What do you do when someone accidentally causes you minor injury or damage to your personal property?
February 14, 2011 11:10 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when someone accidentally causes you minor injury or damage to your personal property?

The rules for what to do in an car accident are very established: you call the police, exchange contact info, insurance info, etc.

But what about situations where personal property other than a car is involved?

For example:
- A stranger in public bumps into you and knocks your iPhone out of your hand, causing it to fall to the ground and break.
- You're at a concert and someone bumps into you and causes you to twist and hurt your ankle
- Someone you just met at a party spills wine on you, ruining your delicate clothing.

Strangely, I really don't know how I'd react in a situation like this. Specifically:

- Is the offender always expected to pay in full?
- Are you supposed to get paid on the spot, or exchange contact info?
- At what point do you get the police involved?

There seem to be a number of potential complicating factors, such as:

- It's a situation where the person is not in a position to pay you immediately, or the severity of the damage is hard to assess on the spot
- You dispute who's at fault
- The person is not a complete stranger, e.g. acquaintance or friend-of-a-friend (Socially, I would behave differently in these situations.)

Is there a legal term for this general type of damage or injury? (Maybe something along the lines of "minor property damage"?) For those who have been in these situations, how did you handle it?
posted by lunchbox to Law & Government (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Jerks probably sue; for every other example you give it seems like the "victim" deals with it.

Now it you know the offender, they probably should offer at most to pay for dry cleaning.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:18 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

At what point do you get the police involved?

For the examples you gave? Never. Your scenarios aren't criminal matters.

At most, the "victim" could bring a civil suit.
posted by amyms at 11:28 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you have to take it on a case by case basis. If the person offers to pay, great. Failing that I think you could try meeting them halfway but most of the time, I accept that accidents happen and it's part of living in the world. Try and forget it and move on. Most people really don't do things intentionally, and one day that person might be you.
posted by Jubey at 11:33 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This will change depending on where you live. Here in New Zealand if I sprain my ankle at a concert (or anywhere else) the Accident Compensation Corporation will pay for my medical care. It's a no fault system so this doesn't change if I slip or if someone pushes me, and goes for pretty much any kind of accidental injury. If they hurt me on purpose or through really obvious negligence or carelessness then there may be criminal charges involved, but that doesn't seem to be what you're describing.

For things being damaged then yeah, you generally suck it up. Probably because of the ACC we don't really have a culture of suing here so I can't imagine doing so, although it would certainly be OK to ask for compensation if you know the other person and there was some degree of negligence or lack of care on their part (like your last example maybe). Personally I keep my iPod in a case, as does everyone I know with an iPhone (which isn't that many people to be fair), and I have insurance on the more difficult to replace things like my wedding ring. I believe that there is some degree of personal responsibility involved in looking after my more expensive belongings and kind of expect the same from others (not that that's an excuse for me to be careless of course). Plus shit happens, so generally this kind of thing is just part of life. I'd still go home and swear loudly to myself and feel pissed off for a while though, but probably that's as far as it would go.
posted by shelleycat at 11:48 PM on February 14, 2011

You give the other person a chance to make it right. And if they don't you walk away (or hobble) and move on with your life.
posted by Ookseer at 12:33 AM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the 'cost' of the damage is less than $50 and no malice was intended, I hope/expect them to apologize and help in any reasonable way to make things right.

Then I let it go because things happen and going to court/involving the police is nowhere near worth the effort.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:36 AM on February 15, 2011

Are you thinking of a something we litigious Americans call a tort?

From the wrongdoer's perspective, it might be appropriate to attempt to reconcile with cash, or with a ride to the hospital, or possibly (if she seemed good-humored enough), with a request for her phone number. I would try to meet rejection or acceptance of any offer with equanimity.

As a "victim," I might feel empathy for the appropriately apologetic wrongdoer, and would imagine how embarrassing the situation must be for them. If she were cute enough, I'd certainly give her my phone number, and going forward would try to keep a firmer grip on my iphone, would avoid the mosh pit, and, at the meet n greet, would opt for bottled beer instead of a glass of malbec.

Since any ironclad rule about reporting auto accidents would probably be established by statute, and not by common consensus, the distinction here is somewhat unhelpful. And even where there is a statute, it may not apply where the damage is minor. I'd be willing to pay any rear-endee a premium in exchange for them keeping mum about a minor accident. Where damage to my car was just cosmetic, I have let it slide, and have had the same done for me.
posted by L'oeuvre Child at 12:46 AM on February 15, 2011

iPhone scenario: something similar happened to me back in the days before smart phones. A friend spilled a beer all over my cell phone, which later died. I replaced the phone and never even told her she was responsible. Then again, that was when I used whatever came free with my contract. Now it would cost hundreds to replace, and it's something I need for my work. But I would probably just eat it, even so.

