What to do about fraudulent witness statement in car accident case?
October 28, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I was involved in a car accident with no witnesses. My insurance has cleared me. The other driver’s insurance is saying they have a sworn witness statement supporting his story that I was at fault. Details inside.

Last month I was rear-ended while switching lanes. I was moving slowly because of heavy traffic but had to brake suddenly as another vehicle cut me off from the front. That vehicle was gone before I could see their license plate, but I did get the details of the driver who hit me.

My insurance deemed me not at fault, saying the other driver hadn't kept sufficient distance. I called his insurance today and learnt they had a statement from a sworn witness who had been driving behind him, and based on that statement they found me at fault.

I am stumped. There were no witnesses to the accident. All the other cars whizzed on by.

After the accident, we parked on the side of the road, exchanged our information, and waited for a police officer, who did not make a report because he said he was not present when the accident occurred. This was in Newton, MA.

I am trying to reach the police officer in the hope that he could corroborate my assertion that there were no witnesses, since we specifically discussed that with him, but it was more than a month ago, and I’m worried he’ll have forgotten.

What do I do?

For what it's worth, the damage to my car is minor, while the other vehicle's is probably a couple of thousand.
posted by Dragonness to Law & Government (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you alerted your insurance company to this development? They'll be interested, and they'll probably handle it for you.
posted by jon1270 at 1:45 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even if the officer did not make a report, he most likely put down information about your meeting in his logbook.
posted by zsazsa at 1:47 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

You don't need to do shit. Let the insurance companies fight about how's liable here.

Seriously. Why are you calling his insurance co. anyway? Have they contacted you directly to say you owe them? If not, you shouldn't be worrying about this.
posted by greasy_skillet at 1:56 PM on October 28, 2010

Have your insurance company handle this. This is why they exist.
posted by schmod at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you have contacted your insurance company, that's the end of your involvement, especially if they've 'cleared' you (which I assume means paying out your claim). Stop talking to the other side. If you receive any correspondence from them, simply forward it to your insurer.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2010

Agree with the above -- let your insurance company deal with it.

Also, people can (and will) say anything. I can give you a sworn statement I'm actually a unicorn but it doesn't mean anything. Verbal honking is meaningless.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your comments. I've only had my license for two years, so all this is rather new to me. My case is showing as 'closed' on my insurance company's website.

When I said that my insurance company cleared me, I meant 'of responsibility'.

I have emailed them this new information and also called them to make sure they see it and follow up.

I now feel I have permission not to chase the police officer down and do the back-and-forth myself, so thank you for that!
posted by Dragonness at 2:10 PM on October 28, 2010

i suspect you're calling their insurance company because you only have liability coverage and want to get a settlement from them. i'm also guessing that that insurance company isn't one of the bigger well known ones.

i don't know what a 'sworn witness statement' is but it sounds like a bunch of bs. i think their insurance company is pretty much refusing to pay and seeing what you do about it. if they were really serious they'd be trying to collect on your insurance, but that won't fly. so they're just cheating you.

if your insurance company gets involved, no problem. if not, get a couple of estimates and sue the person that hit you in small claims court. a 'sworn witness statement' won't mean much there.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:13 PM on October 28, 2010

Pro tip: if you have insurance, never talk to the other person's insurance company unless specifically directed to do so by your insurance company. Really. If they attempt to call you, refer them to your claim representative.
posted by mikeh at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that insurance companies are not agents of the law. They do not get to establish who's at fault in a legal sense; only the judicial system can do that. When your company says you're "cleared," what they mean is that they believe the other driver's insurance company shold pay for the mess. Both your and the other driver's insurers are making the same sort of claim, in a sort of a game of chicken. The thing is, you know there were no witnesses so their "sworn statement" has to be hooey, and you were rear-ended which almost always makes the other guy's fault anyhow. It's BS, and they know it's BS, but hey, it's not costing them anything to try this gambit, so they're throwing it at the wall and hoping against hope that it sticks.

