Just a minor fender bender, that's all!
August 11, 2014 10:51 PM   Subscribe

I backed into a car and there was no visible damage on either car so we didn't call the cops. But they are opening a claim with my insurance company. How screwed am I?

I was backing out of my parking space and stupidly bumped into the bar behind me. The other car apparently parked in the spot across from me just as I got into my car so I didn't see anyone was parked behind me. I was going no more than 10 mph. It made a loud sound so I stopped and got out to check both cars. The couple who owned the car were walking into the store and heard it and came over to see the damage. They were Russian and very distrustful of me and insisted it could be damaged in a way we can't see. They were also talking to each other in Russian so I didn't know anything they were saying to one another.

There really wasn't any damage. My corner bumper got scuffed up, but when I rubbed it, the scuff marks came off. Their car had no visible damage, except for knicks and scratches in other spots not from me. Their car did not look well-maintained. I exchanged insurance info with them. I told them there was no damage, but they insisted the bumper might be cracked. I saw no evidence of that. My insurance card showed an expired date from a few days earlier because I hadn't received my updated card yet when it automatically renews, so they wouldn't let me leave. I didn't want them to call the police because I was hoping maybe they wouldn't open a claim with my insurance company if their car was fine so I called my insurance to verify for them that my insurance was not expired. Once they got that confirmed, they proceeded to call my insurance and open a claim. Awesome. I didn't see any value in sticking around or calling the cops (especially since I had accidentally left my drivers license at my apartment and wasn't sure if I'd get in trouble) and we agreed we would not call the cops and they said I could leave.

Is this going to be a bad situation for me? I took pictures of everything as well as I could. It was dark and my cell camera isn't great, but I took photos of their bumper, my bumper, other big dents all over their car, their insurance card and their license plate. I called my insurance company to tell them the couple was filing a claim but there was absolutely no damage. I don't believe I admitted on the phone with insurance that I hit them, but I definitely said stuff to them like "I was driving 5 mph, I'm sure your car is fine" that maybe they secretly recorded on their phones? I'm not sure. I seriously barely hit them. I wasn't sure if I should have a cop come and look at their car right then, but I've left now.

Is there anything else I need to do to protect myself? Can they make up fake damage or have one of their mechanic friends make up a bunch of damage that wasn't there? I was trying to be honest and up front with them, but I am scared they are going to screw me. Their car looked sort of crappy and I am worried I will be on the hook for stuff that my bumper did not do.
posted by peachpie to Law & Government (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call your insurance right now. Get an email address. Email them your pics. Specifically tell them you are worried about fraud.

There's a lot more "what if's," but for now, Call Your Insurance Company and get your pictures on record.

You'll be fine.
posted by jbenben at 11:39 PM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Definitely call your insurance company, as jbenben already suggested. I recently had someone back into my car and put a dent in it. I knew who it was and had a phone number and email address for him, but he was being a bit difficult and I wasn't sure whether I would need help from my insurance company to get him to pay for the repair. The guy I spoke to recorded the details of the incident and gave me a few ideas of what I should do. Hopefully your insurance company can help you out by telling you whether you should talk to the police/get a stat dec/email them photos/whatever.

Whatever happens, please take this as a lesson to pay better attention to your surroundings from now on. Driving is dangerous and you're lucky that something worse didn't happen!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:12 AM on August 12, 2014

I called and asked and she told me the claim was still being filed by the other party and someone from my insurance company will call me in the morning. I asked if I needed to get police involved and she told me I should wait for a call in the morning. I also told her I was worried about them claiming damage when there isn't any and she said they will need to get a written estimate. She honestly wasn't that helpful.

I am pretty sure they will claim I cracked their bumper. If anything cracked, it was probably the paint from the plastic flex of the bumper. I was seriously driving so slow and I didn't see anything. It was dark, but pictures with the flash don't show anything. Their car had scratches all over it. I am fearing the worst, which is that they will try to get me to (unfairly) replace their entire bumper.

