How do I get my neighbor to pay for the damage he caused to my car?
May 1, 2007 1:19 PM   Subscribe

My neighbor backed into my car, admitted it, and now refuses to pay. What should I do?

Prior to this event, this neighbor and I were very friendly. When my wife and I first moved to the street, he was the first to greet us. His wife made some booties for our newborn son. I have helped him fix his car and his DSL Modem. The one day, Dr. Jeckyl became Mr. Hyde. That day was Tuesday, April 4th 2007.

That evening, I answered a knock on my front door. There was my 90 year old neighbor looking very forlorn. He explained to me that he had accidentally backed into my car earlier in the day. We talked it over and it came out he didn't have insurance and that he would just like to write me a check for damages. There were absolutely no red flags going off due to our previous interactions. I told him I would get a bid from a friend who does body work. My wife showed him that bid a few days later and he couldn't believe the cost. So we agreed I would get another bid at a a shop of his choosing. I spoke to him a few weeks later and he couldn't come up another shop so he would just pay the first amount, which was an incredible deal at $714.32.

The body shop was a bit behind but could fit us in this week. My wife asked this guy for the check the day before scheduled repairs and he starts backing out. He asks her if we'll settle with him for half the amount. We decline his offer as he caused the damage and he should fix it. The very next day, she takes the car to two other body shops to get more estimates. There were both $1500+. She shows him these and he goes bezerk. All he can say is you are going to have to take this up with the law and you'll have to talk to my attorney, I'm not paying a dime. He then slams the door and hasn't spoken to us since. In the heat of the moment I file a suit in small claims court for the amount of the second highest bid. This will obviously ruin any relationship we had forever but I'm afraid there's no turning back from that inevitabilty anyway.

This guy is a 90 year old WWII veteran. I have a feeling that there is some sort of gender thing going on with him that he doesn't like talking to my wife but when I try and talk to him he doesn't come out. I really don't want to sue this guy but I think he should pay for the damage. Do I have any other options?
posted by toomuch to Human Relations (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can talk to your insurance company and ask if they could file an un-insured motorist claim for you. It probably would've been a good idea to get a police report immediately after the fact, though.
posted by one_bean at 1:27 PM on May 1, 2007

He asks her if we'll settle with him for half the amount. We decline his offer as he caused the damage and he should fix it.

This is the point at which you prioritized the money over friendly relations. Clearly he made the initial agreement thinking it wouldnt cost much (he's old, maybe he's thinking in 1950 terms) and then got sticker shock.

Your response could have been to ask him if he was backing out because it was too much and perhaps you guys could reach an agreement? (payment terms, barter of something else etc.)

As I see it, friendly relations is about discussion rather than setting ultimatums. I suppose you could still say: "look, Fred, I really dont want to sue you. I like you and want to remain on good terms. Let's talk and see if we can't work something out?" Otherwise, yeah, the only way you'll get anything is by going to court. But there's no guarantee you'l win in which case you've lost all relations and the money.
posted by vacapinta at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

so you have to ask your self if $350 is worth a) your time and b) your ruined relationship with your neighbour... i can't imagine that it would be. go get his half of the original estimate and then share some beers, and chalk it up to the cost of living in a society where we interact with each other and sometimes back into friends' cars unintentionally.
posted by modernnomad at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Chances are he just plain old doesn't have the money but doesn't want to admit it. Has he gotten his car fixed?
posted by zeoslap at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2007

You gotta talk to him man to man. If the first conversation doesn't work out, tell him you will be back the next day to bring it up again. Just be very logical and explain everything slowly and appeal to his common sense.

If that doesn't work then he is just not being civil, bring him to court.
posted by parallax7d at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2007

If your area offers some sort of non-judicial mediation as an alternative to small claims court, that might also be a viable option. I know in our area, a conflict resolution group exists to help neighbors resolve disputes. I feel for you -- it sucks to have a neighbor wig out on you like this...
posted by mosk at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2007

Yeah, you should've made a claim to your insurance company, since it's damage to your car. That's as long as you have comprehensive & collision, of course; PL&PD alone are not going to get you a dime.

I won't offer you legal advice about pursuing or dropping the small claims suit, but you may be missing some other aspects of this situation. First of all, I know it's stereotypical, but a lot of times the older generation develops a "back in my day, a quart of milk cost 2 cents!" kind of attitude and doesn't quite get how expensive some things are - when he made the initial offer, he might have anticipated a hundred bucks of body work rather than nearly a thousand. Also, chances are quite good that he's on a fixed income and really just can't afford to pay the whole amount.

This is a really embarrassing situation to be in! An otherwise responsible and respectful community member fucked up, ruined someone else's car, and can't afford to make it right. Maybe he's freaking out because he's humiliated, not because he's a dick. Dunno if that could convince you to just eat part or all of the damage, but at least take it into account when dealing with him on the issue. Maybe you should've proposed (or still could) an extended payment plan for the full amount instead of demanding a lump sum, for instance.
posted by rkent at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

He asks her if we'll settle with him for half the amount. We decline his offer as he caused the damage and he should fix it.
This is the point at which you prioritized the money over friendly relations.

As opposed to what happened before that where the other guy prioritized the money over friendly relations or even keeping his word.

If he's not speaking to you, then I wonder if there is anything to be done besides sue him.
posted by grouse at 1:42 PM on May 1, 2007

Also, chances are quite good that he's on a fixed income and really just can't afford to pay the whole amount.

