Why am I paying $10k for another person's property damage?
November 29, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

I got into an accident with another motorist. She side swiped my car and then hit a electric post. She failed to yield and was found to be at fault. Now the electric company is asking for $10k to repair the pole damage from me. Without having property damage insurance, and living in a no fault state, is there anything I can do?
posted by Coke15 to Law & Government (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Am I missing something? Did you hit the pole or did she? Why would they charge you for her hitting the pole?
posted by DoubleLune at 8:49 PM on November 29, 2012

Response by poster: She was the only one to hit the pole. I pulled over to the side of the road and asked if she was ok. I received a letter from the 'Property Damage Recovery Specialists' stating that Michigan Statue requires me to reimburse the utility company for their damage repairs, regardless of fault.
posted by Coke15 at 8:52 PM on November 29, 2012

Get a lawyer. This makes no sense.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:53 PM on November 29, 2012 [13 favorites]

The state of Michigan's guide Brief Explanation of Michigan No-Fault Insurance says that you are required to have property protection insurance. How can you not have it? Call your insurer and let them sort it out.
posted by grouse at 9:00 PM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

They're probably just casting a wide net to see if you'll pay without a dispute. Tell them no and see what happens.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:08 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I happened to be in-between insurance companies that day. The old one doubled my rate, the new one did not kick in until Monday (accident happened on a weekend). I am thinking that the other party did not have valid insurance either, so maybe they are banking on my insurance paying out (which unfortunately there is none).
posted by Coke15 at 9:14 PM on November 29, 2012

So you were driving uninsured illegally and were involved in an collision that involved property damage? In that case, you had better get in touch with a lawyer.
posted by grouse at 9:17 PM on November 29, 2012 [33 favorites]

Well regardless of insurance status, (and huge disclaimer that IANAL here) you could call up the electric company and state that it's a matter of public record that you neither hit the pole nor caused her to hit the pole, she was at fault, and she is responsible for the damages. Whether or not you had insurance shouldn't have bearing on the electric company.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:18 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, call the utility company and make it very clear that you had nothing to do with the damage to their pole and demand they back off. If they do not, you need a lawyer.
posted by LarryC at 9:32 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know what insurance company you roll with but mine is more than happy to do business with me on weekends. Regardless, she hit the pole her problem?
posted by woodjockey at 9:34 PM on November 29, 2012

I think you could probably argue that the motorist who hit you actually caused TWO SEPARATE accidents. As in, she hit you, and then she also later hit a pole.

Maybe you could talk to the police about getting their report revised to reflect that fact?
posted by BlueJae at 10:12 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing is that is most likely going on here, is that the person operating a vehicle without the minimum required coverage is MOST at fault.

Seeing as how since you were driving without insurance you should not have been driving at all. Had you followed the law and not driven your vehicle during the time you had a lapse in coverage you would not have been involved in an accident in the first place.

This world lacks compassion and sucks, yes, but you are at fault as far as I can tell, since you were initially breaking the law by driving without insurance.

To draw an analogy, the same things goes if you park on the wrong side of the street and someone plows into your car, your insurance company will not cover you because you were parked illegally.

Get a lawyer ASAP.
posted by roboton666 at 10:22 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't agree with roboton666. The fact that Coke15 was driving without insurance doesn't make him at fault. That doesn't follow logically. You can drive uninsured and still have a not-at-fault accident. (Driving without insurance is wrong, of course, but it doesn't make Coke 15 "automatically" the driver who caused the accident).

I am suspicious, however, that Coke15 is giving us the complete story. Certainly, there would be no questions about who is at fault if there were witnesses and a police report to substantiate this version. It just makes no sense that the pole company would contact the not-at-fault driver and the not-at-fault driver would do anything but explain that they are completely without responsibility. Car insurance is the only insurance that would be involved here, so I am perplexed about why Coke 15 would bring up property damage insurance. If only cars were involved, it's a car accident and no other insurance would apply. How about it, Coke15, what are you leaving out of the story? If this isn't like an episode of House, where you are keeping some huge bit of information to yourself, the diagnosis is: tell the pole company to pound sand, you are not responsible.
posted by naplesyellow at 10:55 PM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

I do not agree with roboton666's assessment. I don't see how insurance or lack of has anything to do with the pole owner coming after you.