Should I admit fault to my insurance company? I'm not sure of what to say. An accident from several years ago that was my fault I believe should've just "expired" but I'm not sure. If it's still there, my insurance might drop me if I have two at-faults.

I was being absent-minded because of something that happened (not worth explaining) but I am taking steps to remedy it right now because it's been a problem before (not with driving).
posted by peachpie at 12:46 AM on August 12, 2014

And I just found out the other guy runs a car painting shop. This guy is going to screw me. I can feel it. Just when I was finally starting to save money. Sigh.
posted by peachpie at 1:15 AM on August 12, 2014

Their car did not look well-maintained.

Which tells you that they aren't actually going to fix whatever minor damage you might've caused. If they can get a little cash settlement, they'll just pocket it and buy comics and bubble gum.

And I just found out the other guy runs a car painting shop.

Which means that if it was going to get fixed, he'd do it in his own shop. So what?

This guy is going to screw me. I can feel it.

No, you can't feel it. You can imagine it, which is not the same thing, and from here it looks like your imagination is getting a little silly. Try and take a step back and let the people who handle this stuff every day work it through the system.

If anything cracked, it was probably the paint from the plastic flex of the bumper.

Well, that would be damage, and your insurer would have to pay for it, but it's not a blank check for the owners of the car you hit. It's not so easy for the guy to "screw you" over this. Your insurer isn't going to have this beater car fully restored, washed, waxed and detailed on your dime.

You'll be fine. Unless you have a driving record much worse than what you've described here, your worst case scenario is that your insurance rates go up a bit or you have to find a new insurer.
posted by jon1270 at 2:38 AM on August 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

Just one thing to clarify that should've been in my original post: My deductible is $1000. So if they inflate the "damage" successfully, I will be on the hook for my deductible plus whatever happens to my insurance premiums. If it somehow goes over $1000, I get the double whammy of paying the entire deductible, plus the accident will stay on my record for three years. Worst case scenario is worth worrying about.
posted by peachpie at 3:24 AM on August 12, 2014

The insurance company doesn't care that they're Russian (?) or that the guy owns a paint shop. They will make their own estimate or send him to one of their network body shops, who will make a fair repair. So I wouldn't get too stressed about that aspect.
posted by ftm at 3:35 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, I've never heard of a deductible on liability - it may pay to double check on that.
posted by ftm at 3:38 AM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

I understand why you're anxious, but please don't let it get to you. You're supposed to call the insurance company when there's an accident. If it was dark, it was perfectly reasonable to be cautious, given that it's hard to see damage under the circumstances. Maybe they're scammers, but maybe they are sticklers for protocol. There's no reason to assume the worst.

Insurance companies do not want to be defrauded. They have tons of people to prevent it from happening. Let them do their work, and for now just document every conversation and sit tight.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:59 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, your deductible is what you pay when you file a claim with your own insurer on damages to your own stuff. It's not extra cash that you have to come up with when someone else files a claim due to damages you've caused.
posted by jon1270 at 4:25 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Insurance companies are good at avoiding paying money. That's what they do. The collect money from people and hope to not pay it out. Insurance companies have lists of authorized repair places for estimates and repairs. They probably wouldn't allow the guy to estimate his own work; that's a conflict of interest.

Honestly, in this situation, you seem much sketchier:
- expired insurance
- "forgot" drivers license
- were adamant that there was no damage and that they shouldn't call your insurance

Even at low speeds, impacts can cause hidden damage. If their car is really banged up, that might make things more difficult to discern, but it's good you got photos of their car. Any factual evidence will be helpful. Write down your version of the story in a much detail as you can. Leave out things like the Russian bit.

Take responsibility for your actions. Be more careful in the future. Chill out.
posted by reddot at 4:30 AM on August 12, 2014 [16 favorites]

Worst case scenario is worth worrying about.

Considering? Acknowledging? Yes. Worrying? No.

