Who is responsible for this property damage?
February 29, 2016 12:24 PM   Subscribe

While backing out of the driveway of Bob's house, Jim accidentally slipped a tire off the driveway. Visibility was poor because it was nighttime and raining. The ground was soggy, so the tire left an indentation in the lawn about 2 to 3 feet long.

Bob wants the lawn repaired professionally, with a quoted cost of hundreds of dollars, and is expecting Jim to pay it.

Jim has offered a much less expensive alternative, which Bob is refusing. Although Jim does not deny that his vehicle caused the damage, due to the circumstances, he does not feel that he is obliged to cover repairs.

Bob wants to sue Jim.

Is Bob being reasonable? What should Jim do?
posted by myleftsock to Law & Government (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
so the tire left an indentation in the lawn about 2 to 3 feet long.


Bob wants to sue Jim.

Q: Is this really something that a bag of topsoil, grass seed and some water can't fix?

A: No, it isn't. Bob should fix it with some topsoil, grass seed and regular waterings and chill out about his lawn.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:29 PM on February 29, 2016 [57 favorites]

Are these people friends? Friends would try to compromise on this sort of thing. And is hundreds like $200 or $800? Is Bob's house otherwise lovingly landscaped or is this him trying to maybe make a buck on Jim's mistake? In my own head, because I am a mercenary sort, I try to sort of work out who I feel is "responsible" which is different from being at fault. Obviously Jim did this and no one disputes that

- but was Bob's driveway well marked and well lit?
- was Jim driving soberly and responsibly?

Jim risks having to deal with more costs if Bob files suit so it's in Jim's best interests to make an effort to find some compromise position that Bob is responsible for.If Bob can not find a compromise position then he may be being unreasonable. That said when insurance deals with this sort of thing they often say that you have a right t be "made whole" which would mean getting your world back to where it was before the damage occurred. If Jim's plan is really not going to put Bob's lawn back where it was before, it's ok for Bob to lobby for something that will put it back where it was. It's less ok for him to say "Let my expensive gardener fix this" and give Jim the bill.

tl;dr I'd work harder on finding a compromise position.
posted by jessamyn at 12:30 PM on February 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Not a lawyer, but Jim should limit all interactions with Bob over this incident to written communication (even email). If Bob does get the courts involved, having an email trail documenting his lower-cost offers to fix the damage and Bob's refusals of same will be very helpful.
And yes, Bob is being unreasonable. It's a lawn.
posted by rocket88 at 12:31 PM on February 29, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Jim should get his own estimate, pay the for repairs, and pat himself on the back for having the wisdom not to let the situation drag on and cost him time and aggravation.

And then avoid Bob forevermore.
posted by adamrice at 12:31 PM on February 29, 2016 [24 favorites]

Does Jim have property liability insurance on his car, and what is the deductible?

It seems to me like Jim should pay for the damage he did to someone else's property, either out of pocket or through his insurance carrier. I know it sucks that Bob wants to hire a professional to do something that Jim could do themselves, but it's not Jim's yard, it's Bob's.

Personal anecdote time: In my first few months at a new job, I backed into the side panel of my coworker's truck, driving my boyfriend's car. I gladly payed the $600 out of pocket to repair the side panel, to maintain my relationship with my coworker. I did not offer to bang out the dent and touch up the paint myself.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on February 29, 2016 [13 favorites]

The buttoned-up legal answer depends on where Bob & Jim live, why Jim was at Bob's house, and probably details about the driveway and damage. For "hundreds of dollars" being "less than $1000," it's hard to imagine it being worth suing over. I mean, even if Bob wanted to make an enemy of Jim for life and be ridiculed by everyone else, there's cheaper ways of managing it.
posted by spacewrench at 12:32 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jim damaged a thing that Bob values and Bob is not unreasonable to want a good repair from a third party, rather than going around and around with Jim until the repair satisfies Bob. Bob wanting to sue is a thing I would consider unreasonable, but small claims courts exist because other people don't agree with me over when it is and is not unreasonable to sue.

But there is no objective right answer in this situation. In my opinion, when you damage something someone else owns and values, you pay to have it professionally repaired or replace it. I'm a perfectly competent seamstress who repairs her own clothes, but if I borrowed your skirt and ripped it, I would not even think of repairing it myself. It's bad enough I damaged something you value, prolonging the situation by performing a repair that may not satisfy you does not allow either of us to get over it. If the seamstress you pick and I pay screws it up--that's on you and it's over with me.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:39 PM on February 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

Uhhhhh unless I am missing something, an indentation on a lawn is not the same thing as a damaged car or item of clothing. Unless Jim killed some plants that were there--plants that have special meaning and/or high monetary value--this should not be a big deal.

