Car accident with neighbor: what do I do in this complicated situation?
October 18, 2015 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Last month I hit a neighbor's parked car. Since then, I've let the insurance company handle it, but the neighbor has reached out to me several times, and I'm not sure how to respond. Details under the cut.

Last month, I borrowed my wife's car to drive my son to elementary school. We live on the same street as the school, and it's only 2-3 minute drive. I dropped my son off, and on my way home, I hit a neighbor's car that was parked on the right side of the street. In my memory, I was driving and then suddenly I was in a wrecked car with the airbags deployed. This is complicated by several factors:
  • It was early morning, and it's a route I do every day.
  • The accident occurred where there's a bend in the road, about halfway between our house and the school.
  • I may have been slightly concussed in the accident. I don't believe that I was, but it's a concern that my wife has brought up. I didn't have any pain or injuries besides a few very minor scratches on my legs and arm. I was checked out by EMTs and I felt fine, so I declined a hospital visit.
This is all to say: I'm not really sure what was the cause of the accident. It's a blank spot in my memory. Regardless, I hit a parked car, and I was at fault.

Anyway, I got out of the car, and walked up to the house that the car was parked in front of. I knocked on the door and an elderly woman came to the door, who I will call "Betty." I explained that I had gotten in an accident with her car, and that I didn't have a phone on me. I was very shaken up by the accident, and Betty immediately started fussing over me and making sure I was OK. She was very kind and full of Southern hospitality. She made me sit down on a lawn chair and got me a glass of water. We called my wife, who immediately came to the scene of the accident. Betty brought me disinfectant and bandaids for my scrapes. The police arrived, as well as a tow truck and EMTs. Throughout the whole process, Betty was reassuring me and joking around and trying to make sure that my wife wasn't angry at me for wrecking the car. She also was very concerned that I was injured and expressed several times that I needed to get checked out by a doctor. She was very charming and sweet. Really, she couldn't have been nicer.

My wife's car was totaled, completely crumpled in the front. Betty's car, an SUV, was hit on the front, centered around the passenger side headlight . The damage didn't look looked too bad (but that doesn't mean much). After trading insurance info and talking to the police & EMTs, my wife and I headed home. We talked about how nice Betty was, and how we should get her a present or make her some brownies to thank her for taking care of me after the accident. However, this never happened. Our personal lives have been complicated by several factors unrelated to the accident, and although we had the intention to thank her, we let it slide.

Since the accident, Betty has reached out to us several times. The first was a long text to my wife the day of the accident. She reiterated that she was very worried about me and that I needed to get checked out by a doctor. She said that her life was ruined by a back injury in the past, where she thought she was fine but it turned out she had severe injuries. She finished the text by saying she wouldn't bother us again, she was just worried about me, and that there was "no need to reply."

That same day, she left a note on our front door saying basically the same thing.

My wife and I never responded, both out of distracted neglect and a concern that we should let the insurance companies handle things. I took Betty's message saying there was "no need to reply" at face value.

Since the accident, the insurance company has assessed the value of the wreck, and after two weeks of being carless, my wife bought a new car. It felt like we were moving forward and putting the accident behind us.

A month or so after the accident, we received a text from Betty on my wife's phone (but addressed to me):
Are you ok, neighbor? Honestly I would've thought a follow-up on me too might've happened. By either you or your wife. So I wonder: you must be hurt. that was a really unbelievable hit. My neighbors stopped to take photos it was so unbelievable. My SUV was totaled, and I got very little for it, even though it was actually a medical device as strange as that sounds. It's the only car that stopped my back from getting worse. How are you? Again this is Betty the SUV was totaled.
My wife and I feel terrible. The guilt I felt about never reaching out to Betty has compounded, and I feel even worse that I ruined her car. I'm not exactly sure what to do. I want to talk to her and make sure she's OK and be neighborly and tell her I'm OK, but I've always been told that you should let the insurance company take care of it.

If this was a stranger, I would leave it in the hands of the insurance company, but this a neighbor. I drive past her house every day, and walk past it multiple times a week. She was so kind after the accident, and I feel terrible that my actions have had such a negative impact on her life. Also, she's clearly hurt or insulted that I never checked up on her.