Again, let your insurer handle this. It's an inherent part of the business.
posted by jon1270 at 2:30 PM on October 28, 2010

Pro tip: if you have insurance, never talk to the other person's insurance company unless specifically directed to do so by your insurance company.

Pro pro-tip: if the other person's insurance company is also your insurance company, and money is on the line, don't even talk to your own insurance company, have a lawyer handle it all for you. That might sound extreme if you haven't seen what happens. But if you have, it's just obvious and sensible.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, forward it to insurance and sit tight.

They're probably full of crap. Likely nothing will come of it. In my state, anyway, rear-ending someone is pretty much automatic proof of negligence and / or fault. Inform your insurance company and see.
posted by motsque at 3:39 PM on October 28, 2010

This happens a lot - each company decides the other's driver is at fault. Has anyone been paid for vehicle physical damage (ie: has your company paid to fix your car and the other guy's company paid to fix his?)? If so, this will simply go to arbitration (neutral third party reads case submissions from both sides and makes a decision) when your two companies are pursuing subrogation (trying to recover their claims) from each other.

If not - like if you don't have physical damage coverage on your car and you're pursuing a third party claim against the other driver, you should ask your adjuster about pursuing arbitration so you can get satisfaction from the other insurance company.

Where is the damage on your car? If it's on the rear end or rear quarters, you're probably home free. Rear-ending someone pretty much speaks for itself (failure to maintain safe following distance). If it's anywhere on the front half of your car, you may be assessed a portion of fault at arbitration, which, if you're in a 1% state (aka no-fault), would mean you'd have to pay your own damages anyway, regardless of who is the majority at fault.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:53 PM on October 28, 2010

Anecdotally, when I was the witness to an accident, I doubt the person who was at fault ever had any idea I existed because I only told the driver who was (CLEARLY) the one who was in the right.

This happened in a parking lot while I was running into the drug store, I only told the one driver about it because he was still there when I came out (I was in a really big hurry ok, and it wasn't a very bad accident). I'm assuming that they settled it without insurance or it was clear without a witness because I never heard anything from anyone about it.

Maybe something like that happened and that is why you don't know about any witnesses.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:58 PM on October 28, 2010

You must chase down the officer, which is not a big deal at any rate. It's his job.

Are you trying to get money from the other party's insurance company? If you only carry liability coverage, it is worth for you to at least contact that officer and get a statement for your own records. Just show up at the local precinct and explain what you need. They'll know what to do.

Usually if someone rear-ends you they are at fault. However, what an insurance company decides internally as "liability" is kinda independent from what the other company decides about the same accident, and could be further different from what a court could decide if it ever got to that.

Collect the documentation for your own security. Follow up with your insurance company. Pass on the documentation (copies!) if necessary.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2010

This happened to me. Someone rear-ended me and he seemed nice and we exchanged info.

A week or two later I was informed that he tried to make it like it was my fault.

Fortunately, I had a police report done by driving to the nearest police station.

I actually got a subpoena from the police to go to court and once he saw me there he pleaded guilty.

And I agree. If you got hit from behind, its generally the person who hit you who is at fault.

Don't stress too much. I was stressed about it but it turned out ok.
posted by simpleton at 4:49 PM on October 28, 2010

Unless that fake witness swears that you literally drove in reverse into a parked victim, your insurance company is going to have no problem with you. Nthing let them handle it and nothing to worry about.
posted by ctmf at 4:50 PM on October 28, 2010

i don't know if anyone already mentioned this, but if you spoke to an officer then he most likely has a report somewhere. if the other party is disputing how the accident happened, your insurance company will order a copy of that report and should be able to provide it to you. this is how it worked when i was in insurance, anyway. so yes, to echo what other people have said: let your insurance company handle this.
posted by janepanic at 5:51 PM on October 28, 2010

So you have minimal damage to your vehicle and you're presumably uninjured; is someone going to pay for the cost of repair to your car, or is it under the deductible? I'm not understanding what you want out of this situation.
posted by clockzero at 6:19 PM on October 28, 2010

In most states if you rear end someone, you're pretty much going to be at fault unless the other driver is drunk -- as far as I know. I would call and talk to your insurance company, but other then that you probably don't have to worry about it too much.
posted by delmoi at 7:06 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: I called their insurance company because it's been more than a month and I'd like to know if I should get my car repaired already. I expect it's going to be under the deductible ($500).