I do see the pole owner wanting money and going after all potential sources, knowing there's a chance you will settle or be unable to mount a defense. An insured has insurance company lawyers. You do not.
posted by zippy at 11:02 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You two are correct, thanks for calling me out.

Maybe I should have replaced the phrase "at fault" with "most vulnerable"?

I've been doing some more reading on this, and yeah, from what I can tell, from your story you are not technically at fault (contrary to what I was told in defensive driving when first learning to drive!).

still, talk to a lawyer.
posted by roboton666 at 11:39 PM on November 29, 2012

If you don't wish a lawyer, get a copy of the accident report, write a carefully worded certified and return receipt letter to the relevant department at the utility company stating you did not hit their telephone pole and are not liable for any damages.

That should be that.

In this context, "carefully worded" means you do NOT over explain, you say no more or less than what is reflected in the police report - that the other driver hit their pole on the date and time in question.

Basically, you do not write anything that your potential future lawyer might object to or will put you in jeopardy down the *ahem* road.

Go ahead and follow up with a phone call after 5 business days. Do NOT talk about liability or any details over the phone, BE ON GUARD AND DON'T ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS VERBALLY - simply ask them for their response to your letter in writing if you don't receive one promptly.

Phone calls are recorded, and we're usually not on our best over the phone when something this traumatic happens.

By putting your position in writing with corroborating documentation (and if you have cell phone pics of her car resting on the pole after the accident - include printed copies of those, too, with your letter) you put the utility company on notice that you know the law and will escalate to an attorney if they keep on, without stating such.

At this point, the utility company is performing an investigation. Your professional response will do a lot to throw attention back onto the driver who hit their utility pole.

Good luck!

PS - I hope you haven't already phoned them. If you have phoned them, please update the thread and I'll try to respond if you haven't been successful with your phone call.
posted by jbenben at 1:30 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

"between insurance companies" with a 48 hour gap?

This would require bad planning on a professional scale. Overlap is the rule, is trivial to arrange, and pits insurer against insurer claims like this. No new insurance company I ever experienced didn't address seamless transitions and simply put the dates in place to make that happen.

I detect a mighty case of bull packed tightly around this question. Some major aspect of the preliminaries to this is missing, amigo. I wonder what's not being revealed?

How in the world did you manage to arrange this gap in coverage?

Perhaps the utility can't get blood out of a stone, but I think if you aren't judgment proof, you can look forward to a credit rating hit, at the very least. Might be an accurate assessment from the rating bureaus, too, based on that gap thing and all. Credit ratings reflect responsibility and judgment. If you didn't pay and I was your creditor, I'd certainly be sure it happened.

Contrary to many other folks here, I'd heartily suggest a lawyer now, and it's probably gonna cost you a few grand. Ouch.
posted by FauxScot at 2:04 AM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

You are boned. You broke the law. Just thank god it's only 10k. Anonymize this post and lawyer up.
posted by Yowser at 3:23 AM on November 30, 2012

I have been hit while I didn't have insurance. The woman's insurance paid completely for my car to be repaired, after which the DMV suspended my license for a year for not having insurance. The two issues are unrelated, tell the power company to pound sand. Actually, just don't respond. Don't give them anything, just ignore them until they escalate.
posted by rhizome at 3:40 AM on November 30, 2012

Do NOT contact the pole company yourself: get a lawyer, NOW! Take a copy of the police accident report to a lawyer, where it shows the other driver was charged & found to be at fault. Sure, a lawyer will cost you money, but NO lawyer could end up costing a heck of a lot more.

