Bumped a neighbor's house over 2 yrs ago, now an insurance claim looms
June 29, 2014 6:06 PM   Subscribe

I bent the metal railing and caused some cracks in the brick staircase. After talking with the owner of the house, nothing was done for over 2 years. Now the owner is considering a repair and has told me that he's gotten quotes for $4000. How should I respond to this situation to both protect myself and take responsibility for my actions?

I bumped into my neighbor's front steps with a car almost two years ago, bending a metal handrailing and introducing a crack to the brick staircase. At the time, I left a note in the mailbox and spoke to the renters. The owner of the house was out of the country. He returned a few months later; I spoke to him and let him know that I was willing to talk about repair costs and to let me know. He said ok, then nothing happened for about a year and a half. During that time, the owner moved back into the house and we said hello often. The staircase remained as it was when I hit it.

A few weeks ago, he let me know that he had been looking into the repair process, and had gotten some bids at around $4000 for the repair. Apparently, the entire staircase needs to be repaired. He wants me to contact my insurance company. He also said that he was wondering if he could go ahead with repairs using his contractor and bill my insurance (pretty sure that won't work). This is happening in MA, USA.

This raises some concerns and questions for me:

--does the time lapse between the accident happening and the claim matter?
--how can I know that $4000 is the actual repair cost? is it best to involve my insurance company and have them work that out?
--is it possible to avoid involving my insurance company (and the associated increase in my insurance premium), even if I can't afford $4000 out of pocket?
--is there anything I need to consider/account for/worry about in this situation to avoid getting a raw deal?
--how can I negotiate about this situation with the owner?

The owner is a pretty nice guy. My gut tells me that he isn't trying to fleece me, but I also wonder if I'm missing something.
posted by cubby to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What does your policy say about the time limit for submitting claims?
posted by desjardins at 6:20 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your insurance policy ought to have a statute of limitations. According to an article on the internet that is so flakey I'm not even going to link to it ... that figure is often six years.

I would go ahead and use your insurance, and let them navigate the rest of the logistics. They're professionals at not getting fleeced. I'd be surprised if something this minor caused a bump in your premium but ... I don't drive so I don't really know how insurance works. (I'm assuming this is an auto insurance claim, not a homeowners claim).
posted by amandabee at 6:22 PM on June 29, 2014

1. This might be past the statute of limitations.
2. Two years later, there is a strong possibility that you're not liable for all the damage he's seeking to repair. If he'd gotten the crack fixed in a timely manner, it's possible the damage to the staircase could have been curtailed. It's absurd to put you on the hook for his own irresponsibility.

A lot of people in this situation would be reluctant to call the insurance company not only for the reasons you've outlined in your post, but also because they don't want to use legalities to leave someone else holding the bag for damage they feel responsible for. In this case, though, you have to remember that your neighbor also bears responsibility here because he is failing to factor in his own negligence in following up on the damage in a timely manner. Protecting your interest in situations like this is exactly what your insurance company is there for.

Your neighbor is using "neighborliness" to get away with a lot here. It may not be malicious, but it's very unfair to you.
posted by lesli212 at 6:23 PM on June 29, 2014 [23 favorites]

Using your insurance to pay his contractor sounds like a scam to me and likely to your insurance company, especially two years after an unreported accident. I don't imagine they'll do much more than drop you for late reporting, to be honest.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:44 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you bought your instance from an individual agent (not on-line or 800#), you might want to call your agent and ask some hypothetical questions to better answer to some of these questions. Even if the agent works for the insurance company, they have more of an incentive to keep you as a client than to "squeal" based on hypothetical questions. I would want to know (1) if someone is involved in minor collision (say with corner of a garage) what are the rules on reporting the incident. Does it depend on estimated damage? what if the other party says "don't worry about it" and then changes their mind? (2) how much would that type of accident effect your premium?