That Bob is making it a big deal raises some questions about the nature of Bob and Jim's relationship. Perhaps there is tension elsewhere and the lawn is a proxy?
posted by witchen at 12:49 PM on February 29, 2016 [21 favorites]

Wow. Some of these answers are crazy to me. Seriously, it's a damned tiny piece of lawn. The kind of people who get that worked up about a tiny piece of lawn are people who seriously need bigger issues to worry about.

If I were Jim, I'd send Bob a certified letter containing my offer, then sit back and let Bob accept or sue. And save any response from Bob.

And of course never talk to him again.

How bloody ridiculous.
posted by celtalitha at 12:53 PM on February 29, 2016 [34 favorites]

There should be provision for this in Jim's auto insurance, liability section. Either a) there is a good-faith payment to make to Bob to make this go away that would be covered, or b) Jim can have Bob talk to his insurance directly and they will have an adjuster tell Bob he gets a nominal amount. May or may not be under Jim's deductible though.
posted by lizbunny at 12:56 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just received a settlement from an insurance company for damage to turf (and concrete curbing). The damage was about 10 feet long and pretty deep. The price to repair the turf was less than $400 so I'm wondering if his estimate is too high?
posted by vespabelle at 1:01 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Wouldn't Bob's homeowners insurance cover this too?

Nthing that this is ludicrous. It's lawn. It'll grow back regardless. ???
posted by jrobin276 at 1:01 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seriously, it's a damned tiny piece of lawn. The kind of people who get that worked up about a tiny piece of lawn are people who seriously need bigger issues to worry about.

There are a lot of sorts of people in the world. I live in a house part of the year that has a lawn like a capital L lawn. Like the kind you pay people to maintain and it's amazing and lovely. I understand that a lot of people don't have this sort of yard so I figured I'd just make a note of why this may matter....

- deep ruts don't actually "fill in" without some attention; left on their own they can become hazards that someone could twist an ankle in or that lawn machinery could be unable to mow/edge/whatever (see also: gopher holes)
- deep ruts do fill in with water which could become places for insects to breed or create drainage issues or ice issues in wintertime
- it's possible there is some sort of sprinkler infrastructure or something that could be affected

I totally get what people are saying, that if it's just a "hey someone ran over some grass" thing, let nature fix it. However as someone who has also had heavy machinery (doing other stuff, telephone pole maintenance was one of the things) dig up parts of the yard and watch it very much NOT bounce back even after several years, there is at least some reasonableness to someone saying that this would be damage that need to be fixed and fixed by someone who knows what they are doing. Not speaking at all to the reasonableness of Bob's chosen fixit plan but as to why lawn ruts may matter. It's Bob's call how much this needs to be fixed even though it's possible that the damage is not enough to warrant this sort of response from him but that's unknowable without more detail..
posted by jessamyn at 1:08 PM on February 29, 2016 [18 favorites]

Wouldn't Bob's homeowners insurance cover this too?

Claims of this sort, especially more than one*, are the sorts of justifications insurance companies in my part of the world use to drop pest clients. If Bob is concerned about that, he won't want to use his own insurance. Even assuming it would be covered, less deductible.

*and if they're prepared to claim something this small, it's highly likely that there will be more than one.
posted by bonehead at 1:09 PM on February 29, 2016

Best answer: Jim damaged the lawn, so Jim should be sorting it out and putting it back to how it was before he damaged it. However, Jim should be getting his OWN quotes from experts as to how much it will cost, from several sources, rather than relying on Bob's lawn expert. Jim should then get the go ahead from Bob, who will probably be best off checking Jim's expert repairer's references before choosing.

When all of this is blown over, Jim should never go anywhere near Bob's property ever again, including his house, his car, his shoes in case they accidentally get trodden on, his beer bottle in case it gets knocked over, etc. Jim should not invite Bob over for a BBQ, in case Bob winds up with food poisoning, too. If Bob is this precious over his lawn, he needs to not be letting people near it.

A three foot section of lawn is costing hundreds of dollars to repair? I'm in the wrong line of work. In fact, Bob should show Jim the breakdown of the quote where it clearly outlines all of the costs and fees and explains why and how it's going to cost hundreds of dollars.
posted by Solomon at 1:15 PM on February 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Okay, no, I get the "perfectly manicured" lawn thing. My parents' neighborhood is kinda like that. And if there were broken concrete or a sprinkler system or something involved then yeah that would make it more complicated. But assuming it's just a minor rut in the dirt, I feel like the conversation between most sane adults would be "hey, Jim, your car left a rut in my lawn last night." Jim: "oh shit, how bad is it?" Bob: (sends picture) Jim: "How about I come over next Saturday morning with some soil and tools and see if we can fix it up?" Bob: "sounds good."

