How to dispute car insurance ruling?
December 16, 2019 1:19 AM   Subscribe

In spite of my best efforts to avoid it, I hit a parked vehicle. My insurer has ruled that I "did not exercise reasonable care while driving and struck an object that could have been avoided." I want to appeal this ruling and need info on how to present the appeal, and what outcomes I can reasonably hope for. Details inside.

Part of my commute involves a right turn at the top of a steep hill, onto a narrow two-way street. One morning a van was parked near the corner just after the turn. I tried to turn wide to avoid it, but was afraid of going too wide and swinging into the traffic backed up on the opposite side of the road. Obviously I miscalculated.

I left a note with my contact info and my insurance info. There was no visible damage to the van and to date the driver has not contacted me or my insurer. I didn't file a police report; I've never been in an accident before, and it didn't occur to me since there was no damage to the other car. (I know now that this was probably immensely stupid, but I basically parked my car, had a panic attack, and didn't drive for a while.)

My car was damaged. It looked like the corner of the hinge protruding from the van's rear door caught the passenger side of my car as I completed the turn. I've been kicking myself, because I really thought I'd clear the van and must have miscalculated by an inch or two.

The van was parked illegally: that stretch of curb is a red zone, and the van was really far from the curb. I have photos showing this. When I finally left for work later in the day, someone else had hit the van, because there was damage that hadn't been present when I stopped. (It's not in the photos I took.)

My insurer ruled that I "did not exercise reasonable care while driving and struck an object that could have been avoided." I want to appeal this ruling because I was exercising care. All my attention was on completing the turn cleanly. I'm afraid saying this will make me sound incompetent. But I also don't want to just argue that the van was parked badly, because I'm not trying to evade responsibility. I tried to clear the van and failed by inches. I feel so, so, so stupid. Is there an insurer equivalent to "honest, hopefully one-time mistake"? My record is otherwise clean; before this my policy qualified for a good driver discount.

I will send the insurer the photos I have. I'm guessing I should also take photos of the intersection as it normally looks. But narratively, what do I tell them?

And realistically, will the appeal mitigate the ruling at all? It was a stupid mistake, but not a careless one.

I've never dealt with anything like this, and would appreciate advice on how to present the appeal; what, if anything specific, to ask for; and what I can reasonably hope for.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
If you drive into a stationary, clearly visible object then that’s on you I’m afraid.

What do you expect the insurer to do? Discounts are for drivers who don’t make claims because they don’t hit things. You drove into something, ergo you’re not eligible. This is how the system works.
posted by pharm at 1:45 AM on December 16, 2019 [24 favorites]

I don't think there's any way you would "win" an appeal--and it's not clear to me what you might gain by going through the process.

But I also wanted to tell you that most of us who drive have also made "stupid" mistakes. I backed out of my garage and took off the front bumper (yeah, I *should* have seen it about to happen, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). I have bumped into stationary objects. I'm not sure what exactly you're anxious about, but I'm here to tell you: (1) your insurance cost may very well stay exactly the same. There's no guarantee of that, but this was a small accident. (2) you are still a decent driver. Seriously, I don't know anybody who hasn't experienced an incident like the one you've told us about. (3) heck, I don't really know you, but I know you're not stupid. You did a somewhat stupid thing. If you can, I would simply recommend taking a lot of deep breaths, remembering all the times you've driven when you did a great job, and then move on.
posted by correcaminos at 2:42 AM on December 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

You are an imperfect human being and that’s ok. If the word “reasonable” is eating at you, implying some mortifying character flaw, then try mentally replacing it with something morally neutral like “sufficient,” i.e. you didn’t exercise sufficient care — because you didn’t. The insurance company isn’t so interested in what you try to do; they’re interested in your success rate. You apparently succeed the vast majority of the time, but you goofed this one. Learn what you can from it. Approach blind corners a little more slowly. Adjust your mental model of where the side of your car is. But don’t appeal this “ruling.” You can’t win and there’s nothing to gain.

Two years ago while commuting during a spring snowstorm I misjudged the road condition on a slight hill. It looked like packed snow but was in fact a sheet of ice, and halfway up my tires started spinning, my car stopped moving forward and started to move backward. It slid off the crown of the road and into the curb, then followed the curb like a rail until it slammed into the bumper of a late-model BMW that was at rest at the side of the street. Minutes earlier the BMW driver had misjudged similarly, and slid backwards into a Mercedes, which had just slid backwards into a Lincoln. Minutes later a Chrysler minivan passed us all up, lost traction, and slid back into my car. While we five drivers waited for police and salt to arrive, an unoccupied parked car on the other side of the street started sliding spontaneously, which is really hard to explain. We were all trying really hard, in really difficult circumstances. We were also all responsible. Sometimes you’ve got to just shake it off and move on.
posted by jon1270 at 3:23 AM on December 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

You took on the risk of keeping to your usual route by negotiating a corner with a stationary obstacle present that isn't usually there, your car took damage as a result of that choice, and you're making another choice to get your insurer to cover their agreed part of the cost of that damage.