Hurt ankle: assuming there are no nasty medical bills, you get over it and move on. It's not like the person can make it un-happen. If I were injured enough to have significant medical expenses and it were an obvious tort, yeah, I'd probably at least consult an attorney.

Wine at a party: suck it up and move on. Anyone who can afford the kind of clothing where this would be a huge deal can probably afford to have it cleaned or replace it.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A "rule" I try to obey is this: If I own something, either I can afford to replace it outright if happenstance sees it damaged, or if I cannot afford to replace it outright, it needs insurance. If I don't want to insure something and still cannot afford to replace it, I understand I'm rolling the dice by owning it.

Personal injury is a bit different in that if you don't have insurance it can bankrupt you here in the states, depending on the injury, but, even so, unless it was malicious or caused by negligence that should have been foreseen, it's pretty hard in good conscience to try and get the guilty party to shoulder the costs. For all other situations, the civil courts are there to try and compensate you for your injury.
posted by maxwelton at 1:24 AM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

I would offer to pay for any item I damaged but I wouldn't ask for compensation for accidental damage if it wasn't offered (from an individual anyway).
If someone offered to compensate me for spilling wine on my clothes I'd accept dry cleaning costs but not replacement costs.

If someone I know damages something of mine that they wouldn't be able to afford to replace, I lie about its value or the ease with which it can be repaired - that way they don't feel guilty.

I only pay minimal amounts for my medical care, and no amount of compensation will untwist my ankle. therefore I would not accept money for this from a private individual, even if offered.
If through my actions I caused another to hurt their ankle, I would offer to pay compensation if I thought that they would lose income because of it (anyone who works on a wage rather than salary basis and has to be able to stand to work) and I would offer to cover any medical costs not covered by insurance or similar provisions.
posted by atrazine at 1:37 AM on February 15, 2011

The key word here seems to be "Accidentally." If it's an accident, then all you can really expect is an apology. Things happen. You shouldn't expect damages from somebody else when you would get none if you had done the identical action yourself.

If you're in a place where there's sufficient drinking going on or it's sufficiently crowded that expensive things are likely to be spilled on or jostled, then for heaven's sake, keep those expensive things out of harm's way. Not trying to victim-blame - I'm only talking about situations where the 'perpetrator' was not acting intentionally or with malice - but it's just common sense. When something bad happens to you or your stuff, it's not always automatically someone else's fault. Sometimes it's just the universe trying to teach you something about living with other people.
posted by Mchelly at 3:13 AM on February 15, 2011

In all of your cases, I would not expect the offender to pay anything. Accidents happen. Depending on the circumstances and the relationship to the person, an offer to replace might be made, but should not be expected.
posted by Nothing at 4:26 AM on February 15, 2011

1) be kinda pissed, because phones cost a lot these days, but nothing. Accidents happen; if you own expensive stuff, accidents happen to your expensive stuff. Don't own it if you can't face that.

2) Nothing; accidents happen.

3) Expect the spiller to offer to pay for drycleaning, but of course decline the offer.

Again, you don't own or use nice things if you're afraid they're going to get ruined through use. If their preservation is that important to you, then you get them framed and mounted on a wall and insured, or you stick them in a display cabinet, or you store them in a safety deposit box and never take them out, but you don't USE them. If you use nice things, you are taking a risk with them.

You can insure things like phones and jewelry and furs if you wish to, though it primarily covers loss, theft, and destruction, not spilled wine. It's disappointing when you lose or ruin something you really liked or that had meaning to you, but that is the risk you take by, you know, leaving your house with it.

The one exception is if a child breaks something of yours through carelessness/heedlessness/something they've been told not to do a thousand times, generally the parent makes the child offer to pay and generally one accepts if it's a mid-priced item (DVDish to let's say a baseball-broken window), since the parent is trying to impart a lesson about responsibility and one doesn't wish to interfere with that. If it's a small thing, apologies only; if it's a big breakable thing, well, probably children shouldn't be near it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:49 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My friend/colleague poured coffee all over my Motorola Droid. He immediately offered to replace it but blanched when he heard the price. However I had insurance and he'd only have had to pay the copay - about $75. As it turned out the phone revived itself after being reset at the store so all was well.
posted by peacheater at 5:33 AM on February 15, 2011

- A stranger in public bumps into you and knocks your iPhone out of your hand, causing it to fall to the ground and break.

Be aware that this is the classic setup of the "Melon Drop" scam, where the con gets bumped by a mark and drops something quasi-valuable (phone, sunglasses, vase (box of broken glass)) that "breaks" and then makes a scene so the mark feels compelled to pay for it. So don't offer to pay if it seems scammy.
posted by mikepop at 5:41 AM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

A "rule" I try to obey is this: If I own something, either I can afford to replace it outright if happenstance sees it damaged, or if I cannot afford to replace it outright, it needs insurance. If I don't want to insure something and still cannot afford to replace it, I understand I'm rolling the dice by owning it.

