Should I call the auto insurance companies?
February 20, 2011 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Very minor car accident. The other party exploded with anger even though I thought he was at fault. After he took down my insurance info, he sped away without exchanging more information. That was 2 days ago. I have not heard back from either his or my insurer. Should I call the insurers myself? What should I do?

Late 2 nights ago in the rain, I was in dense, urban traffic. I was in a lane blocked by a construction vehicle (which partly caused the traffic), and cars in my lane were merging into the next open lane. One car from each lane (blocked lane and open lane) were merging one by one, as generally happens. I merged, but the traffic was stop-and-go, so only the nose of my car was in the new lane. When traffic inched forward again, I was ready to proceed, when the van whose nose was a few feet behind my car's nose slowly pushed into my car.

Only my left side mirror was damaged, and the damage was just a deep scratch about a penny wide. His car got a lighter scratch half foot long. The van driver exploded in anger, shouted incredible amount of obscenity, and took pictures of the scene yelling all the while. I got out and responded angrily myself, telling him that everyone was taking turns merging and he was the one at fault.

After exchanging insurance info, I asked for his license and phone number. But he ran into his vehicle and shot away. Ran the red light, too - otherwise he couldn't have moved that fast since we were in thick traffic.

He had yelled multiple times that he was going to call the insurance companies (fine with me). But I haven't heard from the companies. Now I wish we had at least exchanged numbers so we could speak more calmly about this.

What should I do? On one hand, I think he was at fault and should pay for my scratch. But, my hunch is the insurers will say it's impossible to determine who was at fault. I have pictures, but I think it's hard to determine what exactly happened (also, it was at night). And if I tell the insurers, will my premium increase (I'm in CA)? I suspect the scratch will cost no more than a few hundred dollars (not certain, however), so I'd rather pay it myself if I can avoid having my premium raised.

Then again, this depends on the van driver not calling my insurer (Geico) and telling them to pay up because he thinks it was my fault. Even if he hadn't called in (or maybe he did, but Geico isn't calling me over the holiday weekend), I can't talk to him and I have no assurance he won't call in the future. If he calls in, I'll just have to fight through the insurers.

I'm just not sure how this process works. Can I win? Will my premium increase, if insurers say it's unclear who was at fault? Am I underestimating the cost of repair? Am I losing leverage or authority by not calling the insurer right away (and make it less likely that they believe my story)?

Thanks very much.
posted by ccl6yl to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total)
If you are in a car accident you're supposed to call your insurance company immediately, not wait two days. So I'd start there. Call your insurance company.
posted by dfriedman at 6:51 PM on February 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

So just to clarify, you have not yet contacted your insurance company?
posted by kpht at 6:52 PM on February 20, 2011

My hunch is that you're not going to hear from anybody, and that he certainly wasn't going to call the insurance companies. You should have gotten his plate number and reported him for leaving the scene of an accident. Did you get his plate number?

Sounds to me like he wanted to cow you into submission and successfully did so by his ridiculous display of anger and bombast.
posted by jayder at 6:53 PM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

No, I didn't call the insurer. I'd rather just pay out of pocket, except I don't know if that's wise in this situation. I thought people often do this. I'm a novice when it comes to car insurance or accidents.
posted by ccl6yl at 6:54 PM on February 20, 2011

It doesn't matter how little the damage was... when you have someone else involved, you always have the possibility of litigation and expenses. Why? Because people love to play litigation lottery. If you had backed into your own fence and scratched your mirror, you could just take it to the auto shop and pay for it. Personally, I would worry that it could be seen as my fault if I waited to report it. I sidewiped my (good for nothing clod-of-a) neighbor and I called my insurance company, just to protect myself from future claims of damage from said neighbor. If the damage to your car isn't great, you can even just tell them you will pay for your own repairs.
posted by brownrd at 6:55 PM on February 20, 2011

Call your insurance company and explain the situation and let them sort it out. Do it ASAP. They may advise you to call the police - usually they need a report, and it sounds like the police should have been called at the time.

