The state Attorney General's office filed suit Tuesday against a Tacoma tow company for auctioning off a sailor's car while he was deployed.
The owner of Burns Towing admits to selling the car in June but believed she was following state law.
"After five days the vehicle is considered abandoned," said Kristine Zachary. "Then we send out a certified letter to the [registered owner] and the legal owner. If we don't get a response from anyone, then we have no recourse than to sell it off to auction."
Zachary said her staff had no idea the car belonged to a member of the military.
Citing state and federal law, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Burns Towing had a responsibility to find out if the owner was a service member, before selling the car.
"You can be deployed on short notice. You may have a gym membership. You may have a car you have to park it. If something happens to you while you're gone, you should have certain protections, because you're keeping our country safe," Ferguson said.
His staff filed a complaint accusing Zachary and Burns Towing for violating the Service Members' Civil Relief Act.
The law gives service members an extra layer of protection, Ferguson said.
According to the suit, Petty Officer Alex Vaughn was deployed on the USS Stennis last spring when Burns impounded his 2011 Chevrolet Malibu and then sold the car a few weeks later.
Burns said she wasn't aware of the lawsuit, but in their defense provided KING 5 records on how Tacoma Police requested the tow, because it was left on a city street and how the businesses repeatedly tried by mail to reach the registered owner and the bank that had the lien on the car, Navy Federal Credit Union.
Neither party responded, she said.
Ferguson said the burden is on Burns Towing to find out if the registered owner is an active member of the military.
The Department of Defense has a website where anyone can search to see if someone is an active service member by name, date of birth, or social security number for free.