Help me corral the drama llama (car accident with neighbor)
December 18, 2017 2:29 PM   Subscribe

My neighbor backed into my car, our insurance companies found her 90% at fault, and I'm afraid about potential harassment. What should I do to protect myself?

So, my neighbor's behavior is... erratic. I suspect she has borderline personality disorder.

Two weeks ago, I backed out of my driveway a few seconds before my neighbor started to back out of hers, and she backed into my car (her rear passenger's side bumper impacted with my rear driver's side bumper.) Her car sustained what appeared to be cosmetic damage, whereas the entire rear bumper on my driver's side got knocked off, as well as some denting to the body of my car and a broken taillight cover. I'm not really interested in any answers that are about how the accident occurred, I'm just laying out the damage to both cars.

I pulled my car back into the driveway and got out to talk to her, and she pretty much immediately started yelling at me then got in her car and drove off before we could trade insurance information. I called her and left a message basically saying "Hi, we still need to trade insurance information, please give me a call."

Since I was on my way to take my dog to the vet for a scheduled appointment, and she had left, I borrowed my mother's car and went and did that (my dog was fine). She proceeded to send me three text messages demanding I call 911. When I got home, I called the non-emergency number, a cop came out, and took a report. She was a little hot and combative but I just stated the facts as I saw them. Since I felt that the collision was her fault, I called my insurance to inform them of the collision and then I called her insurance to put in a damage claim against her liability coverage.

Fast forward a week, and after talking to both insurance companies and going out to get a repair estimate done (at her insurance company's request) I get a call from my insurance company on Thursday evening, letting me know they reached an agreement with her insurance company, finding her 90% at fault for the accident, which I'm fine with. Today I received a check for about $800.

Today (just after returning from getting a second repair estimate, incidentally) I get the following text from her:

"I wanted to thank you so much for ruining my kids [sic] Christmas since I can't afford to buy them presents now. With my deductible and the repair to my car it is $1,600+ merry Christmas Automocar"

Her kids are grown by the way, and also don't speak to her. I know this because my mother's friend, who used to be my mother's roommate, became friends with this neighbor and they had a huge falling out right after I moved in. (I think she blames me for the falling out, because the timing syncs up, but that's neither here nor there.) Essentially what happened is that my neighbor told my mother's friend that she could store some furniture in her basement, my brother and I agreed to move it over there, we were told we could start bringing stuff over, so we do, and then my neighbor becomes increasingly agitated and tells my mother's friend that we needed to stop moving the furniture. Then a few days later she moved it all outside on the lawn.

Aside from that I've never really talked to her. She's locked herself out a couple times and asked if she could go through our house and onto the deck to get onto her deck. She's also stopped me twice after the furniture incident, once to ask me a question about printers, and once to ask me if she could take pictures of my car and a video of me backing it out and back in--we all had new curbs put in and they were damaging her car and my car and she wanted more evidence, I guess. I said sure and did it, I didn't really care.

I'm super not interested in getting into all the drama, but I also don't want to do anything to affect my mother after I move out. What specific actions can I take to protect myself and my mother (and my dog, frankly) in the case that she escalates things? I am on the fence about answering the above text message--part of me thinks it's better not to, but part of me wants to answer "Please do not contact me directly about the collision. Thank you." That way, if she continues to text me or does something else, I have at least some ammunition for a restraining order. I mean, I don't think she would harass me, or try to hurt my dog, but who ever thinks that, right? And she kind of already is harassing me. But is ignoring this type of person worse?
posted by Automocar to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't feed the trolls applies here too.
posted by msamye at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If it were me, I'd ignore the text. If she asked me any direct questions about the accident or repairs, I would refer her to her insurance company. If she sent a seriously abusive text, I would respond politely asking her to stop texting me at all. Basically, I'd ignore any subtext. There's not an actual question in the text she sent, so it doesn't seem to need a reply. Any questions that looked like loaded questions designed to start an argument, I'd answer them as if they were good-faith, subtext-free questions. I'd set boundaries, but I'd ignore anything that looked like it was designed to trigger defensiveness and give her an excuse to blow up. Calm calm calm.
posted by lazuli at 2:44 PM on December 18, 2017 [52 favorites]