This has nothing to do with did you/didn't you have insurance: that's a whole 'nother problem. As other posters say above, this is purely about the pole company trying to get someone, ANYONE, to pay up.
posted by easily confused at 4:31 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it really the honest-to-god utility company contacting you, or some place calling themselves "Property Damage Recovery Specialists"? Because the latter sounds like an ambulance-chasing type of thing - a company that uses public records of accidents to try and scam money out of folks.

I would ignore that notice, or contact the police and ask them if this is a legitimate technique used by the utility company.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

My thought on seeing "Property Damage Recovery Specialists" is that this is a scam. Somebody is sending you a letter based on public records to see if you are dumb enough to write them a check. However, upon using the Googles, it appears as through they are the contractor that the power company in MI uses to investigate damage to power company equipment.

That doesn't mean you are at fault, but it does mean you need to take this seriously. If you are telling us the whole truth, a letter that says " I did not hit the pole nor was I at fault in the accident," along with a copy of the police report, should be enough.

But the weekend gap in car insurance sounds very fishy. I wonder if what really is going on here is that the OP let his insurance go, and upon being in the accident, got new insurance after the fact on Monday?
posted by COD at 5:05 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lawyer now. Do not contact the electric company.
posted by spaltavian at 5:54 AM on November 30, 2012

Response by poster: First off, thank you all for your input. It is greatly appreciated.

The "Property Damage Recovery Specialists" are asking for a check to be sent to them, made out to the electric company.

I will contact the officer who made the police report. He was quite clear the whole thing was not my fault.

The "Property Damage Recovery Specialists" provided me with a copy of the police report. It states the other driver lost control (after she sideswipes my car) and strikes the electric pole head on.

This is the whole story. When I found out my insurance premium was doubling, I called to get it lowered. The operator was very friendly, but could not help out, so I canceled. I applied at three other insurance agencies, one was lower than the other two by $500 (6 months), but I had to wait a few days for it to start. With Christmas coming up, it seemed like the best option. In hindsight, I should of called back the original insurance company and delay my cancellation to cover that gap.

No drugs, no alcohol, I've not had one accident in my 20 years on the road.

They also sent me a detailed breakdown all utility costs, including the handwritten utility notes. It totals around $9k for labor and ~$800 for materials (post, lamp, etc). Not once is it split between two people. They want me to pay the entire amount.
posted by Coke15 at 6:31 AM on November 30, 2012

Police at an accident site cannot determine fault, this isn't their job. The police record evidence (positioning of cars, witness statements, drivers statements, etc). Insurance companies, judges and juries determine fault.
posted by Pineapplicious at 7:08 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

For the love of god, you must contact a lawyer before you proceed to act on any of the advice given to you here. You are being held liable for almost $10k of damage -- don't mess this is by thinking you can handle it alone.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:08 AM on November 30, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, I am also contacting two local attorneys.

I just feel that I can not be the first person in this situation. I guess I will find out, and let everyone know what happens.
posted by Coke15 at 7:15 AM on November 30, 2012

Are you 100% absolutely sure that your insurance stopped covering you the moment you cancelled it? I'm thinking of a scenario where you had already paid for the upcoming month, and you'd still be covered until the end of the period you had already paid, but not past that.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:20 AM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Just anecdotally, I did hit a pole in an accident that wasn't my fault Michigan and the officer told me that since Michigan was a no-fault state, everyone's insurance pays for their own damageā€”it doesn't matter who was at fault. I did not have to pay for the pole but I believe my insurance did. So your story is mystifying to me. I apologize for a not too helpful answer but it seems really fishy; after reading up on Michigan insurance just now it seems really clear how it works. Also, it's a misdemeanor for driving without insurance, but the $500 fine is a bargain compared to letting the other driver's insurance jerk you around.

Did you admit to not having insurance to the other driver or police officer? I had to show proof of insurance after my accident.
posted by thesocietyfor at 7:40 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I was upfront with the two officers when they asked for my insurance. I admitted it had recently expired. They said not to worry about it and that they were not going to ticket me because "obviously, you are not at fault."
posted by Coke15 at 10:24 AM on November 30, 2012

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