It just feels like a major overreaction to sue someone over, unless they are already your arch-nemesis or something.
posted by celtalitha at 1:16 PM on February 29, 2016 [14 favorites]

Jim should call a decent landscaping firm, and have them come out and give a written estimate. They'll be happy to do this kind of work because there's lots of unexpected downtime on the big meat and potatoes jobs.

This may or may not be something that can be fixed cheaply and quickly. You need a professional to look at it. This is one of those things like getting rear ended, having it look like minor bumper damage, but stuff underneath is fucked up. This might be a cut/fill/sod sort of job, and it might just be a wheelbarrow of soil, an hour of time for some guy with a shovel, and some seed. It might be in between.

The other thing is, if he really is going to go to court, you WANT your independent estimate from a reputable company. The judge in small claims is not going to look awesomely on someone expecting a unicorn and swing set in the price. Landlords regularly get hammered for trying to pull that on tenants.

My dad was a landscape architect for years. In the summer, I would be the kid loading dirt and seed into this divot.
posted by emptythought at 1:16 PM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Jim should get his own estimate, pay the for repairs, and pat himself on the back for having the wisdom not to let the situation drag on and cost him time and aggravation.

And then avoid Bob forevermore.

This is the correct answer. It's not worth suing over this. But it's also not worth being sued over. Whether or not Bob is being unreasonable is not relevant to what Jim should do.
posted by howfar at 1:30 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another alternative: go buy enough sod to cover the tire track, bring it to Bob's house, put it in place. It will get Jim's car dirty, but Bob will be able to see things instantly better.
posted by amtho at 1:33 PM on February 29, 2016

A few feet of sod is not that expensive. Sometimes it fails, so you just put in a new piece.

Send estimates for cost on sod to Bob via certified mail. Do nothing else. (maybe call a competitor landscaper and find out how this estimate could be so unreasonably high? I sense shenanigans.)
posted by jbenben at 2:01 PM on February 29, 2016

Jim: tell Bob you lost a bit of lawn but also a friend. Offer to have it fixed at your expense the way you see fit and arrange it (ie, lawn guy or do it yourself)...if Bob says this not acceptable, tell him it is your last and best offer, so he can go to small claims court and then there you can state that you will have it fixed at your expense.
posted by Postroad at 2:07 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The OP never said that Jim is a friend of Bob, despite the use of the given names.

Sometimes friends run off the driveway in the rain. Friends don't ask friends to pay for repairing the lawn. If Jim is a friend, then Bob's a jerk.

Sure, Bob can sue. He has a debatable case of negligent damage to the lawn. If I were the small claims judge, I'd toss it. But Bob can sue if he wants to.

Jim can follow the good recommendations above.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:51 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bob needs to make a claim against Jim's auto insurance. There is no deductible on liability. Lawyers will figure it out. Unless I'm missing something, this seems like a trivial matter and Bob is being a dick.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 2:52 PM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Bob wants to sue Jim.

Sue. Over an indented lawn. Go in front of a judge.

Is Bob being reasonable?


What should Jim do?

Send Bob a registered letter, with photos of the damage, saying, "I have damaged your lawn and have offered to repair it by means of XYZ. However, based upon my evaluation, you are insisting upon an unreasonable level of reimbursement. I once again invite you to accept my reasonable offer. At this time, you have threatened legal action. Based upon that, I will not speak on this issue any further."

Which is a nice way of saying, see you in court.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:02 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Jim should go take some good photos with a ruler for scale ASAP in case Bob is serious about suing for something so absurd. Jim should get his own reasonable estimate for repair.
posted by quince at 3:18 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bob shouldn't sue, but honestly Jim is being an asocial ass. If you break someone's shit, of course you offer to repair or replace it to like new.

When my cats scratched someone's leather couch, I didn't offer to patch the places. I offered to buy a new couch.
posted by corb at 3:33 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bob is completely insane. Jim should buy him some high end grass send. Jim should never go near Bob again. If this is how Bob reacts to something so modest, imagine if Jim were to...I don't know, knock over a bush or something.

Accidents happen. Whatever is going on here is bizarre and the sort of thing one backs far, far away from. Cool Papa Bell's sample letter was very good, should dropping off a bag of grass seed seem like an escalation (and it would, and my suggestion is inferior.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:53 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm with the "it depends" group on this one.