And why not? Because worrying will do absolutely nothing to change it or fix it. What's done is done. Take the future as it comes. If you're so sure of the result, you may make the wrong choices if a further curveball comes you way.
posted by inturnaround at 5:32 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got rear-ended a couple of months ago (we also did not call cops because no one was injured and both cars were driveable and the police would have laughed at us) and all that was visible was a very faint impression of the other car's license plate on the rear bumper. But the bumper lining (whatever it's called) was crushed, because that's its job.
posted by rtha at 5:43 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

A deductible for liability? Are you in the US?

Anyway, your rates may go up, but not a lot. My insurance paid out 1500 dollars and I think my 6 month premium went up like 20 bucks. You are fine.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:17 AM on August 12, 2014

"I should wait for a call in the morning."

Do that. This is a situation where the best you can do is wait. In the morning they'll call you up and tell you what to do, you pay them to sort this stuff out for you.
posted by ElliotH at 6:50 AM on August 12, 2014

I am pretty sure they will claim I cracked their bumper. If anything cracked, it was probably the paint from the plastic flex of the bumper.

The structure of most bumpers has a rigid foam under the plastic bumper cover. This could have been cracked and no one can tell without removing the cover.

In the future whenever you get into an accident insist on calling the police. They can be an "official witness". Why? Once, I was rear ended, we exchanged papers and moved on. Later when I made a claim the other driver told my insurance company he was never there. No official witness, so they did not pursue it.
posted by Gungho at 7:54 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this very thing (backed into someone from a dead stop at under 10mph, no visible damage to either car). The person whose car I hit filed a claim with their insurance, who got in touch with my insurance. My insurance company sent a claims investigator out to look at both cars. I didn't have to pay anything out of pocket, so don't sweat your $1000 deductible — you're not the one filing the claim. However, my premium did go up, and the accident went on my record as being my fault, because apparently, if you're the one doing the backing up, it's always your fault.
posted by culfinglin at 8:45 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry to say, it's entirely possible for a 10mph collision to do significant damage that isn't visible. Don't just assume you're in the right. It's up to the adjusters to figure it out.

Depending on the age of the car there are sensors that might get damaged. But a 10mph collision can definitely cause a bumper to lose structural integrity, which is a safety issue.

Relax, no one got hurt, everyone was insured, you'll be ok. Everyone makes mistakes.
posted by spitbull at 9:52 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, why would you not admit fault when whatever happened was unequivocally, irrefutably your fault?

Insurance company is unlikely to open a fraud investigation over a bumper. Parking and leaving your car in a lot is not a major vector for significant fraud.
posted by spitbull at 9:54 AM on August 12, 2014

OK, thanks for clarifying how the deductible works. I thought I had to pay $1000 for anything that happens. Glad that isn't the case. Follow-up questions if anyone is still reading:

-Should I worry about my car? It's a (new) lease and it behooves me to not discover any damage that I will wind up paying for when I turn it in. I know people say there can be hidden damage to bumpers. I hit the corner of mine -- can that be a problem? Is it something my car dealership would find in a routine inspection? Will they find out if I have an accident on my record? Like I said, my bumper seems far more scuffed up than theirs and there are some small scratches there. Should I have an adjuster come out, or should I say there's no damage?

-For future reference - should I have called the police? I was scared because I left my driver's license at my house accidentally and up until I verified with my insurance that my plan was still active, I was was worried maybe it had somehow expired without me knowing. But I thought maybe police could discern there was no damage and write that in a report. If I had my license and my insurance was fine, should I have called the police?
posted by peachpie at 9:59 AM on August 12, 2014

One more update (sorry): They are claiming that I cracked their bumper, damaged their suspension and damaged their exhaust system. That is insane. They are definitely trying to get their car fixed up on my insurance's dime. Unbelievable.
posted by peachpie at 10:53 AM on August 12, 2014

Your insurance will send out an adjuster, whose sole job is to evaluate these claims and do their best to not pay any money out. Don't worry. You actually don't have to handle or do a thing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:03 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

So far, nothing you've described that they've done sounds insane or unreasonable to me. (Presumably you backed into their rear bumper. Parts of the exhaust system, like the muffler and tailpipe, are right there.) Try to let go of the idea that they're trying to scam you, let your insurance handle it (because they will), and next time don't back out without looking behind you.
posted by dorque at 11:35 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't be so sure.

