Your teenage daughter misjudges the space when she goes around a turning vehicle, and just taps the car’s right rear bumper. The other driver, an older woman, appears unhurt. She says, It’s Easter time, and I’m fine. Let’s just forget about it.
You were riding with your daughter and you think that’s a reasonable attitude, and agree. So you all go home to the Peeps and the chocolate eggs and have a nice life.
A few weeks later, however, your insurance company informs you that the woman is suing them and you for lost wages (although she had already been on disability for paranoid schizophrenia) and neck injuries (you’ve seen her in the shop where you work without a cervical collar) and pain and suffering.
Where did you go wrong? The so-called accident was only a tiny tap that barely scratched paint. There couldn’t have been an injury, as your terrified daughter tells your insurance company’s attorney prior to trial.
Prior to trial! Holy cow.
No one can guarantee what might happen when bumpers kiss. But there are steps you can take to avoid fender-benders becoming the event of the decade.
Your first thought might be to call the police. But in some jurisdictions, the police will not respond unless there are injuries. In many states, an accident without injuries and less than $500 damage means you don’t need to call the police to the scene; you can file a report later. Know the laws in your state. Then, by taking the steps below even without the police present you can protect yourself from false claims and help your insurance company reach the best decisions:
First, follow the law. Virtually every jurisdiction requires drivers to carry their license, registration and insurance information. Be sure it is with all family drivers at all times.
Second, take pictures. Keep a disposable camera in the glove compartment and, in the event of a fender bender, use it. Photos can later help show whether any repair estimates were inflated, or whether the force of contact was likely to cause injuries that might later be claimed by the other driver or passengers.
Also, take pictures of all the occupants of the other car, preferably while they are still in the car or at least while they are all still at the scene. Why? There’s a fraud scheme called jump ins. In an attempt to get a bigger settlement, people known to the claimant come forward and say they were also in the car and also suffered injuries.
Take pictures of the site of the accident. Having photos of the cars on location can help you make your own case to the claims adjuster. Write down the specifics of the location as well, for example: The NW approach to the intersection of Locust Lane and Route 26, about 2 car-lengths before the speed limit sign.
Third, if there are witnesses, get their names and addresses. Some may be reluctant; be persistent within reason.
Fourth, exchange information with the other driver. This information includes name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, name of the other driver’s insurance company, policy number, and license plate number. If the driver is not the person named on the insurance card, find out and write down what the relationship is between the driver and that person; family, friend, employee. Write down the policyholder’s name, address and phone information, as well. Finally, write down a complete description of the other car, including year, make, model and color.
Fifth, keep your mouth shut. Under no circumstances tell the other driver, It was all my fault,even if you think it was. Remember, there are people who stage accidents for the payoff, and you could have been positioned so that there was nothing else you could do. Even if it was a bona fide accident, let the experts determine blame or no blame when they work out the insurance compensation. Some of us feel so badly about any incident, especially if the other driver appears to have come unglued, that we are likely to accept blame when none is due.
- Now you can go home and have a nice life and drive even more carefully in the future to avoid the possibility of having to perform this tricky and sometimes frightening scene again.