Things that would make it more reasonable for Bob to demand hundreds of dollars, or even sue:
* If Jim is some guy who turned around in Bob's driveway, rather than a friend
* If Bob's lawn is always pristinely-maintained, and/or he is trying to sell his house and it needs to be perfect
* If Jim was negligent (driving too fast, inebriated, etc). Perhaps Jim has done things like this before and Bob is sick of it?
* If it is a particularly deep rut or more is damaged than just grass and dirt

Things that would make it less reasonable:
* If Bob knew that his driveway was tricky/hazardous to back out of, and failed to warn Jim/put up reflector sticks
* If Bob's lawn is normally not well-maintained
* If they are friends
* If Jim wasn't negligent and didn't have a history of negligence/destruction
* If the damage was just superficial
posted by mysterious_stranger at 3:54 PM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Jim is not liable IMO. Sometimes accidents happen. This was an accident. There is no reason for Jim to pay instead of Bob. He didn't do anything wrong. Bob is being completely nuts. His driveway is hazardous if cars can slip off of it with that much force so easily, and he's lucky Jim didn't get hurt.

Jim shouldn't put an offer to repair in writing!!! He should completely ignore Bob. Bob is a crazy asshole. Sorry if you're Bob, but get a clue--no one has to pay hundreds of dollars for your ridiculous lawn except for you. Unless they actually do something wrong, which Jim didn't.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:28 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

People, grass grows back. Patch it and move on: this is not a couch, a dress, or infrastructure. We're talking about dirt and seeds, leveling it off, and at most getting a portable sprinkler for the area if there is no irrigation.

Bob is being completely and utterly unreasonable, especially if Jim is (or was) a friend. Taking someone to court over a tire track in a lawn? Holy shit.
posted by lydhre at 6:26 PM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Does Jim have property liability insurance on his car, and what is the deductible?

I worked as a claims adjuster, and this is potentially a very good solution, especially since property damage liability generally does not carry a deductible. The insurance company pays it out of pocket. A deductible comes up if you pay for damages to your own vehicle.

Also, the insurance company has a legal responsibility to indemnify the claimant, meaning they do what is required to make them whole, no more and no less. This process will look closely on your behalf to make sure this is done equitably, and will not be taken in by excessive estimates.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:41 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

But did Bob's poorly identified driveway and lawn cause any damage to Jim's car? You see how silly this can get.

The correct answer is to get a few estimates, offer to pay Bob the amount of the highest reasonable estimate, call it the cost of being done with Bob, and tell all mutual friends the story so Bob is never visited or invited anywhere ever again.
posted by ctmf at 8:37 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I were Jim, I might start by wondering what else is going on in Bob's life right now.
posted by aniola at 10:40 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is Bob being reasonable?

No. Bob is being a dick.

What should Jim do?

Jim should equip himself with two buckets of topsoil, a shovel and a bag of grass seed, then turn up at Bob's in the dead of night, dump the topsoil in the rut, smooth it over with the shovel, and sprinkle grass seed over the top. He should then completely fail to respond to any communication from Bob or Bob's agents about lawns, grass, ruts or mysterious midnight remediations.
posted by flabdablet at 11:04 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the thoughtful answers. This is one of those situations where after awhile, you start to think you're crazy. (For the record, I am neither Bob nor Jim). There are circumstances that made me think this was a personal vendetta, and it was getting hard to decide on a reasonable course of action. Getting sound advice from neutral parties was an incredible relief of stress. Whew, we're not nuts. And, bonus, some practical steps to try that will hopefully prevent escalation. I <3 MeFi.

Beware Bob
posted by myleftsock at 7:12 AM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

What is good about the insurance option is that it can potentially deescalate everything immediately. Jim can say, wow, Bob, I'm really sorry that happened, and I want to make sure you are treated fairly. I don't have much money, but fortunately, I have insurance to cover situations such as this, and it is comprised of experts who can take a look at your estimates and desired repairs to make sure you are compensated fairly.

It takes a lot of pressure off of the friendship and off of either person to protect their own interest against the other, and offloads everything to a neutral third party. Because seriously, this is exactly why one gets insurance; not just to protect ourselves financially, but to keep everything neutrally fair for transactions during difficult social liabilities.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

A moving truck did this to me. It never occurred to me to ask for damages.

OTOH, it was not easy to make all traces of the rut dissapear. Topsoil plus seed was not enough for a complete fix although it did make it less obvious. The traces could still be seen years later if you knew what to look for, and never completely disappeared until the whole area was dug up for a sewer project.

Bottom line: Bob is an ass for making a big deal about, but Jim should get an estimate from an established landscaping company if he thinks Bob's estimate is high.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2016

using insurance can increase your rates, though
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:10 PM on March 1, 2016

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