Stuck in the middle of a car accident dispute
January 14, 2015 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I got stuck in the middle of an uncomfortable car accident dispute between two relatives. Things have been "resolved," but there are now bad feelings all around and financial hardships. How could I have handled this better?

I'm going to keep the details here vague for privacy purposes, but I have Relative A and Relative B. I have a great relationship with both but they don't know each other too well. Relative A lets me borrow his (nice, expensive) car to visit Relative B. While the car is parked at B's home, B accidentally hits A's car and causes somewhat minimal damage. I tell A what happened, and A says he will get it fixed when I return the car and B can pay him back actual costs. B is initially OK with this because he thinks he can work it out with his insurance on his end without getting A involved.

I return the car to A and return home. A sends me an estimate for the damage to relay to B. It's on the high side (above $1000) because it's a luxury car. I send the estimate to B and B tries to work it out with his insurance. B doesn't have a lot of money and would like insurance to cover the cost of damage as paying out of pocket would be a financial hardship. A and B live in a no-fault state and therefore B's insurance says A needs to file a claim with his insurance as well in order for B to be covered. A and B email a little, but A ultimately decides that he does not want to file a claim with his own insurance and stops responding to B's and my emails. B's insurance agent calls A, and A does not cooperate. A gets the car fixed and pays out of pocket. A sends the bill to me to send to B. I tell B about the bill. Now B is sending A a check because that's the only real option left, but now B is mad at A, and B is also seemingly annoyed with me that I didn't do more to change A's mind.

So I'm just trying to figure out how this could have been handled better. I was hoping they could work it out themselves, but I ended up getting stuck in the middle. I really don't want A and B to hate each other as it could possibly create a lot of drama down the road. Thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A should have let this happen through insurance. if i were B I would have offered a smaller than asked for amount since A didn't want to go through insurance. if i were you i would have offered A some of the money to reduce the burden on B since you were the reason A's car was at B's place.
posted by nadawi at 6:49 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

A and B should have handled this between themselves and kept you out of it.

Your mistake, if there was any, was to allow them to involve you. You just happened to be the schlimazl who was using the car at the time it was hit. A and B are the schlemiels here. Whether or not they know each other very well, they need to deal with each other directly.

You have no control over the past, present, or future relationship between A and B. You can, however, complicate matters for yourself and them by allowing them to continue to use you as monkey in the middle.

Going forward, if they try again to involve you, tell them they need to talk to the other party and politely send them on their way. You have my permission to stop answering their contacts if they persist. :-)
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:51 AM on January 14, 2015 [11 favorites]

Do you know whether filing the claim through the insurance companies would have increased the insurance rates for A and/or B? It is often less expensive to pay for body work out of pocket rather than have your insurance cover it, once you account for deductibles and the increase in rates.

If the claim would have resulted in an increase in the insurance rate for A, it is understandable that A would not want to file it.

Explaining this to B might help reduce the tension.
posted by alms at 6:53 AM on January 14, 2015

Sheydem-tants is right. What happened is you let yourself be triangulated, which is always problematic. The way to handle this is to give A's contact information to B and vice versa, and let them handle it like grown-ups. Having made sure they were able to reach each other, your work is done. Refuse to pass messages for someone else.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:59 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Now B is sending A a check because that's the only real option left.

Uh, I am not on A's side here. He shouldn't get to strong-arm B like this. If A doesn't want to file with his insurance, then maybe he's going to have to compromise by accepting a lesser amount or deal with getting nothing at all.

I don't think there's anything you can do to smooth this over, honestly. But those are my thoughts.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is an A and B situation, and you should C your way out of it.

A is acting poorly in this situation in a few ways. If he wants to hold B accountable for paying, he doesn't then get to hold B's feet to the fire by not cooperating with the insurance companies.

A sends the bill to me to send to B.

This is where things really went south, and you should have demurred. A really compounded his poor behavior here by making you accountable to his unreasonable demands.
posted by mkultra at 7:13 AM on January 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

while maybe there's a legal argument for this just being between A and B, A did you a favor and if they hadn't their car wouldn't have been damaged. if you had just traded contact info and washed your hands of it, were i A or B, i'd find you lacking in responsibility (and i'd likely reduce the time i spent around you).

but that's all in the past and all you can do is move forward. next time rent a car or take a taxi.
posted by nadawi at 7:22 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

If the thing had been submitted to insurance, and there was a $1,000 deductible, relative B would have had to have paid that anyway. So if it's around $1,000, Nisht ahin, nisht aher. So up to $1,000, B needed to be prepared for that anyway. He hit the car, he's responsible.

A is being slightly unreasonable. What if his car was hit by someone who was not a family member? I'll bet he would have gone through insurance, if only to be sure that he'd get compensated. He used the family relationship to leverage his best outcome.

Bad things happen all the time, and sometimes it's no one's fault. When you own a vehicle, or anything really, you need to accept that sometimes it'll get messed up, and sometimes you'll have to pay a bit out of your own pocket.