I'm betting the other guy didn't have insurance, and/or had some other reason for wanting to split before police got there. FWIW, it sounds like he's at fault (I mean, you're in front of him and he just runs into you - pretty clear-cut), but again, I'll be surprised if he has valid insurance.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:56 PM on February 20, 2011

Jayder, yes, I do have his license plate number. I did act like a fool and bumbled on Friday, I realize. Would it do any good to call the police now for leaving the scene of an accident?
posted by ccl6yl at 6:56 PM on February 20, 2011

on re-read - it may help that you don't file a claim, but unfortunately EVERY accident you get into, your fault or not, winds up counting, to some extent. The good news is that one accident isn't that big a deal. And I agree - you need to report this, because another car was involved.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:58 PM on February 20, 2011

The police don't usually show up for a minor accident in my experience. Call your insurance company, tell them what happened, give them the information you have and let them guide you through the process. That's what you pay them for.
posted by cecic at 7:00 PM on February 20, 2011

Bluster is a classic way of hiding the fact that someone has no insurance. Next time, get their license plate, and the first thing you say is, "Insurance details, please."
posted by scruss at 7:01 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

By failing to share his information with you when you asked for it, instead bolting to the car, the other driver may have committed a crime. I would have called the police and reported that, along with running the light, given a description of the car and the location.

You may still want to call and file a police report to cover your bases in case he does come after you.
posted by elpea at 7:03 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't know before I rear ended someone - you are responsible for calling your insurance company in this kind of situation. It is something you agreed to when you signed huge stacks of paperwork for them at some point. They'll probably be very nice on the phone.
posted by serazin at 7:03 PM on February 20, 2011

Thanks for all the comments so far, and please keep them coming. Just to clarify, I did get his insurance info, and I do have his plate number.
posted by ccl6yl at 7:04 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and having the license plate is gold. I didn't see that before.

The police don't usually show up for a minor accident in my experience.

Leaving the scene of an accident/failure to exchange info, regardless of how minor, is usually a crime.
posted by elpea at 7:04 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok, it sounded like from your original post that he bolted once you shared your info, but before he gave you his. You have his insurance and license plate? Call his insurance and file a claim if you think he's at fault. You probably aren't going to convince him he was at fault and to pay you out of pocket.
posted by elpea at 7:05 PM on February 20, 2011

I have recently been in an accident that was NOT my fault in California with Geico. Just call them.
posted by k8t at 7:11 PM on February 20, 2011

You got AN insurance number. Whether it's his or not remains to be seen.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:21 PM on February 20, 2011

I did act like a fool and bumbled on Friday, I realize. Would it do any good to call the police now for leaving the scene of an accident?

No, this asshole just managed to scream and yell in an attempt to get away with hitting your car. Sounds like you tried to be calm and rational, which is the way everyone should act in situations like this.

But YES, it would be appropriate to call the police now. Tell them what you've told us, tell them that upon reflection you realized what he did may have been a crime and you'd like to report it.
posted by jayder at 7:36 PM on February 20, 2011

(i) Call police
(ii) Get file/claim/case number after you report the crime
(iii) Call insurer
(iv) Give insurer aforementioned number when reporting accident (and subsequent crime).

In other words: cover your ass.
posted by astrochimp at 8:13 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

The police don't usually show up for a minor accident in my experience.

Maybe this depends on where you live. In the states that I have lived in (and most certainly California) the police will come as long as it isn't a fender-bender on private property (e.g. you back into another driver at the supermarket).

I think calling the police is always wise when you're in an automobile accident. If nothing else, there is another bit of evidence to corroborate your story. And I'd absolutely call the police if the other driver in an accident was either yell-y or fled the scene.

