What to do about a "fender bender" in MA?
September 27, 2011 8:03 PM   Subscribe

In Massachusetts: Yesterday on my way to work, going about five miles per hour in morning traffic, I bumped the car in front of me. (My fault; I was totally distracted by the kid waiting for a school bus who looked like he was about to run into the middle of the street.) We pulled off to the side of the road and I took a look at the "damage" -- a couple of scratches to the paint on the (plastic) bumper....

I took a couple of pictures with my cell phone, took down the guy's name and phone number and license plate. He wouldn't give me his insurance information (he insisted he had insurance, but didn't have his info with him), although I did give him my insurance info.

He said several times that there was no need to get our insurance companies involved if I would just pay for his bumper to be replaced/repainted.

His car was pretty beat up in various places (not just the bumper area, but also the sides had dents and places where it was covered with duct tape). I am concerned about a few things:

1. How much should it cost to go to a body shop and have them paint a plastic bumper?

2.The bumper seemed to have other damage, not just the scratches from where my car bumped his, and I don't want to incidentally pay to fix damage I didn't cause along with the "damage" I did. Or is it expected that I would do that?

3. Should I call my insurance company anyway? I'm not actually sure what to be worried about here. I haven't been involved an accident in over a dozen years, and I've never been involved in one that was my fault. There's no damage to my car, and the guy's bumper wasn't even dented -- but I guess I'm worried he might call his insurance and try to blame the other damage to his car on me.

What is the right and/or practical thing to do here?
posted by shamash to Grab Bag (19 answers total)
Call your insurance company. They will know exactly what to do to make sure you/they don't get screwed.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:08 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would notify my insurance company and take no action other than waiting for him to contact you. If he insists on work that costs more than $50 tell him you will pass his info to your insurance company.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 PM on September 27, 2011

1. $500-1000. (paint is cheap, but paint requires lots of prep for and labor is expensive, and they have to do the whole panel.)
2. It costs the same to prep and paint a bumper regardless of how many scratches are already in it. They will fix the whole thing because it costs the same as fixing just part of it.
3. If you don't want to pay $500-$1000, and are OK with your insurance company knowing this happened, then yes.

The right and practical thing to do? Call your insurance company. Give his info to them, let them deal with the rest of it. You won't have to do anything after that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:13 PM on September 27, 2011

Typically you cannot paint a plastic bumper, it must be replaced. I've been privy to three bumper replacements; each has been $500-700.

The best option for you would be for the owner to decide he doesn't really care about the scratches you caused. He's entitled to the repair cost from you, and he isn't obligated to spend that money on the repair.
posted by reeddavid at 8:19 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. get three estimates from reputable body shops (three estimates are not required, but i think it's better to have more than two so that you can average out the price for repairing the bumper).

2. i strongly urge you to call your insurance company because you can file a report instead of a claim. a report is basically a notification to your insurance company stating what has happened to your vehicle . the claims representative will have to indicate that it's a report instead of a claim, but if it's a report then your deductible should not apply to the claim. also, when you call your insurance company state that the other person has agreed to settle the situation privately.

the practical thing to do is contact your insurance company now (they have 24/7 call centers) and state that you would like to file a report instead of a claim. regardless of whether or not you choose to file a report instead of a claim, you have the option of changing it to either option later on, the protocol (same questions are asked), and an adjuster is usually still assigned and if assigned should contact you on the next business day.
posted by sincerely-s at 8:19 PM on September 27, 2011

@tylerkaraszewski - It doesn't sound like the other driver was driving a brand new Lexus which is what your "estimate" is for.

Most modern car bumpers are meant to withstand a 5mph collision. I have a friend who owns a body shop, non luxury cars can get bumpers painted for less than $200.

But...here are a couple of things to think about before you call your insurance agent:

If you had a beat up car and someone bumped into you, would you then want a brand new painted bumper on it? Would you replace it completely? Or would you try to get some $$$ out of the incident?

It's not worth reporting because it would cost less than your deductible.

A similar thing happened to me. The guy later claimed that I broke his tail light. Not physically possible since it's much higher than his bumper. Similar condition car too. Never called my insurance and the guy never called me back for me to pay him out of my pocket.

Some insurance companies will ding you just for calling so my suggestion is not to worry about it.