What should I do? What can I do? I really don't want to ignore her. Can I respond telling her that I was letting the insurance handle things, but that she's been in my thoughts? Is there any way to express regret about the situation without making myself liable? I don't want to insult Betty further, but I also don't want to be sued. It feels like my neighborly duties are at odds with protecting myself legally.

How can I resolve this situation without making things worse?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Saying you're sorry doesn't make you liable. Being liable makes you liable, and you were, and your insurance is handling it.

If she brings up those other things, you can say you're very sorry the situation worked out that way, but you don't have any control over how her vehicle was insured and what the two insurance companies decided on. It's a crappy situation, Betty, and it's crappy for us as well, but we can't do anything other than what the insurance companies decide.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:32 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Keep pushing it off to the insurance company. "Gosh Betty. I'm so sorry to hear that. Dealing with these insurance companies is the worst. I hate it. Have you spoken to your agent? I don't know exactly what the status is. All I know is that our insurance company is still processing things. I'm sorry we haven't checked in on you. I've been really out of sorts since the accident, just like how you described with your own accident in the past."
posted by k8t at 3:36 PM on October 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


Implicit in both Lyn Never's and k8t's responses are that you can (and probably should) speak to Betty personally. I really like k8t's script, because it allows you to visit (with brownies! why not?) and commiserate about this awful thing that happened to both of you. She took care of you after the accident and I can't see how it hurts (or makes you liable) to go and thank her for that, see how she's doing, and let her know how you are (which is how where she started the conversation).
posted by correcaminos at 3:40 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If the companies are already handling it, i don't see anything wrong with talking to her. She's not trying to settle outside of that before talking to them(see my recent ask on this as the person-whos-car-was-hit, ugh).

I don't see the harm in it, but i also think she's trying to guilt you into some kind of additional cash outside of what insurance gave her.

I would be happy to talk to her and even bring her brownies or something, but i would be prepared to completely cut off all contact and expect harassment when you didn't want to play ball. Am i really cynical? Maybe, but this really feels like a setup for a guilt trip the way she's framing it.
posted by emptythought at 3:41 PM on October 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


you totalled the car of a nice old lady. an insurance company is going to the minimum it can get away with.

i'm sure you're within your legal rights to do nothing and ignore this. but morally it seems like you could do more. i don't know what lifestyle you have, what the lady's financial status is, or anything. so it's difficult to know what to do. but if i were in your shoes, i would at least try to get some more information (you live near each other - do you know if any neighbours know her?) and, if she really does seem in need, help with a replacement.

(i agree she may be trying to guilt trip you too. that doesn't mean she isn't in need - it may be the only recourse she can think of.)
posted by andrewcooke at 3:53 PM on October 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


What should I do? What can I do? I really don't want to ignore her. Can I respond telling her that I was letting the insurance handle things, but that she's been in my thoughts? Is there any way to express regret about the situation without making myself liable?

OK, I'm going to be a little blunt here. You are being ridiculous. You have literally nothing to lose, because you have already lost. You crashed into a parked car. You are 100% liable. There is literally zero question about liability.

You can absolutely talk to her, tell her that you're sorry about what happened, and that you're grateful to her for taking car of you after the accident. If she asks about they money, you can tell her that you think it's best for the insurance companies to handle it - that's what they're for after all, yes isn't all this bureaucracy terrible...etc.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:34 PM on October 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


How would you want a neighbor to deal with the situation if they unexpectedly and through their own fault hit your car?
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:37 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would write a nice note saying that I'm OK, and thank you so much for reaching out....


And leave it at that. I would not get into a personal conversation. I would ask my insurance company how they settled with her, and if it seemed unfair, I would change insurance companies.