I'd call your local police, tell them you were shaken up last week and want to file a report. Explain exactly what you told us. Then call your insurance company. This covers your butt in case the yell-y combative guy comes back in any way in the future and gives you a paper trail to protect yourself.
posted by arnicae at 8:28 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check with your insurance company to make sure he hasn't filed a claim. If he took your information, but didn't want to give up his, some type of fraud may be in play.
posted by annsunny at 8:54 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, in California you are obligated to "report the accident to the DMV within 10 days, if there is more than $750 in damage to the property of any person, or anyone is injured (no matter how slightly) or killed." This is done via the DMV's SR 1 form which is typically filed by your insurance (if you file a claim.) Sounds like you might not fall under any of the requirements, but it would be a good CYA step if you don't want to file a claim with your insurer or contact the police.
posted by m@f at 8:59 PM on February 20, 2011

I have Geico (live in NYC), and if they are the same in CA as they are here, they won't pay even if the guy files a claim. They're pretty good about saying "uh, no" to irrational drivers. So I don't think you should worry about your premiums going up, and I do think you should call and tell them about the accident. They appreciate your being forthcoming. You can even upload pictures using their website to bolster your case, once you have a case number.

I don't know how to advise you on recouping your loss. The alternate merge is an acknowledged traffic pattern (at least here), and he should have let you in. I had a driver plow into my passenger side in an alternate merge. Luckily a cop was right there and watched the whole thing. The other driver didn't want to report it and gave me a few hundred in cash (while the cop warned me not to take the cash, as the other driver was definitely at fault).

If it were me, I'd talk to your Geico agent (and the police) and see if you can get advice on how to proceed, especially since you have photos and the plate number.

Good luck.
posted by torticat at 9:16 PM on February 20, 2011

Ah, I missed that you also have his insurance info. Definitely, call them too!
posted by torticat at 9:18 PM on February 20, 2011

Nthing you probably came into contact with an uninsured driver in California. We're rife with them here, unfortunately.

It's likely the van driver was not the van owner as well. Since your car only has a scratch and your car was demonstrably in the lead on the merge, I can't see the problem with calling your insurer and asking for advice. I would definitely report the guy to the police for leaving the accident.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on February 20, 2011

Thank you everyone for your comments. I did call my insurer following the many advice here, and they were sympathetic but not entirely helpful. They're current position is that I was at fault.

They focused on the fact that my car was only ~60% in the new lane (not "fully established" in the lane) when the other driver hit me, even as they acknowledged that he should not have rammed into me given the situation. I guess something along the lines of this type of technicality was what I was afraid of.

With intense stop-and-go traffic, I had already made good inroad into the next lane, and had come to a full stop for >10 seconds, before the other guy slowly careened into my car. I thought this picture would make my case pretty strongly, but I guess not enough. I'm not sure if I could have made my case more persuasively - I'd welcome any suggestions on what more I can say.

I did escalate the issue enough that the supervisor volunteered to send me a "relative liability adjuster" to take a look at the damage and figure out what percentage of the liability is his and mine. That's when I'll make another go at convincing Geico that I was the aggrieved party here.

Also, as a number of you suggested, I will call the police tomorrow and see how far I can get.
posted by ccl6yl at 10:59 PM on February 20, 2011

Ah, I missed that you also have his insurance info. Definitely, call them too!

Absolutely under no circumstances should you do this.

Never talk to his insurance company for any reason unless instructed to do so by your own insurance company, save possibly to verify your name and insurance. Under no circumstances should you discuss the details of the accident with anyone but your insurance company.

To repeat, do not call his insurance company. Terrible advice.
posted by Justinian at 11:07 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Generally, the merging party has to yield to the traffic in the through-lane, so I'm not surprised your insurance company found you responsible. Here's a relevant section from the Michigan State Government site:
Question: When merging onto a freeway who has the right-of-way?

