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Is it legit that I should go to small claims court?
May 16, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to testify at small claims court for a car accident I was in 3 years ago in which another person was at fault. Is this normal? More inside.

I've never had to do anything like this. A paralegal from a Boston law office sent me a letter telling me I need to go to court in a week.

Basically, 3 years ago I was leaving the parking garage at work and was hit by a reckless driver. It was their fault. My insurance company covered the cost of fixing my car and I thought that was the end of it. Now I get this letter a few days ago saying that the damages that the person at fault owed were never paid by their insurance company and I have to go in to testify.

Is this normal? I just don't know because I've never had to do it before. The paralegal said I'm "contractually obligated" and that I must contact her within 24 hours to tell her whether I can make it or not. I'm also calling my car insurance agent to ask them about this. The paralegal told me that basically it wasn't an option for me not to go.
posted by modoriculous to Law & Government (16 answers total)
 
Can this paralegal produce this contract that you are obligated to fulfill? I'd see what your agent says.
posted by msamye at 10:19 AM on May 16, 2012


It could be legit, but it's very, very unusual. You're a witness to the events, so if there is a court case, then yeah, you'd be called to testify.

Who is the defendant, their insurance company or the reckless driver? If the driver lied about insurance, and the amount is under your state's maximum for small claims, then I suppose your insurance company could file suit. You'd think it wouldn't be in their interest to do so, not for small claims.

Have you been served with a summons/subpeona? Call the court and see if it's actually on the docket.

But yes, get with your agent to verify that it's legit. I'd go. I love that kind of stuff.

My other thought is that it's some weird sting case to get you to the courthouse. Got any unpaid tickets or outstanding warrants?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:21 AM on May 16, 2012


This is normal. Although you should check your car insurance contract, it is highly likely it includes requiring you to support them in court. This is deliberate - car insurance companies need to sue people/other companies in their line of work, and if you will not cooperate with them, they are not able to recover costs that they incur.

Keep in mind that you are not required to lie or do anything abnormal for your car insurance company. If I were in such a situation, I'd have to answer any specific questions asked to me with "I don't recall."
posted by saeculorum at 10:24 AM on May 16, 2012


My agent didn't seem to know too much about it. She's going to speak with the claims adjuster. The defendants are 2 drivers that both hit my car, not their insurance agencies.

I don't have any unpaid tickets as far as I know. I always pay them right away.
posted by modoriculous at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2012


Your insurance agent will be able to get the right answer for you. It's infinitely more likely that your insurer is taking the at-fault drivers to court than that this is some kind of sting, but the question of whether you absolutely have to attend or not is something your insurance agent should be able to verify. As saeculorum says, it may say in your contract with the insurer that you need to testify in court cases related to any settlements you receive.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:31 AM on May 16, 2012


Yeah, my agent was very nice and already spoke to the claims adjuster for the accident. I'm going to go in and just go to this, it seems like it's a pretty normal thing in the event that an insurance agency is not getting their money.

Second question though! The two drivers at fault work in my office, do I confront them and ask what is going on? Such as, hey remember when you inconvenienced my life 3 years ago by wrecking my car, now you're doing it again by not paying up and making me go to court to testify against you? I probably won't do that, but I'd like to.
posted by modoriculous at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2012


IAMNAL, but your story reminded me of something that happened to me in college. I was on my way to an exam before my first year of school and was involved in a no-fault car accident. Besides increased insurance rates, I heard no more of this for over 2 years. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I received an official letter from a law office requiring my presence at court as I was being sued for medical damages and to call to set this up.When I phoned, they basically asked me a bunch of questions, to which I answered "I do not recall" to most of them. They then set a court date to which I was required to appear, but they then settled out of court immediately before the court date.

Some law students I spoke with at the time mentioned that the statute of limitations to pursue damages was around 3 years, and some insurance companies and lawyers will try to recoup any losses immediately before this limitation, hoping that someone is unreachable or unwilling to go to court and if they don't show up the case can go in the favor of the plaintiff's attorneys. Not sure of the accuracy of that, but it made sense to me.

It sounds like you may be involved (though not as a defendant) in something similar to me. But I still think that calling your insurance company is probably the way to go here.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2012


The two drivers at fault work in my office, do I confront them and ask what is going on?

While no doubt emotionally satisfying, this is one of those ideas that should be safely confined to the inner recesses of your mind.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:41 AM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


"didn't seem to know too much about it" and "didn't know anything about it" are very different. Either your insurance company is suing both drivers, or they're not. Focus on that.

Also, who wrote the letter? The court? The insurance company? One of the drivers? A random lawyer? This is quite relevant, I should think.
posted by davejay at 10:43 AM on May 16, 2012


Second question though! The two drivers at fault work in my office, do I confront them and ask what is going on? Such as, hey remember when you inconvenienced my life 3 years ago by wrecking my car, now you're doing it again by not paying up and making me go to court to testify against you? I probably won't do that, but I'd like to.

Oh lord no.
posted by davejay at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just show up to court, wearing that suit we all have for court appearances. There are four ways to answer questions put to you by lawyers:

1. Yes
2. No
3. I don't know
4. I don't remember.

When asked to tell about the events, don't dress it up or exaggerate. Keep it short and simple. I would also recommend asking the insurance company for a transcript of your original claim. If the opposing lawyer asks, "how did you prepare for your appearance, or gee, that's an interesting detail to remember after all of these years," just say, "Yes, I refreshed my memory by reading my original statement." Get the original police report as well. Can't hurt.

At this point you have no skin in this game, but it can be enjoyable as all get back, so go, have fun, and when you see those tools in your office, just nod at them with a knowing look.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:59 AM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


The two drivers at fault work in my office, do I confront them and ask what is going on? Such as, hey remember when you inconvenienced my life 3 years ago by wrecking my car, now you're doing it again by not paying up and making me go to court to testify against you? I probably won't do that, but I'd like to.

Another vote for no no no no no.
posted by maryr at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2012


It would be worth checking to see if you can get paid for this. Where I am, witnesses are paid by who they are called for their time, and while the pay isn't huge, it certainly isn't something to pass up. If you find you are paid for your time in your area, I'd write back explaining how you'll be happy to show up as long as they pay you as required.

How do I know this? I helped out someone in court and the officer we called to the stand asked us to pay him after trial. We did, mostly because I'd looked it up beforehand. Otherwise, I'd have figured it was not legit.
posted by shepd at 12:52 PM on May 16, 2012


They may or may not be able to ding you if you refuse to go but it's the right thing to do.

I wouldn't confront your coworkers about it; you're not up on the details of the case - for all you know they've all done what they should but their deadbeat insurance company is the problem here.
posted by phearlez at 1:46 PM on May 16, 2012


Something sorta like this happened to me years ago. Paralegal called to tell me I had to go to court 2 years down the road (ha!) from an accident. I asked her who was going to pay for my plane ticket to Chicago. She very quickly arranged for me to provide a deposition on the phone. I'd push back on the paralegal as to why a deposition isn't sufficient, especially since she only saw fit to give you a weeks notice.

Whether in court or on the phone, exactly what Ruthless Bunny said.
posted by kjs3 at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2012


My friend is going through this very thing right now, except it is six years after the accident. My friend is being sued and is sure that it's happening now as the statute of limitations is about to run out.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:02 PM on May 16, 2012


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