If you neighbor is really going to go after you for the money, it is probably worth it to let the insurance company to negotiate your (and their) share of the total bill for you but you can't know unless you have some idea of the answers to the two questions above.
posted by metahawk at 7:13 PM on June 29, 2014

When you talked to him shortly after it happened, what did he say? Why was this not dealt with back then? Do you have his words documented somewhere?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2014

I might be overly paranoid, but if i was going to hand this person even a cent for this without involving insurance(which is totally up to you, i'm not completely against paying some amount of it personally) you should pay for a little time from a lawyer to draw up some kind of agreement you both sign saying something to the effect of "This amount of money is for X, Y, and Z damage. Any damage found later even if it can be construed to be from this agreed upon damage is declared settled and paid for". Obviously, i'm not a lawyer, but you get what i'm saying here.

Because having known assholes, and asshole neighbors, i can't escape the nagging voice in the back of my head going "if you give him any money at all he's going to try and milk more money out of you somehow once the work starts going "oh wow we uncovered all this other damage" or something like that.

Either insurance, or X amount of money and we never talk about this again.

I also wouldn't give him anything without seeing a real estimate from said contractor. This really isn't any different than handling damage to car outside of insurance. If they want cash, unless you're settling for what you both know is less than the cost to repair the damage, they show you an estimate.

I can't even count the number of times someone who seemed like a "totally stand up guy" has weaseled cash out of someone i know with a handshake and an honest smile. Someone would move from "seems like a nice guy" to ye olde magic 8 balls "answer fuzzy, ask again later" when they tried to get several thousand dollars from me years later...
posted by emptythought at 12:22 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

[One comment deleted. Just a reminder, please don't publish private info from other members' profiles, which contain several non-indexed (non-publicly searchable) fields. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:56 AM on June 30, 2014

The statute of limitations is one thing. That is the time for your neighbor to file a lawsuit against you. Much more pressing: what is the time provided in your policy for you to notify the company of an incident that will or may generate a claim? That is often 30-60 days. You may be out of luck as far as getting your insurer to pay the claim at this point.
posted by yclipse at 3:55 AM on June 30, 2014

Thanks for the tips! I'll have to talk to my insurance company to find out some of the information about statute of limitations and time to inform the insurer. Based on that I can decide whether to file a claim (if it's even possible to do so). Either way, you've provided some helpful things to consider and some ideas for discussing this further with my neighbor.
posted by cubby at 5:45 AM on June 30, 2014

Also, can you ask to see the quotes or get your own quotes? It doesn't cost anything for you to do this, and that way you can know how much it costs. Whether or not you go through insurance (or can), it seems to me like it's your obligation to pay for this, no matter how long it took your neighbor to fix it. It's just as easy to say that you should have reported this to your insurance when it happened as it is to say that he should have fixed it sooner.
posted by hought20 at 6:33 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't trust a single $4000 quote. I'd get 2-3 quotes on your own, too. Perhaps add all of the quotes together and average them out to come up reimbursement that's fair.

And I'm also wondering if the length of time that he's taken to address the issue maybe resulted in additional damage to the staircase. If you live in a place where it gets cold in the winter, water entering the crack and freezing would have caused the crack to become worse, for example.
posted by Ostara at 7:38 AM on June 30, 2014

In MA there is a mandatory damage to other peoples property portion of auto insurance which should cover this. Give him your insurance info, just like you would with a car on car accident, and put it into his hands. I would not mention this to your insurance company until they ask, and then I'd play dumb like "Wow, that happened two years ago, and he's just now making a claim?"
posted by Gungho at 9:06 AM on June 30, 2014

In MA there is a mandatory damage to other peoples property portion of auto insurance which should cover this. Give him your insurance info, just like you would with a car on car accident, and put it into his hands. I would not mention this to your insurance company until they ask, and then I'd play dumb like "Wow, that happened two years ago, and he's just now making a claim?"

I am not an insurance agent but boy does this sound like insurance fraud to me.
posted by winna at 9:19 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is fraudy about it? It is up to the person you damaged to make a claim. Whether it be 2 hours, 2 days or 2 years later you have no control over it.
posted by Gungho at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2014

Well, I ended up giving him some cash (about what the deductible would have been) and we didn't go through insurance. So it works out I guess, even if it was a bit annoying. Thanks for the advice all!
posted by cubby at 8:01 AM on August 12, 2014

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