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Please advise on car insurance issues after an accident.
December 16, 2012 9:46 PM   Subscribe

A guy hit my car parked on the street in Cambridge, MA, causing some damage (to the car only, I wasn't around). He left a note. I called him and he wanted to bypass our insurance providers. Please advise.

My car is a Honda Civic, about 9 years old. The damage was to the left front corner, which he hit hard enough that part of the outer shell below the hood came off, leaving the windshield washer container exposed (between the front wheel and the front bumper). I worry a little about further unseen damage.

The guy who hit my car says he has four vehicles under his insurance, including two trucks for business (he is a carpenter) and his wife and daughter's vehicles. His son has been involved in some accidents, so he doesn't want his premiums to go up more. So, I have sympathy for him. I've talked to him on the phone twice. My plan is to go to a garage that I trust and get an estimate, then present it to him. He has agreed to give me a certified check for the amount of the estimate.

I'm in reasonably good standing with my insurance provider; I had another problem with someone hitting my parked car a couple years ago (and not leaving a note) but other than that I haven't been in any accidents in the past decade. I could just contact my insurance provider and let them handle this, but I feel for the guy. He did leave his phone number, which was something.

All that said, I'm finding this situation to be quite stressful. I don't like worrying about the trustworthiness of a stranger. I am also concerned that there might be things I'm missing.

Are there any legal or insurance aspects to this that I'm overlooking? Am I being a sucker for not immediately filing a claim? Is there anything else about this that might come back to bite me later?
posted by A dead Quaker to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You only have to read back Ask MetaFilter questions to find a number of people who regret doing what you are thinking of doing. I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by grouse at 9:55 PM on December 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Nope, don't do it. Go through the proper insurance routes.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:06 PM on December 16, 2012


People successfully settle all the time without involving insurance.

To ensure total satisfaction and peace-of-mind for yourself, simply have your car inspected and repaired by a shop of your choosing.

(remember, you always have the right to go through insurance, even half way through this process)
posted by Kruger5 at 10:07 PM on December 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's all up to you whether you want to do the guy a favor. Me? I will settle this way using the following rule: if I get an estimate from a shop of my choosing and they will pay it, I will probably say yes, especially if they showed honesty by leaving a note.

If anything becomes difficult in the process of "here's the estimate, you pay" then I would hand it to insurance. They want to haggle endlessly? Insurance. They act skeevy? Insurance.
posted by zippy at 10:26 PM on December 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


... Also: frame damage or other serious work involving multiple garages? Insurance.
posted by zippy at 10:27 PM on December 16, 2012


Are there any legal or insurance aspects to this that I'm overlooking?

I don't have an answer to this part of your question, because I am a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction (Massachusetts) and so I need to be extra-careful about not falsely creating the impression that I am giving you legal advice or that we have any kind of attorney-client relationship. I am not, and we don't.

Having said that. I appreciate not wanting to worry about the trustworthiness of a stranger, but the term "stranger" can be loaded. It's like how we tell kids not to talk to strangers, but once they've been introduced is the person no longer a stranger? When does the person cease to be a stranger and become somebody you are involved in a transaction (however unfortunate) with? What do you know about him? Consider his actions so far and whatever gut impression you took from the phone call.

People successfully settle all the time without involving insurance.

They do indeed. Again, I cannot and will not offer you any advice on whether this is the correct course for you. But you mention having a garage that you trust, which is a valuable resource that not everybody has. If I had a garage I trusted and if I were faced with your circumstance, I might call the garage on Monday and have a conversation with them.

I'm sorry that you find this situation stressful. Sometimes when I find a situation stressful, it helps me to brainstorm the worst-case results of my different options. Often I discover that none of those worst-case results are really that terrible after all, which helps me to feel better about the stakes/danger of making a "wrong" decision. Good luck, and I hope you have a happy holiday season.
posted by cribcage at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation and chose to go the non-insurance route. I did what everyone else is suggesting - we went to a shop of my choosing and got a quote. The other driver actually met me at the shop on the day they were doing the work and gave them the money. It all worked out fine and I ended up being glad we did it that way.

But yes to what everyone else is saying. If, at any point you feel uncomfortable, you should file a claim with your insurance company. For instance, if you go to the shop and it turns out there are more problems than you thought, and the other driver starts fudging - insurance.

One thing to remember that might help your peace of mind - if this guy left you a note and has been responsive and unconditionally willing to pay, he's probably a pretty honest person. I've been in (as the "victim") two hit and run accidents in the last few years, which made me realize 1. how many people actually DO that and 2. how easy it is to get away with it. So the fact that this guy left a note and has been working with you says a lot about his trustworthiness.
posted by lunasol at 11:19 PM on December 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, you are overlooking a major issue (I got to deal with something similar recently):

No reputable shop will give you a repair estimate without taking the front of the car apart to assess interior damage. This is an irreversible process – the damaged parts will not fit back together, so the garage will not be able to return your car to you without you agreeing to the repairs. To summarize, you will need to agree to pay for all repairs in order to get an estimate, without knowing how much that will be.