Answer: MCL 257.649(7) governs this question. A driver entering a roadway from a roadway that is intended for and constructed as a merging roadway, and is plainly marked at the intersection with the appropriate merge signs, shall yield the right-of-way to traffic upon the roadway that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard and shall adjust their speed to enable them to merge safely with through traffic. Simply put, a driver merging onto a freeway must yield to traffic upon the freeway. It must be noted that traffic on the freeway cannot intentionally block a driver from merging by either speeding up or slowing down.
Your state's laws may be different but I would be surprised if they were significantly so. Unfortunately while he may be a jerk that doesn't mean he's legally liable for the accident.
posted by 6550 at 11:19 PM on February 20, 2011

With intense stop-and-go traffic, I had already made good inroad into the next lane, and had come to a full stop for >10 seconds, before the other guy slowly careened into my car. I thought this picture would make my case pretty strongly, but I guess not enough. I'm not sure if I could have made my case more persuasively - I'd welcome any suggestions on what more I can say.

Your entire logic that the other driver was in the wrong is flawed. There is no rule, law or expectation that the occupants of a merged lane need to allow for you as a merger. None at all. You are relying on them to let you in, not gaining some right of entry as soon as you cross the line. You are, unfortunately, 100% in the wrong until you are a bona fide occupant of the lane (ie 100% in it) at which point you have equal status and the other driver will be at fault for a rear collision.

Until you are in that lane, you are the one making the move and so the one at fault if it results in a collision. Construction, traffic, expectations, precedent from other cars matters not at all. So there really isn't any ground on which to persuade your insurance company that you were in the right, because you pretty clearly aren't.
posted by Brockles at 6:14 AM on February 21, 2011

Yeah, if you were merging into his lane and weren't in it all the way, I wouldn't be surprised if you were "at fault." You've already called your insurance company, so what's done is done, although FWIW I doubt that was a bad idea that's going to cause big problems for you.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:24 AM on February 21, 2011

Some states actually make it incumbent on people in a lane being merged into to allow mergers in. Don't know if yours is one, OP. From the insurance company's response, it sounds like the answer is no.
posted by wierdo at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2011

Just call your own insurance company with his license plate number and insurance info.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2011

The basic fault is always going to be the driver who hits the other driver. That only changes if the driver being hit does something against the driving rules that makes the collision inevitable. Which it sounds like you might have done, inadvertently. If the van had hit the rear of your car, he would clearly be at fault.

There may be a law that requires people to take turns on merges like this, in which case you *might* be able to claim that he abused this and caused the accident.

Or, if he had torn off your mirror with the front of his van, maybe.

But since you say that his nose was a few feet behind the nose of your car, the lane was his. You can't initiate a lane change unless the nose of his vehicle is behind the *rear* of your vehicle. Even if you have some kind of right of way, he is there and you are in the wrong for trying to take the lane.

It sounds like there is a streak on the side of his van caused by your mirror. That says that either he moved into you, or you moved into him. Since you were the one trying to change lanes, you moved into him.

As for insurance. Read your policy and do what it says. Whether you are in the right or in the wrong, if you break the rules of your policy, they will sanction you somehow.
posted by gjc at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2011

Terrible advice.

Um, sorry! I take it back; didn't know this could be so problematic, so obviously I shouldn't have said anything about that aspect.

I think some of the advice above is ignoring the fact that the situation is described as "dense, urban traffic." And alternate merge here is a basic traffic pattern. Traffic signs often say "Use alternate merge." (OP, if the construction site is still there, can you go back and see if there are any directives posted? video of drivers doing the alternate merge? anything that might help your case?)

If the OP was stopped, then clearly the other driver was at fault who "slowly pushed into [OP's] car." Even if the other driver HAD right-of-way, he did not have the right to drive into another car.

This may come down to one person's word against another's; but ccl6yl, I think you are right to continue talking to Geico. I'm sorry it hasn't gone well so far.
posted by torticat at 9:26 PM on February 21, 2011

You probably came in contact with an uninsured driver.
He gave you somebody's insurance information.
You gave him yours.
Want to bet he'll give your info to the next person he hits?

Call your insurance company.
posted by hank at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2011

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