Can I get compensation for a near-miss accident?
December 2, 2016 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this week, a possibly-intoxicated driver barreled through a red light at high speed, nearly hitting several cars (including mine) which were in the process of making a protected left turn. The resulting braking and skidding damaged the brake system in my car, resulting in about $800 worth of damage. The driver escaped, but can I file an insurance claim, or sue the driver, based on the intersection camera footage or something? If so, how would I go about that?
posted by Maximian to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some of this is dependent on your specific collision coverage, so it's worth calling your insurer and asking.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:56 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming there is a police report of this.

Just call your insurer. Getting your car repaired is what you pay them to do. So long as there isn't a personal injury claim it should be fairly straightforward. Yes, you should file a claim. Just call them to start the process.
posted by anastasiav at 8:00 AM on December 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

My car was damaged when something fell off a truck driving by me (which then kept on going). My insurance said the damage fell under my "uninsured motorist" coverage and paid for the repair.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:09 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: Yes, you can file an insurance claim and/or sue the driver.

If you file a claim, it'll be an uninsured/underinsured claim (since you don't know the person who did it), and most uninsured/underinsured policies will have a deductible of $500, $1000, or $2000. I will note a $800 claim is possibly just barely above even the smallest deductible, so you will not get that much money from your insurance company, but will have an insurance claim recorded.

Although many states prohibit raising rates for not-at-fault claims, those states tend to have weaker restrictions against denying discounts (for instance, no-claims discounts). You very well might find that making this claim raises your insurance rates more than the $300 or so you get back from your insurance company.
posted by saeculorum at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Note also that if you make an insurance claim, the insurance company will do their best to track down the guilty party (since they have a vested interest in getting their money back from said party and/or their insurance.) It's fine to come to them with a story about an unknown motorist. If there was a police report filed about this incident, so much the better.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:34 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sorry that this happened to you, sounds scary. You can file a claim, they might pay depending on what level of coverage you have. You might be subject to a deductible, all covered pretty well above. I'm curious about how hard braking resulted in an $800 repair bill. Was it sort of deferred maintenance? Maybe the car needed help and this event did damage? I've never heard of jamming on brakes in a panic stop and possibly locking up brakes (older car, no antilock brakes?) causing $800 damage.
posted by fixedgear at 8:36 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The resulting braking and skidding damaged the brake system in my car

Either that is being described wrongly, or there is something else going on here. Who made that assessment of what was damaged? I have never heard of damage to a braking system from just being used. Not once. If the car didn't hit you (from what I can gather) then I find it extraordinarily unlikely that your braking system damage (if that is what it is) is from the incident. You hit nothing? Didn't drive over any kerbs and damage the tyres/wheels?

More information, please. Something else could be going on here, and an insurance company may well refuse the bill, based on the information here, because I fail to see how a correctly functioning braking system could be damaged by slamming on the brakes. I find it much more likely that your braking system was faulty/badly serviced and this incident brought it to light, not that jamming your brakes on damaged them, in which case you may be on the hook for the bill anyway.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2016 [18 favorites]

Nthing that stopping short, no matter how hard, should not damage your brakes or suspension without other factors (running over a curb for example). Make sure your claim is defensibly caused by the incident before you pursue compensation. That is going to be hard to prove.
posted by spitbull at 9:00 AM on December 2, 2016

Response by poster: More information on the damage: the master cylinder had to be replaced, as did one of the front struts. Labor costs were higher than expected due to a lot of parts having to be removed in order to access these. I'm sorry, I'm not very knowledgeable about cars. After the near-miss, I had to push the brake pedal all the way to the floor to get any braking action, but the car was driveable, so I drove it carefully to the auto shop. In retrospect I probably should have had it towed, since the mechanic said he was able to get the brakes to fail completely by braking hard only five times. The car has a manual transmission and I was probably in 2nd gear during the panic, if that makes any difference.

I was not surprised that the brake system had problems after the incident, since a different car some years ago also immediately developed a brake problem after panic braking (shuddered/vibrated on braking due to some kind of warping or uneven wear). I take the car in for regular maintenance, and it's possible brake repairs were on the horizon. I could go back in my files and check. Still, the brakes were ok, and had been seen by a mechanic a few months ago, until this incident. The car is not that old; it's a 2008 Mazda 3.

There is no police report currently. At the time I was too busy rejoicing about still being alive and uninjured, and then getting the car fixed. I should have thought of this sooner. I'm still really surprised no one was injured since the driver had about 6 other vehicles to avoid, including a tow truck. It bothers me a little that there is (or was) clear video evidence of what happened (it was noon on a Monday) but I guess it's not going to be useful for anything.
posted by Maximian at 9:09 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: the master cylinder had to be replaced, as did one of the front struts.