The repairs might be a lot more than you thought. To give you an idea, we recently paid about $1,400 for what looked like very minor bumper/fender damage, but we initially filed for an insurance claim and only canceled it when we realized the total cost is only $400 more than the deductible and probably not worth the potential insurance rate increase over the long run.

The other party may decide that the estimate is too much for them to pay after your car has been taken apart in the shop – what happens then?

Parts will need to be ordered for your 9-year-old Honda. What if it takes a week? Will the other party pay for a car rental meanwhile? What if it takes two weeks?
posted by halogen at 11:30 PM on December 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


His son has been involved in some accidents, so...

Sob story, check.

Did he also leave his license (car and card) with the note? That's what your insurance company is going to want more than a phone number. How much information he offers unprompted will tell you how much he's on the up and up.

If it's legit, sure, you can handle it outside of insurance, but note that people who don't want their insurance to go up don't hit parked cars hard enough to peel a quarterpanel up. Also, an estimate is just that, an estimate. Tell him to pay to have your car fixed, period. Did he leave his license number on the note as well?
posted by rhizome at 11:46 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Call your insurer!

Our honda civic of similar age was totalled in a hit & run situation - minimal damage up top, crap estimates, once it was taken apart - totalled!

Just... No.

With cosmetic damage it is OK. You don't even know yet. Our party denied liability despite having awesome insurance and it took 48 days + surveillance footage to get coverage.

-----

Even if you have basic liabilty, you likely have uninsured motorist insurance. This guy sounds like he is uninsured! If not, all the better, his insurance pays for your repairs and a rental while you car is out of commission being repaired.

I'm sorry. Go the formal and legal route. Otherwise, this will not turn out well for you.
posted by jbenben at 12:21 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Report the accident to your insurer.

This guy sounds like he is uninssured. Just in case my previous comment was not clear.

You can't fail by going the legal route.
posted by jbenben at 12:24 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My parked car was hit by someone and they left a note but not their insurance info. I got an estimate (bumper dented, looked little but bar underneath was damaged, so ~$2500) and suddenly that person wasn't answering my calls anymore.

My advice would be to try and get more information about them so they can't slip away easily--before you mention insurance.
posted by dottiechang at 1:31 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ask for 2000 dollars cash in 100 dollar bills cash money, then get your car repaired as cheap as you can. It's a 9 year old beater.
posted by roboton666 at 1:38 AM on December 17, 2012


It's a 9 year old beater.

Honda Civics last forever. Mine is fifteen years old and has never had engine trouble.

It's worth getting it fixed right.
posted by Georgina at 1:59 AM on December 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why bother paying for insurance if you're not going to use it?

This is what it's for. Truth of the matter is that this guy hit you and he's trying to wriggle out of the full consequences of his actions. You owe him nothing. Use your insurance.
posted by krakus at 3:16 AM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Heh. We actually got hit by a car in Cambridge last weekend and the hitter offered to avoid insurance by just paying out of pocket. Unfortunately, there's a lot of other stuff insurance does beyond just fixing your car. It deals with the mechanic and the eventuality that repairs will be more costly than you expected. It will sort out a rental car. It will deal with the hassle.

We're a one car family with a toddler. Going a week without a car to get the toddler to daycare is not an option. If the damage had been something truly minor - a sideswiped review mirror that could be swapped out in an afternoon - then maybe we would have taken the guy up on the offer. If he had come out with some ginormous figure, we would have been tempted as well. Just "covering the cost of the repair" is not enough for the amount of stress and hassle we'd take on to do everything ourselves.

We already have a check covering the estimate and have spoken with a mechanic. If we went with the hitter's plan, we'd no doubt still be negotiating.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:34 AM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


On the flip side, I have been the accident causer in this kind of transaction. I backed into a car and caused minimal damage, left a note, and then asked the owner if we could take care of his car outside of insurance. He got an estimate, I said OK and paid it, and I paid for his rental car, too. I did this because I didn't want the accident on my insurance record. There are honest and logical people out there -- most of them don't leave notes on cars.

It is good that you have some comments from people with bad experiences so that you can navigate around those, if possible. Unseen damage is something that a repair shop may be able to help you predict. Perhaps getting something in writing from him agreeing to accept liability for the accident and possible future repairs would ease your stress.
posted by starkraven at 4:45 AM on December 17, 2012


The thing is, you have no proof one way or the other that he's telling you the truth about his insurance situation: he's very purposely playing on your sympathy with that long story about his son's previous accidents and all. Maybe it IS all true about the hard-working carpenter/caring family man, but equally maybe not.