Look, you backed into their car, hard enough to catch their ears from some distance away and to do damage to your car.

It is entirely, completely possible their damage claims are true. You are not really justified in dismissing then out of hand as ridiculous. I've seen little parking lot taps cost $1200 in damage. I'm sure it goes higher if you have exhaust system or frame damage (my guess is that they assert you knocked their car out of alignment under "suspension system" damage).

As everyone is saying, it's not up to you to decide this. But there is a larger issue here. You were driving carelessly, not carrying required documentation, and they were in no possible way at fault in causing the accident, yet you are focusing hard on their potential shiftiness.

Actual insurance scammers usually set up much more expensive accidents, and they don't do so by parking in a legitimate space and walking away. Their actions were entirely consistent with best practices (you almost always want to call police, and no, they won't assign fault or estimate damages when they show up, just get the full story on the record), especially given that you had neither license nor proof of current insurance.

I'd have called the police in their shoes. But I've been scammed after being hit by a driver with fake insurance ID, so there's that.

Maybe the guy wants a new muffler out of the deal he doesn't deserve, but in fact nothing you have suggested makes any basis for presuming he has some nefarious intent. Maybe because he owns a body shop he is alert to damage you couldn't see.

And yes, you need to file a claim for repair of your own damaged car. Your leasing dealer will insist on it if it's obvious damage.

This is why you carry insurance. And the objective fact that you, alone, caused an accident that did some amount of damage is worth accepting and focusing on as room for improvement, which is to say you must ALWAYS be aware of what's behind you when you shift into reverse.

Could be a small child. That happened to a friend of mine, and haunts him now. Own your mistake, and let insurance guys do their thing, and accept your rate will go up and you will owe the deductible on the damage to your own car.
posted by spitbull at 12:06 PM on August 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

I know they had no reason to trust me since the documentation I had at the scene sucked. But I honestly could've just driven away but I didn't because I generally try not to be a scum bag. I know I messed up and I take responsibility for it. I just didn't like how the first things they said was that there may be hidden damage. They seemed pretty dead set on the idea that there would be damage from the get-go even though their car looked totally fine. And like I said, their car was not in good condition. And it also bothered me that they had a third guy come and they were all speaking at length in Russian and I had no clue what they were saying -- that was the only reason why them being Russian was relevant to the story. I just didn't know what they were talking about and I could tell they were car guys, which sketched me out. I have to accept the consequences of my actions and just be glad I won't need to pay the deductible.

Damage to my car looks so minimal I would be surprised if it can just be buffed out somehow. Since it would all fall under my deductible anyway, I'm not sure I need to have it looked at. Or do I? Last question, sorry, but seriously, do I need to have my car inspected now?
posted by peachpie at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2014

So you know that there was no damage by looking at it in the dark? That's... Impressive. Maybe they had a third guy come because you were being shifty with your lack of ID, expired license, and "nothing to see here" attitude. Maybe they were recent immigrants and called their more experienced friend. You don't know, and your misplaced suspicion and insistence that you didn't damage their car won't help things. Presumably, something made the loud noise.

Let the insurance company do their work. They are not in the business of writing checks just because people claim damage. You can't do anything about it anyway; your policy almost certainly has a clause that says their people will figure it out, and that their decisions are binding. At the company I worked for, the guy would send them pictures, they'd send him to an authorized repair center, and pay out based on what their vetted mechanics and adjusters had to say.

