$500 Civics Lesson

August 27, 2007

Two weeks ago my car was backed into while it was parked. I happened to be coming out the front door of the townhouse and witnessed the accident. The driver of the minivan was suitably upset and we exchanged contact information, and I collected from him his driver's license number and insurance information. He said that he wanted to handle this himself and not involve the police or insurance. I was willing to go along with that, mostly because the damage looked so slight.

In hindsight I should have called the police and let let them handle the matter. The insurance information I copied from the guy was out of date. I noticed this and asked him, "This is out of date, you do have current coverage?" To which he replied, "Yes." Not seeing a current proof of insurance card should have been my warning to call the police.

In the two weeks since I have been unable to get him to commit to paying, or even to call me back. I took the time to get an estimate for the repair (turns out it was far more expensive that I would have guessed, $1968 plus a rental car for the four to five day repair time), and faxed it to him. No response, no call, nothing. When I called early last week he said that he had only just taken the time to pick up the fax and would have more information for me in a couple of days. I said I would expect his call by Thursday. When he didn't call back I emailed all the information to my insurance agent.

This morning my agent contacted the insurance agent on the expired card I was shown only to learn that the policy has lapsed. My agent called the other driver and learned that he has no insurance whatsoever. The other driver also indicated to my agent, that he hasn't got the money to pay for the damages either.

By being a nice guy two weeks ago I lost some leverage in the situation. I don't have a police report, and at present there is no penalty to the other driver, and I have to pay $500 to cover my deductible. It is my understanding that there is no time limit on getting an accident report, so I could call the local PD and get one filed. This has a feeling of retaliation to it however. It won't get me any money for my deductible, and it very well could cost him his driver's license.

The lesson here, for me at any rate, is to learn to use the law to establish a set of parameters around a situation. Calling the cops two weeks ago would have taken care of me. Yes, the other driver would have been in more hot water, but he, after all, caused the situation. Wanting to be a nice guy hasn't accomplished anything except delay the understanding that his carelessness is going to cost me time and money. Using the police two weeks ago would not have been me being a "bad" guy, just me being a nice guy caught in an abnormal situation needing some help.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.