And as far as the repairs to your car go, if you go the non-insurance route make sure your agreement with him covers ALL REPAIRS, not just the estimate: my car has been hit twice, and the original estimates only covered about 65-75% of the total repairs --- because I went through my insurance company though, they did pay the rest of the costs involved. There is often hidden damage that's only discovered once the mechanics are deep into your car's repairs.
posted by easily confused at 5:25 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really feel like if he wasn't trustworthy why would he leave a note? I vote bypass insurance, I have done it a few times with people who have hit me and never had a problem.
posted by ill3 at 5:37 AM on December 17, 2012


This sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to go about things. Someone who's going to screw you later on does not leave a note on your car. Give the guy a break. Get all his insurance info, but be clear to him that you're only going to use it if there's a problem with the cheque (which there won't be, if it's certified). He's doing everything he can to make clear you can trust him. Why not give him a chance? It's just body damage.
posted by Dasein at 6:25 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you bypass insurance:
Best Case: Your car gets fixed.
Worst Case: This guy disappears at any point between now and six months from now when your mechanic says, "Hey, did you get into an accident about six months ago, because...", your car requires thousands of dollars to repair, and your insurance company refuses to talk to you because you never told them about it.

If you call your insurance company right now:
Best Case: Your car gets fixed.
Worst Case: Your car gets fixed.

Sorry, but this guy's insurance problems are not your problems. He doesn't want to suffer the consequences of his son crashing into stuff? Then he should have taught the kid to drive better, or made the kid get his own damn insurance.
posted by Etrigan at 6:25 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is what I'd tell the poor slob:

"Dude, I really feel for you, but I've been burned before. With my car being as old as it is, and the damage is in an area where it could run to thousands of dollars, I think it's in both of our interests to involve insurance."

You can feel sorry for the guy, but at the end of the day you have to protect your own interests. In this scenario you have everything to lose and nothing to gain by NOT going through your insurance.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think if the guy wanted to stiff you, he would not have left a note at all. I don't think it's good advice that we should always be cynical of others.
posted by eas98 at 6:44 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the responses. I took pictures and a video of my car, and took that to my garage (which fortunately is close to where I live). They said it looked drivable, so I took it in and got an estimate: $1500. I told the hitter and after saying "holy shit", he said he was going to check with his insurance people to see what they said. But either way, that's way over my threshold for wanting to submit a claim, so I just filed one.

Some responses to comments:

None of you are my lawyers and I will not treat your comments as legal advice.

The guy came across to me as honest but pushy, which is most of why I was stressed out. He didn't want to consider filing a claim and didn't seem to respect my desire to file one. Also, at one point yesterday he suggested taking my car to the garage he usually deals with because it would be cheaper for him. I wasn't totally comfortable with that, although he was amenable to working with my garage. He also didn't offer up his license and insurance info.

You only have to read back Ask MetaFilter questions to find a number of people who regret doing what you are thinking of doing.

Indeed, I read a bunch of them. But I didn't see any that totally fit my circumstances (parked car on public street in Massachusetts), so I wanted to ask at least for the sake of completeness.

Sometimes when I find a situation stressful, it helps me to brainstorm the worst-case results of my different options. Often I discover that none of those worst-case results are really that terrible after all, which helps me to feel better about the stakes/danger of making a "wrong" decision.

Yeah, this spoke to me. I woke up this morning feeling somewhat better, because I knew that one way or another this was mostly going to get resolved today.

No reputable shop will give you a repair estimate without taking the front of the car apart to assess interior damage.

That's very strange, because the guy at my garage just looked at the outside for a couple minutes while I watched to produce his estimate. I had work done there once before, was happy with the results, and my insurance company paid for it. So I think the shop is reputable. I'm not disputing any experience you've had, just offering up my data points.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:11 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Massachusetts you need to have a certain collision waiver on your policy to collect on a hit and run, where the driver of the other vehicle is unidentified. I know from experience that even with a 'note' left by the 'driver' All he has to do is deny he was ever there. So here's how to play it. If you have the correct insurance just deal with your insurance company. If you don't then try and deal with the other guy. Just be aware that he can back out at any time.
posted by Gungho at 7:35 AM on December 17, 2012


For what it's worth, I have gone down the path of settling an accident claim outside insurance. In my case, I was "lightly" rear-ended on the highway, resulting in cosmetic damage to the rear bumper costing just over $600 to repair. My reasoning was two-fold:I'm not saying you should go one way or another - just that it is certainly possible to settle outside of insurance and end up mutually (as in both of you) better off.
posted by saeculorum at 7:35 AM on December 17, 2012


The car still runs (based on what I extrapolate from your statement), so I would assume that there is no major internal damage. That means that most of the cost (anywhere from $700 to $1000) is simply what auto-mechanics call "blending" - making sure that the color of the replacement part perfectly matches the rest of the car. That's why the person who struck you is so shocked at the price - because most of that expense is simply paint job.