You can absolutely paint a plastic bumper. It's called using primer first.
If you pay more than ~$200 to have a bumper painted, you're being taken for a ride.
posted by eatcake at 8:25 PM on September 27, 2011

Give him a hundred bucks and call it a day.
posted by Slinga at 8:27 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just warning you that going through insurance can have negative repercussions for you. A very similar happened to me, except I was the one who wanted to handle it outside of insurance. Slight scratch on her car door, no dent, and the other party insisted on handling it through insurance even though I offered to pay for all repairs. The report went through to my insurance, they sent a guy out to inspect both cars and even though he said found no evidence that I was at fault, my insurance decided to pay for her repairs. While I didn't have to pay the deductible, a year later when I called around for quotes from other insurance companies, they all quoted me much higher rates because of that report on my insurance history.
posted by Majorita at 8:27 PM on September 27, 2011

At least in Texas, calling the insurance company practically guarantees that your premium will go up. It may even mean higher premiums for the person that got hit, for whatever reason. Is it too late to simply bribe the other driver? The last time I accidentally rear-ended someone and dented their bumper, a homeless guy ran over and brokered a deal whereby we would swap information, I would send them fifty bucks, and no one would call insurance on anyone else. I mailed the fifty bucks, and the whole thing went away.
posted by Gilbert at 8:29 PM on September 27, 2011

note: as someone who has (more than once) contacted the insurance company for assistance without filing a claim, i have never had my rates bumped. ymmv.
posted by davejay at 8:54 PM on September 27, 2011

It's very possible he doesn't have insurance period, and calling your insurance company is going to get him nothing.

In Texas, no proof of insurance is pretty much an automatic fine (regardless of whether you actually have it or not). No insurance on his part means there won't be a police report (trying to avoid a ticket), and will result in your insurance company basically telling him to shove it.

I think he was just trying to get money out of you. I've had a similar situation, and the other person literally got in their car and drove away after I refused to pay them cash and insisted on filing a police report (for insurance purposes). Turns out they didn't have insurance (I stealthily snapped a pic of the license plate), and didn't want to stick around for the cops to show up.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 8:57 PM on September 27, 2011

In dealing with complete strangers and/or untrustworthy people, your potential liability could be substantially more than just the small amount of damage to the vehicle if the person decides to try and screw you. I would only settle without an insurance company with someone whom I knew and trusted. YMMV.
posted by brownrd at 9:18 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, if this were a friend or a family member, I'd say "sure, settle it between yourselves." But some random person on the street? Who was acting a bit sketchy about producing proof of insurance anyway? No way. Call your company, let them deal with it. I wouldn't be surprised if the other guy doesn't have insurance and drops the whole thing like it's hot.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 PM on September 27, 2011

This guy may just never follow up on it. Many years ago I got rear-ended in a similar situation, we both pulled over, the guy who had hit me popped the dent out of my plastic bumper, and we called it a day. I think I probably didn't have insurance at the time (bad mskyle!), which sounds crazy to me now.

It sounds like your best bet is to contact the insurance company (if you have a local agent, even better) but hold off on filing a claim.
posted by mskyle at 6:30 AM on September 28, 2011

From what the guy you hit said I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have insurance. I would offer him 100 or 150 bucks and if he says no then report it to your insurance company. Because your premium will increase even if your insurer doesn't pay out for a claim on account that you now have a new accident on your file.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 7:32 AM on September 28, 2011

As far as reporting it to insurance goes, I'm in Mass. and reported a fender bender similar to this one (my fault, no visible damage) to my insurance, the other driver did not file a claim, and my premium did not increase. That was a few years ago (2007, I think?), with Liberty Mutual.
posted by songs about trains at 7:37 AM on September 28, 2011

You gave him your insurance info. Call your insurance co. Call the guy back. You must repair the damage, even if the car is a beater. I had a similar event, but the other driver tried to get a lot of medical care for what was basically a tap, no damage to either vehicle. Insurance co. had to send an investigator because other driver was claiming psychological damage.

I'd offer the guy 250, and get a release of claim for further liability.
posted by theora55 at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2011

My wife rear-ended a guy and they handled it without involving insurance. We paid him around $250, but only after I made him send me two estimates AND I put in writing (via email) that once he cashed my check, the transaction was complete to his full satisfaction.

Never heard from him after that.
posted by tacodave at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2011

i had the opposite experience as some people here saying they were able to strike a deal with the victim. I was at fault in almost the exact same situation and told the victim I would pay out of pocket. We exchanged phone numbers. The next day she called to say that as a result of the accident her back wheel fell off (WTF no???) and that she was going to need $900 for the repair. I told her that I would turn it over to insurance and never spoke to her again. I filed a report with my company and they ended up never paying anything because she never filed a claim probably because she was a lying sack of poo. I looked up her address and went to see if the car with the missing wheel was there and lo and behold it was, except nothing was wrong with it an hour after she texted me claiming that the wheel had fallen off. I took pictures in case she tried to get more clever.

so...just tell your insurance company and let them handle it. The guy probably wont even get it fixed and thus you won't need to pay anything.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:33 PM on September 28, 2011

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