My insurance company's website was showing the case as being closed, so I figured I had to do this on my own. I'm only learning now that's not how this works.

The damage is to the rear right bumper.

As for the witness possibly showing up after I left - we both drove away at the same time, so that's not likely.
posted by Dragonness at 8:16 PM on October 28, 2010

Why isn't your insurance company handling your repairs? The last time I had a prang, my insurer had my car booked into an assessment unit that same day and I had my car back good as new by the end of the week. You retain them for these services, regardless of what the other company says.
posted by Sutekh at 1:35 AM on October 29, 2010

Yeah, that's key—don't talk to the other insurance company. That's what your claim representative does, unless they specifically advise you otherwise. Also, if the other company ever asks you to record a statement of what happened, you should first check with your insurance company to see whether they have a copy of the statement you gave them. They should be able to forward that on to the opposing company's claim representative.

So you shouldn't have called the other company, but now that you have, you should tell your insurance company what they said. Then don't talk to the other company again if they call back; either let it go to voicemail or, if you answer, direct them straight to your claim representative.
posted by limeonaire at 6:16 AM on October 29, 2010

You shouldn't even have to pay the deductible here. It wasn't your fault and there's no reason you should have to pay for damages done by somebody else. His insurance should cover your deductible, or your own insurance should actually be taking care of it.
posted by dwbrant at 12:57 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: I had a call from my insurance company today and am feeling even more frustrated than before.

They said I had to choose if I was going to submit a collision claim through them (in which case I pay for the deductible and potentially risk a hike in my premiums), or through the other guy's insurance company (in which case I pursue this on my own).

They will review the witness testimony and if necessary try to reach the police officer but did not think he would give a statement over the phone, so not likely that the testimony will be dismissed. More likely they will review the case again and find us jointly liable. The agent also noted that he checked the home address of the witness and the person lived far from the other driver in this case, so it was not a neighbour, and therefore he was indeed likely an independent witness and the testimony not fraudulent. (What?!?)

My insurance company is Geico. The other guy's is Commerce Insurance.

It is possible that I am missing something, but I feel like I lose however I look at this.
posted by Dragonness at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, and I did end up submitting a collision claim through Geico today (should have done it right away), and am getting my car evaluated by them next week. I will get a check for whatever amount they determine minus my deductible of $500. I'm pretty sure this will be less, but you never know.
posted by Dragonness at 1:29 PM on October 29, 2010

fyi, when i was rear ended by an uninsured motorist, geico was my insurer. they did tell me in a letter that they would refund the deductible if they got it from the guy who hit me.

of course, the guy who i was pushed into also collected off of my insurance for damage to his car.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:00 AM on October 30, 2010

When I was the tasty filling of a 3-car sandwich, I had to talk to 2 people: the cop filling the report (and he distributed copies of everyone's statement to everyone else involved right there at the scene), and my insurance company (quick phone interview, recorded).

They paid everything above my deductable*, no more questions asked. Didn't even seem to CARE who was at fault. Told me to forward any related contact to them. My rates were not affected. (I'd been driving for >20 years, no accidents, no tickets, though, so that may be why.)

I always assumed I'd have to pay the deductable, no matter what happens.

[*Which resulted in zero payment. Miraculously enough, the car behind me got their front end bashed in good, with glass all over the place and a hood that wouldn't shut; the car in front of me got the rear end similarly banged up. My car had a small scuff mark/gouge on the plastic part of the bumper in back, like I had used it as a skateboard strike plate. VW Passat for the win.]
posted by ctmf at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2010

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