A driver who successfully disputed a $250 tow-away fee claims the case could set a precedent for other car owners at the mercy of towing companies.
However, Auckland Towing Company owner Antony Ashford, who appealed the case in the district court and lost, said he was "gobsmacked" at the outcome and believed it would be a one-off.
Stephen Farnsworth's car was towed from the Mercury Plaza carpark in Newton in 2011 because he returned 40 minutes after the plaza closed.
Mr Farnsworth had eaten dinner in the plaza foodcourt but because he returned after it closed at 9pm, Auckland Towing deemed him not to be a customer.
He had to walk 2km to the company's compound and pay a $250 release fee.
Mr Farnsworth made a complaint to the Disputes Tribunal, pointing out there were no warning signs at the entrance to the plaza or in front and behind the row of parking spaces where he parked.
There were one-hour parking signs in front of other parks and a sign at the entrance to the mall warning that only shoppers could park there, but he did not read any of those signs.
A Disputes Tribunal referee found Auckland Towing Company committed a "trespass against goods" when it towed Mr Farnsworth's car.
The referee said because of the lack of signage it could not be shown that Mr Farnsworth consented to the risk of his car being towed.
He said genuine customers should be given a "generous" amount of time to return to their cars once the plaza had closed.
With regard to the $250 release fee, the referee said the expense of towing a car could not amount to damage.
"Mr Farnsworth's car had to cause damage, whether physical or financial, actual or anticipated, before the remedy of distress could apply."
Auckland Towing Company appealed the outcome in the district court last September and lost.
Mr Farnsworth said the firm repaid the $250 only when a bailiff was sent.
Mr Ashford said a car could cause "damage" just by preventing rightful customers from parking there.
Sour end to foodcourt meal
* A driver who made a complaint to the Disputes Tribunal after his car was towed was refunded the $250 release fee he had to pay.
* He had eaten dinner in a plaza foodcourt but because he returned after it closed at 9pm the towing company deemed him not to be a customer and towed his car.
* The driver had to walk 2km to the company's compound and pay the release fee.
* The Disputes Tribunal found the towing company committed a "trespass against goods" when it towed the car.