“Here lies the body of William Jay, Who died maintaining his right of way— He was right, dead right, as he sped along, But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”
― Dale Carnegie, From How To Win Friends and Influence People.
A recent story out of Florida shows us that being dead right isn’t helpful. A tow truck driver narrowly avoided tragedy during a repo job when he got out of his truck to fight with a man who was trying to keep him from towing a car. But, the guy ran back into his house to get a gun and shot him.
Before anybody runs to the comments to tell me about how the guy should have made his car payment or arranged to get rid of it peacefully, I want to be clear that I totally agree. Nothing I say here should be considered defense of the guy who not only didn’t make his payments, but almost killed somebody over it. He’s 1,000% in the wrong here.
That having been said, if you’re the repo guy, do you think this would be any comfort to your family if you got killed? Not really. You can be 100% in the right, dead right, and still be just as dead as if you were wrong. This man narrowly escaped death, but only through dumb luck and not skill.
Before the shooting, neighbors had a chance to start recording, and we can see exactly how the conflict went from a bad repo job to a near-death experience that the driver is likely to feel for the rest of his life. We don’t know what happened before the camera started recording, but we do know that the car’s former owner came out to stand in the way of letting the driver hook up.
When the driver (possibly illegally) used the vehicle’s tow bar to push the man and go ahead with the tow anyway, the guy losing the car ran up to the window of the truck and punched the driver. At this point the driver got out and chased the man. A yelling match ensued, and the guy came out with a pistol, shooting the repo man four times.
Again, there’s nothing moral or legal about this shoot, but it was probably avoidable, and you can bet the driver is sitting in a hospital bed wishing now that he had done more avoiding instead of taking four bullets for the bank.
For one, it was probably not legal to use the tow equipment to push the man’s feet aside when he stood in the way of the repo process. As in many other states, Florida does not allow repo men to “breach the peace” to get access to a vehicle. This includes the use of force (like pushing a guy with the towing gear), breaking of locks and anything else that damages property or causes too much of a scene.
If the man had gone back in the house and called 911 instead of assaulting the driver, the repo driver could have gotten in serious trouble for vehicular assault and breaching the peace. That’s not something a professional repo man wants to risk.
A smarter driver would have put the house under surveillance and come back later when they knew nobody was home, or followed them to a store and snagged it in a parking lot. They also could have gone to court to get an order to give the car up, and come back with police to legally take the car. The bank can also go to court, and hit the guy’s credit for the full amount of the loan without taking the car back and auctioning it, or put a lien on the guy’s home, among many other options.
In other words, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the law lets losers win. They always lose in the end one way or another, and it’s worth your time to keep yourself safe while pursuing justice.
Another really bad move was exiting the truck. The truck was a relatively safe place and was an easy way to get away if things got ugly. Getting out to fight back and get into a screaming match only ups the risk without increasing the odds of getting the car hooked up.
Finally, you might be sick of hearing about Verbal Judo if you’re a regular reader, but non-violent dispute resolution techniques are the way through most of these encounters. Instead of getting out to fight and scream, using Verbal Judo skills like the “Five Step Hard Style” can go a long way toward getting voluntary compliance.
Those steps are:
- Ask (ethical appeal)
- Set context (reasonable appeal: explain policies and rules)
- Present options (reasonable appeal: what’s in it for them and what if they don’t)
- Confirm (practical appeal: “can I do or say anything to make you cooperate”)
But, if you can’t remember five steps, remember that you need to ask people before you tell them. Everyone wants to feel important, and giving them a chance to give up with dignity goes a long way toward making it happen the easy way.
A repo man doesn’t have the force options police do, but he can:
- Calmly ask the guy if he can comply with the repo willingly
- Let him know what the situation is if the man refuses
- Let him know what his options are (coming back with police, going to court, or getting a lien on the house)
- Asking him if there’s anything he can do to get the guy to let him do the tow
- The, leave and go exercise those other options
Watch this guy go through the five steps:
But, in a stressful situation, it can be hard to remember to ask or go through the five steps. So, you have to watch out for yourself and identify the signs of stress and anger. When you see it happening, you have to train yourself to take a few deep breaths (box breathing is easy to remember), and calm yourself down until you can remember your Verbal Judo skills.