Is there an insurer equivalent to "honest, hopefully one-time mistake"?

No. Insurers work on the Yoda principle: do or not do - there is no "try". "Hopefully" is not something they can quantify, so it doesn't count as far as their risk assessments go.

Checking the details of your policy to work out whether making this claim will result in a loss of no-claim bonus that amounts to more than you'd pay if you simply ate the cost of the repairs yourself, or electing not to get them done at all if the damage doesn't actually render your car unroadworthy, is also up to you.

For what it's worth, I think comprehensive car insurance is a poor deal if you're a genuinely careful driver. Since being thoroughly burned by an insurer on the first claim I ever made against the comprehensive insurance my parents insisted I should get, my own approach has always been to own cars whose replacement value is low enough that four years' worth of comprehensive insurance premiums would exceed the cost of replacing the car. I get third-party-property insurance only, which costs me way less than comprehensive. Then I try to crash my cars less often than once in four years. Over the thirty years I've been taking this approach, it has me ahead by an amount that's now in the low five figures; I could have bought two more cars than I have done and still been ahead.
posted by flabdablet at 5:04 AM on December 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

"Driving without due care and attention" is a legal term of art that doesn't really mean what those words mean in plain English.

You are reading a kind of moral judgement about you being careless into a statement that is really a strict liability statement - if you had full control of your car and drove it into a stationary object that you could see, that wasn't due care because due care means (among other things) not driving into stationary objects.

It's about the result, not the intent.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:36 AM on December 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

There was no visible damage to the van

When I was rear-ended my bumper was only moderately damaged, but it turned out things underneath had accordioned from the impact and they ended up having to rebuild much of it from scratch. Looks can be deceiving.

If it makes you feel better, I once either forgot to hit the garage door opener or did it twice and then tried to back out with a Saris Bones bike rack on the trunk, which promptly shattered the rear window. I can attest that safety glass really does dice into harmless little squares, which is good because my toddler was in the backseat, so this became my low point as both a driver and a parent.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:13 AM on December 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

The outcome is that you will put a lot of work into this and you will be denied, and you might get dropped for your effort.

You are taking this very personally. You did in fact fail to exercise reasonable care to avoid because you did not avoid the unmoving object; the van was placed awkwardly but was stationary and free of unusual impediments. If something had fallen off the van onto your car as you passed, if another car had hit it and it then hit you, if they opened the door into you as you were already passing, those would have been un-avoid-able, in the general legalese of these things. Yes, you made a mistake, an error in judgement. That's what the insurance is for, covering when you or someone else screws up, it's there for mistakes.

This is not a life-ruining situation. Your premiums may go up, they may drop you - this is just an algorithm, you could likely turn right around and sign up with them again, but at higher rates. They won't be punitively high, you will survive this, just like everyone else who loses the daily coin-toss in parking garages and weird alleys, or comes out of the store to find a significant ding on their parked car. This is part of car operatorship, and not a personal value judgement on you at all. Very few people leave this world with a squeaky clean driving record, and you don't get any extra points if you do because it was as much luck as skill.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Your two reasonable choices here are to make the claim, get your car repair paid for, and lose your discount for some length of time, or to not make the claim and leave your car damaged or pay for it yourself.

Arguing that there were good reasons you hit a stationary object will not work, and telling them about your feelings about that (or worse, talk of panic attacks etc) is just going to make the outcome worse.

This is all fine, you're just human, there's a reason we call them accidents and carry insurance! But don't make it worse.
posted by fritley at 9:17 AM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

what everyone else said. when we thing of fault we may carry a lot of connotations like bad, wrong, etc. car insurance determines fault very simply in order
to determine to what degree each party could have done something
to prevent the accident.

and the way insurers reason is that a stopped car cannot normally cause an accident.

you're not a bad person, you just scraped your car. take a deep
breath, forgive yourself for being human, and then decide whether you can afford the repair yourself or need insurance to cover it.
posted by zippy at 11:29 AM on December 16, 2019

If I were appealing, the main point I would want to make was that the van was illegally parked. I'd probably also draw a little picture of the incident, and maybe I'd measure the street to try to make the point that once someone had illegally parked, the street was no longer capable of comfortably accommodating that many cars.

Consider also that the insurer's situation is that they want to maximize their profits. To them, if you hit a stationary object, you also mess with their profits. It isn't really a comment on you, your intelligence, whether a reasonable person might have made the same mistake, if the van was illegally parked, or whatever. It's just an impingement on their profits and they will judge you according to the rules that make them the most money.
posted by sockanalia at 10:07 PM on December 16, 2019

« Older Windows 10 - upgrade necessary?   |   Christmas loo logistics for our cat Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.