Court rules scrap yard not liable for destroying stolen car

A recent court case highlights the challenges facing victims of a crime wave involving stolen vehicles that are sometimes sold and scrapped without their knowledge.

Vada Haxton sued Northern Metals Recycling and others last year upon learning that a tow truck driver sold her Toyota Camry to the scrap yard in Maple Grove seven months after she reported it stolen.

As 5 INVESTIGATES reported, Haxton only found out what happened to her car after getting a letter from the state that the vehicle had been destroyed.

This month a small claims court referee ruled that while Haxton should be compensated for the destruction of her stolen car, Northern Metals is not liable.

In a statement, Scott Helberg, Northern Metals COO, applauded the ruling and said the company “did not knowingly scrap a stolen vehicle.”

Helberg added the company reported the purchase to the “appropriate authorities,” in accordance with Minnesota law.

Haxton says that state law does not do enough to protect property owners.

“The people that made the most money off of the car were not held responsible,” Haxton said. “You just had to make one phone call to the police, or you had to look up the VIN number.”

Reforms Scrapped

Minnesota law does not require scrap yards to take that step in every transaction.

As 5 INVESTIGATES reported, Minnesota lawmakers repealed a requirement in 2015 that would have required scrap yards to enter transactions into a state database similar to one already used by pawn shops.

New legislation introduced by Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, seeks to revive the creation of an online database specifically designed to track the purchase of catalytic converters.

In Haxton’s case, the court referee said the scrap yard was not liable but was critical of a system that allowed a stolen car to be sold and scrapped without the owner knowing.

“A profit has been made by a couple of people here, yet everybody says ‘I don’t owe her any money,’” said court referee Perry Smith before issuing his ruling.

The tow truck driver, his company, and its owner must now pay Haxton $1,500.

They sold her stolen car to the scrap yard for $200.

“I’m a single mom. I was only making $16 an hour at the time,” Haxton said. “It doesn’t matter how much the property was valued at. It was still the money that I earned showing up every day, being able to get my kid to and from school, and get myself to work.”

Follow 5 INVESTIGATES continuing coverage ‘SCRAPPED’ at 10 PM on Nightcast.