That is all I would do. Unless I had an extra 2 grand or so lying around, then I might gift that anonymously. I'm sure she is genuinely concerned, possibly lonely. I'm not an extrovert, so I would find any sort of mystery one-on-one interaction very taxing emotionally, and I would not do it. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Keep your conversation on a polite level and let her know you're medically OK, or getting medical attention, whichever is the case. Don't give details if you don't want, this is for polite conversation. She might have a neighborly concern for your well-being, and it won't be some kind of gotcha to let her know you've been checked out. Total radio silence here is unneighborly, and the legal side of the insurance/accident stuff should not silence you in being friendly to your neighbor about everything else, at least as far as she's game. She did you a big solid of taking care of things, and you, while you were in a bad state of disorientation from an accident. You don't have to call it a favor owed, but you should express gratitude in a concrete way, and a text message is many things, but it's not concrete.

When she brings up the SUV, and she will, say "I don't know what I can say; it's up to my insurance company; you can contact them" or maybe she can contact her insurance company for information, I dunno, but give her someone to call besides you. Give her the contact info, admit as little or as much as you like, and change the subject. Dealing with distant, nebulous insurance companies, whose wheels turn so slowly, is never as satisfying as dealing with someone who's a house or two away, but even so, she doesn't actually expect you to break out the checkbook. If she ever does, just say "no, call my insurance company and go away" and cut ties accordingly.

If you're worried about admitting fault, call your insurance agent and ask if it's okay. They'll probably tell you something like what His thoughts were red thoughts is telling you above: you're liable as fuck, so you can't make yourself more liable by saying the wrong thing.

The best thing now is to de-escalate any hard feelings that could turn into contentious legal proceedings.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:51 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I notice that one thing that seems to be missing from your thoughts about how to respond is an apology.

You were completely at fault and you've accepted that. The insurance company is handling it and what will happen through those channels will happen. Your neighbor will get some money and maybe it will be enough for a great new car and maybe it won't.

I notice that you don't seem to be paying attention to the fact that what you did caused a massive, massive headache and inconvenience to her. Even if the insurance company lavishly compensates her for her car and any ancillary expenses like an interim rental car, suffice to say that your error has caused her a lot of time and inconvenience and perhaps her own physical discomfort from whatever transport she's used in the meantime.

Maybe she doesn't want your money, only to be treated with the respect she should be accorded.
posted by Sublimity at 4:52 PM on October 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


posted by Lyn Never Saying you're sorry doesn't make you liable

posted by correcaminos you can (and probably should) speak to Betty personally.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts tell her that you're sorry about what happened

posted by Sublimity one thing that seems to be missing from your thoughts about how to respond is an apology.


No. Consult your attorney before you say anything to Betty. Although the above sentiments are good and neighborly, saying "I'm sorry" after an accident will not be considered a conclusive admission of liability as a matter of law, but will be admissible and can be considered by a jury. I am not a lawyer, but I am related to several, and I have learned from unfortunate firsthand experience the words, "I'm sorry," should not be in your vocabulary after an accident.
posted by mattdidthat at 6:04 PM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


The way I see it, you're already fully, completely, and totally liable for this accident. You don't need to worry about protecting yourself legally, because you are totally at fault and everyone knows that.

So! Go talk to your neighbor! Bring her some brownies or whatever. Maybe even get to know her some. If it turns out she's trying to guilt you into something, decline and return to your previous pattern of being neighbors who wave at each other sometimes or whatever. There's no legal reason to avoid her.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Although the above sentiments are good and neighborly, saying "I'm sorry" after an accident will not be considered a conclusive admission of liability as a matter of law, but will be admissible and can be considered by a jury.

This is true. And completely, utterly irrelevant. In the event that this reaches court, there will be no question as to liability. It was a parked car. There was only one human involved in this accident, and that was the OP. There is no question as to liability. The OP is liable. End of story.

Am a lawyer, not your lawyer...etc.

So, OP, that being said - be a good neighbour. Say thank you to the person who helped you when she had every reason to be incensed.

If she wants more money, she'll come after you regardless, although I'm hard pressed to see the basis for such a claim given that the insurance company has already paid her out. If you're afraid of this mystery liability, don't say 'sorry' for crashing into her car, but you can at least say that you regret all the trouble she's been put to. Talking to her offers you the opportunity to be a decent person and maybe de-escalate an awkward situation. If it doesn't go well, then you are in the same position that you are in now.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:50 PM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I was a auto claims adjuster for 10 years so I just have to weigh in.