Ok, with that information then I can be confident that both components were already faulty, and their failure was not caused by the accident. Possibly the last ten percent of failure was accelerated by the accident, but it was not the root cause. There is no way a panic stop can damage those components if they were in good condition - it is not even a particularly heavy usage, to be honest, especially for the strut. Also, any insurance adjuster with knowledge would refuse the claim if you did try and get that money back for that very reason.

A master cylinder failure is usually through wear on the seals - it is 'behind' the pedal, so to speak, and pushes fluid through the brake system to the brake calipers (at the wheels) and creates the pressure in the system from your foot pressure and from vacuum pressure with the brake booster. The failure mode is that the seals wear against the side of the master cylinder (think of a piston and plunger) and over time the gap between the seal and the wall of the master cylinder becomes big enough that the master cylinder can only move fluid, but not produce the necessary pressure (it leaks back past the seal into the main reservoir of the brake fluid). This is *not* something that can happen in one stop. It is gradual friction over time. If you have never had the brake fluid changed in the life of the car (very common failure of maintenance procedure) this will accelerate wear as the fluid degrades.

The strut is a suspension component and is also a damper - oil piston inside, with gas pressure involved to to control ride and wheel movements. It could potentially have been damaged if you had gone over a kerb or significant bump/hole while fully braking, which could bend it, but from what I can tell you were in the middle of the road and no such hit occurred. So it is likely the failure was not a physical bending, but of a failure of the damping seals inside (which prevents accurate control of the wheel/tyre assembly and so stops the tyre being kept in contact with the ground properly, which can mean braking/grip efficiency issues). Again, unless you hit something, this failure was not a result of you braking hard, especially if your braking system wasn't working at 100% anyway with the failing master cylinder.

It seems most likely that both components were at end of life. You may have had a 'straw breaking the camel's back' moment with the strut, and in the case of the master cylinder just used the brakes hard enough for the first time to be aware you had an issue (which is extremely likely, as most people use maybe 40-50% of their cars braking capability at absolute most during normal driving, usually more like 25%). But I'm confident that, without any actual impact, neither component would have failed as a result of a single panic stop if they were otherwise healthy.
posted by Brockles at 9:37 AM on December 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Incidentally, with the front struts - if the other one is original to the car, I'd replace both fronts. Imbalanced damping on a car (especially the front) can be extremely detrimental to vehicle stability and handling. Having 8 years wear on one component trying to work with a brand new one is something that would make me nervous. I'd only replace struts/dampers as a pair.
posted by Brockles at 9:38 AM on December 2, 2016

Response by poster: Ok, that all makes sense. Thanks for the explanation, I appreciate it. Not to derail completely on car anatomy, but would the issue with the brake cylinder have been easily observable earlier? Like I said, I take the car in regularly, and it had a brake job maybe 2 years ago (rotors remachined I think). The shop I take it to is family-owned, has been in business for a very long time, and has seemed good so far. I get printouts of what was done after each visit, and certainly they say the fluids are getting changed, but obviously I'm not there watching them do it. Concerning the recent work, I believe both struts were replaced (they said something very similar to what you said about not wanting to have one old and one new installed), but I will double-check on that.

I can do oil changes, spare tires, jump starts, fuses, minor stuff like that, but the particulars of a brake job are a bit beyond me. Long ago I enlisted the help of a friend to replace the front brake pads on the pickup truck I had at the time, and while we were ultimately successful, I realized that I was not cut out to do auto work. So I apologize for the muddled descriptions here.
posted by Maximian at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: Not to derail completely on car anatomy, but would the issue with the brake cylinder have been easily observable earlier?

You can't derail on your own question, I'm pretty sure..... ;)

It potentially would have been apparent the last time they bled the brakes, but that could (legitimately) been a long time ago. So not necessarily obvious, no. Also, if they bled the brakes with a vacuum bleeder rather than manual pumping (which is an older method, but superior, if longer to do) it would have been harder to spot unless they were really paying attention. So I wouldn't have said it was more likely than not to have been spotted.

certainly they say the fluids are getting changed
Double check there is a brake fluid flush there within the last three years, ideally within the last two. Every two years is cautious maintenance, unless you are using the highest grade of fluid (which is unlikely).
posted by Brockles at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a note, the Uninsured Motorist Benefits provision in most policies is limited to bodily injury claims and usually is not extended to damage to your auto. Damage to your auto may be compensated through the Collision or Comprehensive provisions of the policy.
posted by mygoditsbob at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everyone. I was surprised that panic braking could result in that much damage, but as Brockles and others have said, it was likely a "straw that broke the camel's back" situation. I had thought that perhaps it was a freak outcome. Obviously I wouldn't expect insurance to pay for it. Nevertheless, I'm marking some related answers as 'best' to help others who may find this thread later.

Would be nice if the driver who caused the incident could have been charged with something, but as s/he didn't actually hit anyone, I guess it's a no-harm-no-foul scenario.
posted by Maximian at 12:27 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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