 was approved in July 2009 and Porteous' $3,500 judgment was authorized nine months earlier, Stoneridge contacted them only last week to offer payment -- and only after the Star-Advertiser asked Stoneridge why several such cases had gone unpaid.

Mida received his check Wednesday and Porteous' check arrived Friday.

An attorney for Stoneridge, which is the target of a state insurance fraud investigation, said the judgments would have been paid much sooner had the company's management been aware of them. Mark Kawata said the executives did not know about the cases until contacted by the newspaper.

Stoneridge has a monthly contract with the city to be the exclusive vendor for police-initiated tows from downtown to Makapuu.

Porteous' 1989 Acura was towed from a tow-away zone in Waikiki in December 2006. When Porteous discovered his car was missing, he called police, who told him it was not reported as being towed and probably was stolen, according to Porteous' attorney, Dennis Phillips.

Although Porteous filed a stolen vehicle report, he checked with the city several times over the next few days -- as advised by the police officer -- just to make sure his car hadn't been towed. Each time, he was told there was no record of a towing.

In late April 2007, however, he received a letter from the city saying his car had been towed on Dec. 6, 2006 -- four months earlier -- and was at Stoneridge's Mapunapuna lot.

When Porteous went to the lot, he found his car, which had been in good condition, heavily damaged, according to Phillips. The back windshield was shattered , the roof partly caved in, the trunk lid crushed and unhinged. The interior was trashed, moldy and wet.

Upset, Porteous confronted a Stoneridge worker, who told him he couldn't get his car without paying the $2,000 storage bill. Porteous refused to pay.

Mida likewise was nailed in a tow-away zone. The damage to his car was caused at the tow site: The tow truck driver pulled away while the driver's door on Mida's Toyota 4Runner was open. The door hit a tree as the truck accelerated.

Both men tried serving their lawsuits on Stoneridge by certified mail, but each time it was sent back, Mida and Phillips said.

When they tried to personally serve the complaint at the Mapunapuna lot, no one would accept it or give any information on where owner Deyton Stone could be found, they said. Phillips said one worker threw the lawsuit back at him and threatened to call the police.

Mida later hired two different servicing firms, but they had no better luck, he said. The court concluded that Stoneridge was avoiding being served, the records show.

Kawata said he suspects the certified mail had been sent to an erroneous address that used to be on file with the state or that the workers didn't handle the documents the way they should have.

Phillips said the cases were indicators of a broader problem. "I think this is another example of a very poorly regulated industry running wild and running over rights of consumers," he said.

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