There is nothing that you can do that can "harm" your case. Saying your sorry won't further your liability. The simplest claim to handle for the insurance company is the "collision with parked car". There isn't anything to it really, but of course when a car is totaled, that opens the "but it is the best car I ever had" can of worms (almost always to be expected).

Neighbor may be unhappy with what your company wants to pay her, but she always had the option of going through her own company if she wanted (and they may have been more accommodating to her). Her company would then come to yours for reimbursement. What is likely, however, is that she didn't have collision coverage on the car and she has to go through your company.

It is a sad fact that most people are unhappy after the pay out on a "totaled" car. It is unfortunate that you had this accident, but you do not have to turn yourself inside out for your nice neighbor. The truth is that you were embarrassed by the accident and that you are a busy person. She has more time on her hands to sit around thinking about what you "should" do. You really do not have to do anything more than you have done.

If you would feel better talking to her, go ahead...just call her up or go over and tell her you have been busy. Put a big smile on your face and be positive and cheery. Accidents can and do happen. She is actually quite lucky that you have insurance. There is so much hit and run and no insurance these days, it is not even funny. She doesn't really realize how lucky she is that she was/is compensated.
posted by naplesyellow at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


Looking at this from the old lady's side, you're sort of being an asshole. Don't be an asshole. At the very least she still deserves a thank you and the brownies you wanted to give her for taking such good care of you in her house. Imagine if hers wasn't the car you crashed but just the door you knocked, that alone would make her worthy of more gratefulness. But no, she was very nice just after you messed up her property. And even if the "insurance company is working on it", supposedly you pay insurance to have them do the right thing when you mess up, so you could give it an extra follow-up to see if they are really doing the right thing. You don't pay insurance just so they turn around and half-assedly repair the damage you caused, leaving an old woman with no car to get around and probably no extra income to get a new car like you did.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


In addition to everything else, Betty isn't entirely wrong that you should get checked out by a doctor. Blacking out at the wheel and totaling a car is concerning. It's possible you simply fell asleep (either due to tiredness or a medical cause), but that kind of thing could also be a sign of a neurological problem. For your safety and the safety of everyone on the road around you, please see a doctor and ensure that you're safe to drive.
posted by zachlipton at 9:21 PM on October 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


Dude you really have no leg to stand on, lady went out of her way to help you, and followed up twice, and you never said thank you or otherwise acknowledged it. That's being an asshole, there is no excuse to not replying to a text, it takes no time and is free.

You are clearly feeling guilty about it hence this question. Cowgirl up, reach out to her, hell yes with the brownies and a card or whatever, and thank her for helping you when you were in a very bad way .

This is not an admission of guilt, it's an admission of humanity, you sound like a nice guy so prove it. Do what the best version of you would do.
posted by smoke at 1:56 AM on October 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


IANAD, but losing consciousness without explanation is something you should talk to your doctor about. "I was checked out by EMT's and I felt fine" doesn't mean you should ignore it.
posted by clorox at 6:18 AM on October 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I feel you definitely need to make some amends here. I don't understand why you are concerned about liability -- OF COURSE you are liable, you hit a parked car! It does not make any sense that somehow this woman would be liable instead or something, unless we are missing a huge piece of the story. I get it - there is a lot going on in your life - but, you need to show some minimal human decency here. Get over there with a bouquet of flowers, apologize for not coming sooner and make some excuses, and ask your neighbor how she is doing. If she does ask you for money on top of the insurance settlement, I think it is appropriate to help her out if you have the extra money; if not, I would offer to call your insurance company and look into speeding things up.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:34 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


emptythought has it: "i also think she's trying to guilt you into some kind of additional cash outside of what insurance gave her... I would be happy to talk to her and even bring her brownies or something, but i would be prepared to completely cut off all contact and expect harassment when you didn't want to play ball."