i would ignore her, but i would also document anything she does. if she starts harassing you by doing things to your home or confronting you in person, document it and keep filing reports. start a trail. that way the local PD will already be familiar with her antics if something truly serious occurs. it will also help your mom after you leave if she needs to contact your local PD about her.
posted by koroshiya at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2017 [14 favorites]

Block her number or change yours to Google Voice and screen your calls. Document what has happened, lock your doors, and ignore her. A text is not enough to get a restraining order.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:52 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

She sounds a little unhinged. If her texts do not explicitly call for a response, I would not respond. I would keep screenshots of texts in case she escalates and they are needed later. If the texts do call for a response, just refer her to her insurance company or flatly answer just the question asked. If the furniture episode is any guide, it'll hopefully blow over.
posted by *s at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2017

Best answer: First thing I would do is look her up on the websites for all your local trial courts. [So, make sure to get your county, plus all immediately adjacent counties, and then all the municipal courts within them. (In some states, this can be done in 5.5 minutes. In others, it has to be done piecemeal, and could take substantially longer, especially if you're not used to navigating these particular websites. ) ]

This will help you a lot with risk assessment. If she's a habitual, seriously bad actor, it's likely that she's gotten in trouble before. Of course, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence (not all crimes are reported, and not all reports lead to charges, etc) -- but if you do find something, (restraining orders, property crimes, etc.) It'll give you some idea what you're dealing with.

Re: your dog: I grew up in a town where revenge-poisoning of dogs is frightfully common, so take this with a grain of salt, but for the next few months, I would very carefully monitor your yard for bits of meat, piles of food, bones, etc, that did not come from you. Note that sometimes things like that can show up innocently (crows, for instance, occasionally drop bones in my yard, to the unending delight of my Chihuahua), but better safe than sorry, right?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:48 PM on December 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

Security cameras if you don't have them.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:28 PM on December 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

And a home security service if you can afford it.
posted by brujita at 4:30 PM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't text back; your insurance companies are dealing with each other so you don't have to. If she can't be a civil neighbor, then you owe here nothing. The text she sent doesn't particularly require that she's mentally ill, just a lot of compounded fiscal stress combined with being inconsiderate, at least long enough to send a text.

Set up security cameras. A large amount of harassment from neighbours is likely to be them messing with your property/mail/car/house/pets when you're away from home.

Security cameras covering your property will help simplify the process of getting any satisfactory action from the police if the neighbor starts messing with your things. Make sure they cover the obvious accesses from her home/yard to yours in addition to front door/street. The main thing is that you will really be asking for more drama if your cameras are overtly pointing at her house.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:31 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Honestly, ignoring her and saying prepared brush off scripts to her are likely going to escalate her as well. If she truly is unstable, then she likely gets those constantly from everyone who "wrongs" her. I think your best simple bet is to try to treat he with as much compassion as you can when you have to interact with her, but don't do anything to appease her because it will likely not get you the result you want.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 4:36 PM on December 18, 2017

Completely ignore her and do not let your dog out of your sight when he is outside.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is going to sound paranoid and weird, but... how long ago did that filming-you-backing-your-car-out incident happen? A small part of me wonders if she was hoping to stage an accident and perhaps damage/total her *own* car -- perhaps to avoid another larger repair she couldn't afford, perhaps to get out from underneath onerous payments.