At any rate, it sucks, but there it is. Your new mantra on this when speaking to either of them is, "This is between the two of you. Please leave me out of it." And that's it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:28 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

A and B are both being unreasonable --- B doesn't want to pay for the damage he admits he caused, and A is insisting on dragging you into the middle of it all. Both of them should be dealing through their respective insurance companies.

Tell A to send the bills directly to B.
Tell B to deal directly with A.
Tell both of them to talk/email/phone each other, not you; refuse to listen next time either says anything about the other, and if one of them sends you something (like A sending you a bill for B) return it, do not deliver it.

And next time you go visit B, rent a car, don't borrow A's.
posted by easily confused at 7:52 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

If A's car had been parked on the street and damaged in a hit and run, A would have either eaten the loss or filed a claim that would have been paid by the uninsured motorist coverage A should be carrying for A's luxury car (and if A drives a luxury car without UM coverage, that is A's problem). If A's car had been hit by an honest stranger, A wouldn't have had the flexibility to refuse to file a claim*. In this case, since A knows (and is related to) B, A is behaving selfishly and should have either filed a claim anyway (to help out B) or should accept a discounted amount from B.

Also if A can afford a luxury car and B will suffer financial hardship, A should maybe just forgive the damage and move on.

* A could try to file a case in small claim's court, but between court costs and the time such a thing takes, A would not come out ahead of just placing a single phone call to A's insurance company, and might in fact be excoriated by a judge for wasting the court's time when there's already a way to settle this sort of thing. If A tried to take B to small claim's court, the family would be likely to pile on to the judge's abuse, and deservedly so.
posted by fedward at 8:29 AM on January 14, 2015

I return the car to A and return home.

Your involvement should've stopped there, right after you returned the car. Period. End of your involvement.

If either A or B gets huffy with you, your response should be "Here is A/B's contact information. You'll need to communicate directly with A/B about it."
posted by vitabellosi at 9:34 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Huh, that's funny, I think I'm an outlier on this one. I agree that A is being a bit unreasonable, but I don't believe it would be right for you to just stay out of this. You have a moral responsibility here, because A's car was in your care when this all happened.

Personally I don't borrow things I can't afford to easily replace if necessary, because I don't want to risk being on the hook in a murky unclear-responsibility situation. Here, I'd say you owe a debt to A because your borrowing of his car ended up causing him a bunch of hassle, and you owe a debt to B because it sounds like B is out-of-pocket. (That's a smaller debt though, because B caused the damage.)

I'd buy them each a nice dinner next time you get the chance, and I'd skip borrowing A's car in future, if you can.
posted by Susan PG at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

For those of you suggesting that the OP has some further obligation to mediate this, note:

A sends me an estimate for the damage to relay to B. It's on the high side (above $1000) because it's a luxury car. I send the estimate to B and B tries to work it out with his insurance.

This is where any obligation ends. Continuing to be an intermediary is enabling A's passive-aggressive behavior.
posted by mkultra at 1:19 PM on January 14, 2015

While the car is parked at B's home, B accidentally hits A's car and causes somewhat minimal damage

This is what i was searching for. So the car was damaged while it was parked and you weren't even in it correct?

I think A is playing a really shitty game here in guilting you in to being their communicator/ally/browbeating messenger to double up on B because "well you had it, so it's your responsibility!". If a car is parked, no one is in it, and it gets hit, then it's solely the fault of whoever hit it. Who "had the car" at the time is completely irrelevant and anything else is madness.

Both of them are expecting weird, unreasonable things from you here and are misplacing their anger that should be directed at eachother on you because you're an easy scapegoat, who has essentially agreed to accept fault and play that role out of guilt.(which A, but to a lesser extent B have worked to drum up in you and encourage as well).

For what it's worth, i have a friend who absolutely refuses to ever borrow or lend anything. Even if it's a $3 sweater from a thrift store*. This type of shit is why.

Also, for what this is worth, i've been A in a very similar situation involving an expensive, brand new laptop. It took me a while to forgive the person in your position in the situation, but really how is any of this your fault? "Well you technically had the car at the time, so it was your responsibility" is a REALLY shitty argument. When the only thing you could have done to prevent this situation is not borrow the item in the first place, it's not your fault. I feel like some sort of negligence on your part here would have to be demonstrated for it to rise to being your responsibility at all.

While i agree saying "no, talk to eachother" at first could and likely would have felt like shirking responsibility to both of them, doing essentially the same thing with more tact is what needed to happen. They really should be talking to eachother, and you really should not be used as a club either direction or triangulated. Very early on you should have butted out, once they made contact and started negotiating.

I'm also really surprised that B's insurance didn't somehow make contact directly with A's insurance. I swear i've seen and heard of that happening before when the person was uncooperative, but that might just be in my state.

*(i had forgotten my jacket at work one day when i went over to his house. When i left, i asked to borrow a sweater, he gave me one he liked instead of lending it because "i don't lend things, it just causes ill will". Wouldn't even accept it back when i offered later. Weird? Yea, but it avoids situations like this masterfully. Similarly, he never lends anything he wouldn't give away... because he only gives things away or says no)
posted by emptythought at 6:12 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

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