Amen! Your instincts are telling you to watch your back, and with good reason. Let's review Betty's words and actions here.

"The first was a long text to my wife the day of the accident... She finished the text by saying she wouldn't bother us again, she was just worried about me, and that there was "no need to reply. That same day, she left a note on our front door saying basically the same thing."

No need to reply indeed. She said she wouldn't bother you and your wife again, and that was a lie. That really should have been the end of ALL unsolicited communications to you from Betty. Full stop. Then this:

"A month or so after the accident, we received a text from Betty on my wife's phone (but addressed to me): Are you ok, neighbor? Honestly I would've thought a follow-up on me too might've happened. By either you or your wife. So I wonder: you must be hurt."

So passive aggressive. (Because only a person damaged in the head by this accident would have been as rude as she thinks you're being?). Yeah, no, this was inappropriate of her, and reveals her true intentions here. Don't believe her faux concern for your supposed "hurt" at all; this is all about her complaining to the wrong person about her totaled, special snowflake car ("I got very little for it, even though it was actually a medical device as strange as that sounds. It's the only car that stopped my back from getting worse.") that, as you say, "Betty's car, an SUV, was hit on the front, centered around the passenger side headlight. The damage didn't look looked too bad." Hmm....

THIS dynamic is precisely why you have a fear of Betty coming after you legally, because this is her coming after you emotionally after she already lied to you and told you she'd stop. Boundaries are in order here. Sure, you could talk to her, bake some brownies, but I think she's just going to keep dishing out the passive aggressive "you must be hurt" crap. You could also just continue to ignore her - it wouldn't make you a bad person. You simply don't owe Betty an emotional connection and more money no matter how much she continues to cross your boundaries in an attempt to get these things from you.
posted by hush at 8:25 AM on October 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think you're way overthinking this. You hit a parked car, it's already totally your fault, but it's not a huge deal and the insurance company is handling it. I think k8t's comment is spot on. Be neighborly, thank her for her concern, apologize for the hassle of having to deal with insurance, and move on.

As an aside, you really should have at least seen a doctor if not gone to the ER if you hit hard enough to deploy airbags and had no memory of the accident. Water under the bridge now, probably, but you should at least call your doctor to ask about it.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:55 AM on October 19, 2015


Hi, I am a paralegal who used to do personal injury and property damage and listened to a lot of people complain about their insurance company's payout on their car!

To sum up:

1. Agree with everyone you are already liable so that ship has sailed.

2. For the sake of neighborhood peace you do have to reply to this third message. (The first two notes you are excused because she said you didn't need to. So that's on her. Say what you mean and mean what you say, IMO.)

3. I think you should be sympathetic without actually saying the words "I'm sorry."

4. I agree she's pretty clearly setting you up to shake you down for money (or guilt you down.)

5. So here's what you need to do: give her a dose of her own medicine and make her feel sorry for you. Use her tactic right back. You really will seem like an asshole if you are just a busy guy with a well-paying job who forgot about this already but doesn't want to get sued. Seriously, even if that's what you are, that's going to make her think dark jealous thoughts about how life is unfair. Play up the poor me angle. Make it appear you have suffered also. Say you didn't get a great pay out either. Say you still have pain and medical bills. Say you're shaken up. Whatever. DO NOT downplay all of it and say "glad it's behind me and I moved on."

6. If she asks for money, say "we spent it on our new car/my medical bills. I'm so sorry." (After much, much experience in life, trust me- "can't get blood from a stone" is the ONLY thing that will make some people stop seeking money. No other excuse will ever work.)
posted by quincunx at 7:58 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wow, I disagree with many of the previous posters.

I think your neighbor showed you kindness and she might feel hurt that you did not reciprocate in any way. Busy or not, your behavior towards her was a bit cold. Are you seriously worried that thanking her and saying sorry will harm you in some way? I think sending her a nice heartfelt card, or bringing over brownies, is a nice gesture showing her that you care. She might just want some appreciation, we are all human. You are liable anyway, so you can be a nice person.
posted by M. at 1:00 AM on October 21, 2015


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