Seconding the suggestions for watching your dog closely, and for installing security cameras if feasible.
posted by halation at 5:27 PM on December 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

With apologies, I am sometimes that person. Regardless of (medication, therapy, whatever) least once or twice a year I lose all frame of reference to the normal world and as collateral damage I end up sending a text or email which is completely out of order. Which requires damage control or results in losing friends or work. In each case I highly regretted sending the text and would've been grateful if it had been ignored. I have no excuse and I apologise on behalf of this person, just hope they regret sending the text too. However of course you can't be too careful and I'm with the people here who advise documenting and just staying clear.
posted by yoHighness at 7:29 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would reply to the text: "what would you suggest I should have done differently?"
posted by at at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2017

Response by poster: Took your advice and ignored the text, and around 3PM today got the following two texts:

“Was that necessary? Thanks for waking me up! I have the flu” (I have no idea what this is referring to, but I did leave in my car around this time)

“You are a total loser. Depending on your mother the way you have at your age. Grow up and pay for your own life!!”

So... ignoring her seems to be triggering behavior for her. I’m not responding, but I’m on semi-alert for any abusive or threatening communication or behavior.
posted by Automocar at 2:16 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Stay the course and keep ignoring. Feeding someone attention who sends texts of this nature will not lead to anywhere good: based on her message content, it doesn't sound like trying to "reason" with her will smooth things over.
posted by theorique at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yikes. I was about to say that, some years ago, I got a new station wagon which -- I had yet to realise -- was a lot bigger than the one I had before. A person parked in the silliest spot possible, but a totally legal spot, and I backed in to him. Poor dude was doing some work down the street and got to watch his car get smushed -- I have a nick on my bumper; I wrecked both doors on that side of his...

Anyway, he was very nice; I apologised effusively and wondered if it wouldn't be easier for me to pay for it than to take the hit to my otherwise spotless driving record. Estimate came in: dear god, no, okay, yes, please do go ahead and deal with my insurer. So sorry, etc...

Meanwhile his pregnant wife was texting me little snippets of nasty.

My replies were just honey: "Oh god, how horrible for you -- this would have been inconvenient at the best of times, but I've been pregnant too and can definitely see why this is really awful timing! Again, I'm really sorry. If my insurance drags their feet at all please let me know and I'll try and get them to speed it along; I was 100% at fault. I really hope it gets fixed ASAP..."

However, she was a pregnant lady who was not able to drive her car for a while, and, like a lot of pregnant women, pretty easily ticked off. I felt bad and just kept sending the soothing apologies until she gave up.

But this lady sounds like higher order loopy. Soothing apologies do not work on people who just want a fight and drama, which seems to be the case here. I might stop in at the local station, show them the texts, and ask for advice. If nothing else, making them aware of the situation might possibly be useful later if she escalates. That's not someone being pissed at you over a car accident; that's harassment. Police seem to vary wildly from one jurisdiction to another in their views on what harassment is and how much they'll do about it, though. Good luck. Cameras are pretty cheap now...
posted by kmennie at 2:41 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

So... ignoring her seems to be triggering behavior for her.

Sometimes people are just going to react no matter what you do. It's not your job to figure out the exact magic words to keep her from reacting. Act in a way that feels ethical to you, both in terms of respecting yourself and respecting her, and if it triggers her, it triggers her.
posted by lazuli at 7:44 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

""I wanted to thank you so much for ruining my kids [sic] Christmas since I can't afford to buy them presents now. With my deductible and the repair to my car it is $1,600+ merry Christmas Automocar" "

If it makes you feel any better, when my mother was a teacher, she used to get these messages from insane parents, who would say things like, "Since you gave my child an 89% on his spelling test, we're not having Christmas this year, THANKS FOR RUINING IT!" The kids always had Christmas.

It's in the manual for insane people, to try to guilt uninvolved third parties with fake cancelled Christmas. IGNORE.

My mother literally always cried with the thought that she'd ruined Christmas for the child of an insane person who was, you know, insane and so not very nice to their kids and so potentially might really cancel Christmas. AND YET, those kids always ended up having Christmas.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:56 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh she is clearly trying to bait you into engaging with her. Continue to ignore.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

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