If you don't really care about having the color be a perfect match but only care about "close enough" - or if you did your research before buying and have a car where the primer matches the color of the paint, so blending is unnecessary - then you can skip this process and save a lot of money.

If you're exclusively focused on your own benefit and don't care at all about the guy who struck your vehicle, I would say you can't go wrong by taking this through insurance. However, you would definitely be doing him a disservice, and considering that he had enough integrity to leave a note (when he could have simply driven off and never been caught) I would give him the benefit of the doubt and try to help him out, were I in your place. People with integrity are rare and so I try to encourage this behavior in others when I see it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:26 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you don't report it to your insurer, you are in violation of your contract. So if your insurer finds out about it later, you would be subject to cancellation. This is because underwriters make specific assumptions about your driving habits and safety of your car, based on what you tell them about the car you drive, the car's condition, and where you live, etc. This is how they calculate their rates, among other things. You are free to withdraw your claim if the other driver is honest, but if you have full coverage (and why you would have full coverage on a car of that age is another issue to address), you need to report.
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:33 AM on December 17, 2012


Yeah, with your update? Definately file the claim with your insurance company. Between his refusal to tell you his license & insurance info and his general pushiness and insistance on using 'his' garage, it's all coming down more on the side of covering YOUR butt by filing the claim officially. Now I'm really starting to wonder if he even HAS a license & insurance, if that accident-prone son he sob-storied about even exists, and how many previous accident claims he has against him.

Stop all direct contact with this guy: deal only with your insurance company, and let THEM handle him --- that's their job, and that's what you pay them for.
posted by easily confused at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2012


My neighbor (that I didn't know) backed into me. He had a couple motorcycles and was afraid how that would impact his insurance costs for them.

I got an estimate and told him. He gave me a check for 5,000 and that was it.

I did NOT get a loaner car as I would have with my insurance so I had to figure out a way to work for a week. I felt that it was a good deed because, well, being in an accident that is your fault stinks and it made me feel neighborly.
posted by beccaj at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2012


If you had taken my advice you would have an extra 500 dollars in your pocket ;-)
posted by roboton666 at 5:21 PM on December 17, 2012


I think if the guy wanted to stiff you, he would not have left a note at all. I don't think it's good advice that we should always be cynical of others.

To be sure, leaving a note just means that it wasn't a hit and run crime. Shortchanging is a separate issue, and nobody said, "we should always be cynical of others."
posted by rhizome at 6:11 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Further update: he got in touch with me and asked to exchange insurance information. The guy at the garage had said things often play out like that: the hitter asks to go outside the insurance companies at first, then sees the actual estimate, freaks out a bit, and decides to use their insurance.

I will have to get the car looked at once or twice more (for the insurance companies) but I probably don't have to talk to this guy on the phone again, which I am thankful for. Noble intents are all well and good but when the other party is giving off a STRONG WHIFF OF DESPERATION AND ANXIETY it's harder to be charitable, and easier to want to never speak to them again.

That means that most of the cost (anywhere from $700 to $1000) is simply what auto-mechanics call "blending" - making sure that the color of the replacement part perfectly matches the rest of the car.

I just looked at the estimate again. The paint cost was just over $200. The biggest cost was labor ($750), followed by parts ($550). Also, my car is plain white. Your statement makes little sense to me. If I'm missing something I'd be curious to know.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:10 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


All's well that ends well! For what it's worth, you may be missing that there are several shades of white, and at the very least the $700-1000 figure is based on not knowing what the damage looks like.
posted by rhizome at 9:11 PM on December 17, 2012


I just looked at the estimate again. The paint cost was just over $200. The biggest cost was labor ($750), followed by parts ($550). Also, my car is plain white. Your statement makes little sense to me. If I'm missing something I'd be curious to know.

Yes, paint is cheap. Most of the cost of blending is labor, since it is very time intensive to do - they are not just painting the parts that they are repairing: they are also painting the areas around those parts and shading it gradually until there is no perceptible difference. This forum elaborates on blending costs in more detail. Also, mechanics will automatically assume you want the car restored to "as good as new," so unless you specifically say you don't want blending, they'll include it. After all, labor is the majority of their profit margin. (To be fair to your mechanic, many car primers are silver, last I checked - so your car being white doesn't necessarily mean it matches.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:09 PM on December 17, 2012


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