I would plan on getting your car inspected prior to turning it in.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been pulled over before without my license. Typically they just look it up, and chastise you for not having it on you. Always always always call the police for any accident. (unless maybe you are DUI and the other driver doesn't want to call them) Even if you are at fault, there's no telling what the other guy is going to claim at a future date if they have your info.

I think what other folks have said kind of covers it, though.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 12:57 PM on August 12, 2014

Last question, sorry, but seriously, do I need to have my car inspected now?

Maybe? Our rear bumper had existing damage from some jerk who seriously dinged a corner of it in a parking lot and didn't bother to leave a note or anything. We just left it like that, because why not. But then I got rear-ended, and like I said, you could hardly see anything from that incident - which occurred in broad daylight on a sunny day. The guys at the body shop, though, could see it because they took the bumper off. The guy I was dealing with said that even though the corner ding looked worse, the inside damage was nearly all caused by the guy who (slowly) ran directly into the back of it, which left almost no mark on the outside.
posted by rtha at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2014

For posterity - I called around and have been told bumper damage on the corner is unlikely to cause any hidden damage. The corner is just kind of empty space, I'm told, so whatever hidden damage the other party is claiming is unlikely to be an issue for me.
posted by peachpie at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2014

There's no way to speculate on such a question, and "unlikely" is not "never."

I have directly experienced this situation as the other party.

Many modern bumpers are at least partly plastic. If damaged, the whole part has to be replaced and you're into a grand there easily for a tap.

You don't really know exactly how you hit him and how the force was directed.

It's frankly defensive to keep insisting there's no way you could have done significant damage. It's really very possible you did, and the only posterity that matters is what your insurance company agrees is their liability.

And your rates will go up the same if there is minor damage as major damage, frankly. Nothing you can do backing into a stationary, empty car comes close to the cost of backing into a human or a moving, occupied car.

Whether he gets a muffler and alignment plus a new bumper or not, the effect on you will be relatively trivial at the margin.

You proved to them you sometimes forget to look behind you when backing up. We've all done it, but it's bad driving and this time your number came up.
posted by spitbull at 2:09 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please remain calm. This is NOT the end of the world.

Wait for your insurance company to call you. Do NOT admit fault. NEVER admit fault in an accident, even if it is 100% clear to you that you ARE at fault. Tell the insurance company what happened, and mention that you are worried the other driver might potentially try to defraud you or the insurance companies.

That said, The absolute WORST case scenario in this situation is:

* You will pay a maximum of $1,000 TOTAL for this accident. It may be less. But you should budget for $1,000.
* Your insurance premium may go up for 3 to 5 years (depending on what state you're in).

In the future, any time you are in an accident and you exchange insurance information, INSIST that the police are involved. Yes, you'd have gotten a ticket with a steep fee for not having your license on you (since you DO have a valid license, I don't think that's a moving violation or points or anything like that), but you have a police report in your favor in case the guy tries to claim other damages besides those which could feasibly have occurred as a result of this accident. Don't go back and call the police now. They won't be able to investigate because they need to investigate close to the time of the accident. (You avoided a ticket with a steep fine this way, but that wasn't the best choice.)

The insurance companies will send out adjusters and provide estimates and approved body shops to do the repair work. They won't let this guy estimate his own paint shop/body shop work as that is a clear conflict of interest.

It's the job of insurance companies and police to figure out who is or is not at fault for an accident. Insurance companies are excellent at finding reasons not to pay up on claims; if they weren't good at this, they wouldn't be able to stay in business.
posted by tckma at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2014

They dropped their claim about the suspension and the exhaust. (Because it was clearly a lie.) Now they claim a cracked tail light and a scratch on the bumper. In all likelihood, that scratch existed before and I don't think it was where I hit -- I had suspected I hit their tail light but didn't see anything (apparently the crack is very small) -- but the positive thing is it's now $700 instead of thousands and won't end up on my driving record. Lesson learned and didn't end up too costly. Phew. Thanks for helping me not freak out, those of you who did!
posted by peachpie at 9:20 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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