This is a good rule.

All those examples, I too wouldn't expect any recompense. Nor would I take any, unless it was clear the person was giving it out of generosity, rather than obligation.

That's for completely random, shit happens kinds of things.

If people are horsing around and cause damage, I would feel more comfortable asking for some kind of recompense. Sure, it was an accident, but if you are wrestling in the living room and you break the coffee table, you are the only one to blame and you are at least going halfsies on the value of the table.

The only time I, fat loud litigious american, would consider demanding recompense, would be if someone intentionally created a dangerous situation out of conscious neglect or cheapness. If you are having a party and don't salt the icy stairs, you are going to be asked to pay my deductible.

I look at it sort of like the law does- who was the more reasonable person? If I bring my iPad to a raucous bar, I am being unreasonable to think nothing is going to happen. If your car has no parking brake and you still park uphill from me without finding some way of stopping your car from rolling, you are being unreasonable to think your car won't cause damage. If your kid is running around like a maniac in a coffee shop and causes me to drop my coffee, you probably owe me a cup of coffee. If it drops ON your kid, we'll call it even.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Someone once put his thumb into my eye socket while clumsily entering a train. I always wondered what would have happened if there had been an injury. In Europe, most of the time, one would probably have some personal liability insurance built into one's home insurance for this kind of stuff, but I have no idea how and when it kicks in, so to speak. So, to enhance the OP's question: different strategies in different countries?
posted by Namlit at 6:29 AM on February 15, 2011

"A stranger in public bumps into you and knocks your iPhone out of your hand, causing it to fall to the ground and break."

Personally I think this deserves a "Oops sorry, - see ya later..." you shouldn't be using your iPhone in the middle of a crowded street/bar/concert.

Basically I believe that using your _______ in an environment where such an incident is possible is at your own risk.

Similarly for the other incidents.

However - if someone were to have borrowed something of yours - and they were using it while it was accidentally broken then they would be expected to replace it. As in borrowing it they had taken on the risk of "use".
posted by mary8nne at 8:57 AM on February 15, 2011

is this just a general hypothetical - or something that actually happened? did you cause the injury/damage or vice versa? if it happened to you, you'll get what you get. are you going to small claims court because someone bumped into you and you twisted your ankle? if you hurt someone else's ankle - a nice person would send them flowers or a gift card to something.

what exactly is the cost of a sprained ankle that might take a few days to heal? you can't buy them a new ankle.

you drop your phone ... if the person says "sorry" and walks away, that's the end of the story. there's no police business here. you can make a huge spectacle and sue in small claims court - but that's relatively insane. would you expect to be taken to small claims court over this?

(don't get me started on people on their phones paying no attention to the world around them - in the middle of grocery aisles, sidewalk, etc. you/they had it coming.)

the answer is ... life isn't fair. life happens. if these things are the worst things that happen that day/week/month/year - you're officially better off than a whole lot of other people. be grateful.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:01 AM on February 15, 2011

It's easier if you just let this stuff go in the long run. Getting money out of people is a bitch and usually not worth the drama, especially if you don't know them whatsoever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:25 AM on February 15, 2011

There is no one standard protocol for handling these small misfortunes. The responsible party may say anything from "Oh I'm so sorry - can I compensate you for that?" to "F**ing asshole! Get outta my way ya jerk!" Figuring out how to deal with a particular situation requires assessing the particular circumstances and personalities involved.

There is, though, a set of legal principles that applies (in the US): common law negligence, which is a tort. People are generally required to act with due care to avoid foreseeable damage which their actions might cause to others. There are acres of ambiguities in there: how much care is due? to which others? what's foreseeable? what's cause? was there contributory negligence by the injured party? That's why there's law school.

When minor damage occurs among reasonable people, ordinary etiquette can handle it. When the usual social skills fail but the problem is not a police matter, most jurisdictions have some sort of "small claims court" that can provide a more formal and enforceable way of resolving medium-sized civil damage claims. Sometimes, a person's homeowner's insurance (or other liability insurance) may get involved. Some jurisdictions have mediation services available.

In general, if you suffer damage (personal injury or property damage) as a result of someone else's negligence, and the damage is large enough that you decide not to just accept it as one of life's little misfortunes, it's a good idea to exchange identifying information on the spot with others involved. If you do this, you are heading in the direction of some kind of lawsuit, so you need to think about evidence: record names of witnesses, take pictures, make notes about what happened, document the amount of damage. Usually, that's a mess better avoided.
posted by Corvid at 1:17 PM on February 15, 2011

« Older Are we less violent than we were before?   |   Is it time for our group massage yet? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.