DMV hearing on fake accident - what to do?
November 24, 2008 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Out of the blue, my spouse received a form letter from the DMV claiming that he caused more than $750 in damages over two months ago. He doesn't know anything about this...what to do?

He called the DMV and discovered that someone is claiming that he hit their parked car. Though he could have been in that location that day, he certainly didn't hit anyone's car hard enough to cause that much damage. (He doesn't remember anything out of the ordinary happening on that day.) The lady at the DMV told him to return the form letter without including his insurance info and to request a hearing.

What goes on in these hearings? Will it be his word against this random person who is almost certainly lying? Should we report this to our insurance company? We have plenty of coverage but we don't want our rates to go up. We are in California.
posted by ilyanassa to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Did he hit the car or not? You say he didn't hit anyone's car "hard enough to cause that much damage," which makes it sound like he did hit someone's car. But then you also say he doesn't remember anything out of the ordinary. It seems like hitting someone's car -- however lightly -- would be out of the ordinary.
posted by nitsuj at 12:24 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

This sounds fishy -- I don't know why any state DMV would be involved in judicial or enforcement issues. Did he actually call a DMV number out of the phone book and not from the letter? Are they asking for money? I guess it could be legit but my BS detector is going off.
posted by crapmatic at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2008

Nitsuj - Sorry I wasn't clear. As far as he remembers, he didn't hit anyone's car. But he's a New York driver so, for example, tapping someone's bumper when parallel parking wouldn't be out of the ordinary, and I doubt he's remember it.
posted by ilyanassa at 12:34 PM on November 24, 2008

Whatever the process is, make them prove it. The claimant could just as easily parked, noted the license plate number of any car near them, then fraudulently reported that to the DMV to collect on insurance or get repairs for problems caused elsewhere.
posted by rhizome at 12:38 PM on November 24, 2008

Don't report it to your insurance company; there is no reason to do that until money actually has to exchange hands. And at the point it's their problem to get the money out of your insurance company not yours. So let them call. Your insurance company will call you when the time comes to get your statement.

Don't admit to anything. Deny everything. Consult your attorney. Follow my advice at your own risk.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:44 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once got a letter saying I was involved in an accident with a car I had very recently sold, and in a city I had never been to with that car (although it would have been totally plausible). I ignored it, and found out months and months later that a Repoman was after a previous room-mate's car and one of the tricks they have to find out where he was living was to find out where _I_ was living (and his girlfriend, etc. etc.). So it could just be a fake accident report used as a fishing expedition, as unlikely as it may sound/be. ymmv.
posted by imaswinger at 1:03 PM on November 24, 2008

They could just have easily have hit his bumper, causing their own damage. Admit nothing.

Do check with your insurance company before deciding not to tell them about this event. It may be required by your policy to notify them now.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:28 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

A quick note about the $750 amount: if we assume for the moment that he did bump a car while parallel parking, and that there was damage resulting from that bump, it's very easy for the damage amount to exceed $750 under the following conditions:

- His bumper is higher than the other car's bumper (such as if he has a pickup truck, or the other car was a low-slung sports car), so that his bumper contacted the bodywork/lights/grille/hood of the other car, and/or caused significant paint damage (even to the bumper);

- The car that he bumped was significantly less protected from the factory than his car (such as if he had a 70's car with a heavy chrome bumper, and the other car was a 60's car with little/no front bumper from the factory);

- The car that he bumped was in significantly more fragile condition than his car (such as if he had a 70's car with a heavy chrome bumper, and the other car was a VW (old) Beetle with the front bumper removed);

- The car had pre-existing damage to the front bumper that the person is claiming was caused by this impact.

The cost of auto repairs these days can be excessive. Note that the over-$750 amount is likely because the cutoff for having to report to the DMV is that personal injury resulted, or the total amount of damage is greater than $750. That amount might be exceeded based on an estimate from a (reputable or not) body shop, or it might be that the person filed the report without getting an estimate, and so the DMV is giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Best of luck!
posted by davejay at 4:16 PM on November 24, 2008

Someone tapped my bumper while parking. My bumper cracked (it was plastic, my car's a late 90s), and it would be at least that much to have a real collision shop replace the bumper and paint it to match the rest of my car.
So, if he is routinely hitting other cars while parking, it seems very likely that is legit. In terms of auto body work $750 is nothing.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:48 PM on November 24, 2008

What's the hearing supposed to be about and who is holding it? If the appearance is before a Driver Safety Hearing Officer, it's likely to be an administrative hearing, which occurs when you are notified of an action to be taken against your driving privileges, and gives you a chance to argue for the DMV to change or rescind the action. But there are other types of hearing, and each will be different - you need to figure out what the purpose of the hearing is and what's specifically at issue.

As for damages, the DMV says, in a number of places on its website, that it does not deal with liability issues. Here it is in this pdf document: "Only courts can make a decision concerning liability." You should read that document closely, actually, as it deals with the Compulsory Financial Responsibility law. $750 seems to be the magic number that requires you to prove to the DMV you are properly insured, so I'd read the forms you have very very carefully and think really hard about the wisdom of not including insurance information.

There's also a provision that allows the DMV to suspend the driving privileges of anybody who fails to satisfy a civil court judgment against them for more than $750. More information about it here. And you might want to get a copy of the accident report that was filed; instructions are here. It'd be odd for this to happen without you knowing it, but if it did, you've got a mess on your hands that you need a lawyer to sort out. It goes without saying that if you are served with a complaint in the coming months, your first call should be to a lawyer.

Anyway, all the relevant forms regarding accidents and links to information about each form are on this page. Click the "i" icon next to each form for more information (this is where I got some of the links above).

Also, the California DMV has the Vehicle Code available on their site. If you use the search bar at the top of the page, there is a radio button that will allow you to search only the Vehicle Code, if that's of any use to you.

Good luck with this.
posted by averyoldworld at 7:52 AM on November 25, 2008

Thanks, everyone. He has decided to notify insurance and let them fight it out. We appreciate the advice!
posted by ilyanassa at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2008

Maybe the car that was parked before him hit the car and when the owner came out they assumed it was your husband. Sucky situation. Take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Assuming the damage to the car was bad enough and there's no damage to your husband's car it might be enough to put this to rest. Also, the $750 might just be the guy's deductible. Good luck.

As someone who did the right thing and notified my insurance when I sorta caused a wreck (the guy overreacted when I was merging into his lane and hit the sidewalk popping 2 tires), but didn't actually hit the van, I recommend not involving your insurance. I learned that the guy in my situation had been in several of these same type of accidents. He was a bad driver. His van was a mess. After I stupidly gave him my insurance information the next day he went and got his entire van fixed and then tried to say I caused all the damage. It was ridiculous. There was no way I could have caused all the damage and my insurance carrier knew it. There was no damage to my car because I didn't touch his van. He tried to sue for 20 grand but thankfully my insurance put all of his tales together and ended up just giving him a grand to make him go away. I learned that if you didn't do anything don't admit to anything or even say sorry and don't ever give your insurance information to someone because if they're a bastard they'll take advantage. I did however report the "incident" to my insurance carrier right away so they did know about it, but they pretty much told me I was an idiot for giving the guy any information.
posted by wherever, whatever at 12:21 AM on November 26, 2008

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