If he really doesn't have the money, then suing him won't help either. You can't get blood out of a turnip.
posted by grouse at 1:45 PM on May 1, 2007

You've done your job on being nice and offering him a good deal. What is getting estimates and repairs costing you? Or the deduction for the insurance claim? I would counter with $100 less than the estimate as a show of good faith. If he still balks take him to small claims court. Maybe a 90 year old shouldn't be driving in the first place.
posted by geoff. at 1:46 PM on May 1, 2007

I don't know why everyone's trying to be so accommodating. At 90, the guy has learned enough to know that he's being a jerk. Call his lawyer. Call the DMV and ask why this guy is driving around without insurance. Next time he might back up over one of your kids.
posted by troybob at 1:46 PM on May 1, 2007 [9 favorites]

Well, if you want to escalate an already bad scene, you could tell him you are turning it over to your insurance company, and that they will definitely be coming after him as an uninsured driver.
Is insurance required by law to drive there?
If so, he will be facing the threat of law as well as the insurance company.

Bet he coughs up the balance.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2007

can you prove in court that he did the damage? If not you may have a problem!
posted by jannw at 1:49 PM on May 1, 2007

Follow his suggestion and talk to his attorney (better yet, get one of your own to talk to his attorney). His attorney will (almost certainly) not advise him to fight to avoid paying.
posted by winston at 1:52 PM on May 1, 2007

As opposed to what happened before that where the other guy prioritized the money over friendly relations or even keeping his word.

There was no "before that." That was the point at which things turned around. He did renege but offered a settlement. They said "No."

I'm saying that was his way of saying: "I dont have the money. But I'm offering to help make good." But they immediately shutdown negotiations.
posted by vacapinta at 1:57 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

How bad is the car, really? On friday, a friend of mine had her weekend ruined by the repair estimate on a scratch she caused on the bumper of someone's Acura. Almost six hundred dollars for a scratch. Unless your ego's all tied up in your car, or the bumper's falling off, let it go.

Or compromise: go to a regular mechanic. Ask him how much it would cost just to fix it up nice, not perfect.
posted by notsnot at 1:58 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

The very next day, she takes the car to two other body shops to get more estimates. There were both $1500+. She shows him these and he goes bezerk.

I assume your wife meant this as a "hey, look, our estimate is a really good price compared to these", but could it be that he took it as some sort of threat or attempt to pad the bill?

when I try and talk to him he doesn't come out

If he won't answer when you knock or call, maybe you could try dropping a note in his mailbox. Emphasizing neighbourly relations, how much you and your wife like him and his wife, and all those good things. Avoid writing anything about settling, in case you end up going to court; treat the note more like an invitation to talk about things.

If that works, maybe you'll be able to find out why he freaked out and find some kind of amicable resolution.
posted by CKmtl at 1:59 PM on May 1, 2007

I was in a similar situation - a neighbor had a tree removed and a large chunk of the trunk hit my car door (which was in my driveway). It left a nice dent, and they offered to pay. When I got estimates that were in the $1000 area, they thought it was very high. Then again, there's a lot of cost in labor for body-work on a car. I personally looking into the parts to fix myself, and a new door skin would be only $200 or so, with entire used doors going for about the same.

In the end, they offered me a check for $500. If I had gone to my insurance, they might have gone after the tree removal company for the money, and then ultimately my neighbor. I took the $500 and told my neighbor that since this wasn't enough to fix the car at a shop, I would instead hold onto it in case I ever ran across a door on E-Bay or something (it was a Honda Civic, so parts are plentiful). Otherwise, if I never fixed it, I'd save it for a down payment on my next car. It was a commuter car, so I just figured who cares...

Looking back, I think that was the best decision, because accepting that lesser payment in turn saved our neighborly friendship. They've been wonderful neighbors - keeping an eye on our house whenever we're gone, bringing back our dog if they find him when he jumps the fence, purchasing fundraiser items from our children, etc. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be living next door having this bad-blood between us.
posted by JibberJabber at 2:00 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

From a practical standpoint, I don't think suing is going to accomplish anything. I'm inclined to agree with those who say he's probably on a fixed income and simply can't afford it, so if you win the lawsuit, what then? Are you going to hound him, waving a court settlement for $1500 in the face of a 90-year-old?

I'd suggest some kind of barter. You said his wife made booties for your baby- perhaps babysitting? I realize you're unlikely to get $1.5k in babysitting, but I think it's important that he gives you something without it being a huge sacrifice.
posted by mkultra at 2:05 PM on May 1, 2007

This will obviously ruin any relationship we had forever but I'm afraid there's no turning back from that inevitabilty anyway

No, your relationship is fixable, one of you just has to swallow their pride (and deal with a fairly big financial loss). Sometimes you have to back down even when you know you're right.

You're neighbors, you never know when one of you is going to need to help out the other. Maybe even in a real emergency. I know it's a lot of money, but I think it really is worth trying to come to a compromise on this.
posted by teleskiving at 2:05 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

What kind of car is it? If it's a newer, nicer car, then I'm with troybob. If it's a beater commuter, I'm with jibberjabber.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2007

I'm with troybob on this. Why be so accommodating to someone who won't make right on their actions? The fact that toomuch could possibly drive around with the car as-is is irrelevant. He has upheld his end of the social contract, presumably paid for that vehicle and, until someone else damaged it, it was in the condition he chose to maintain it in.

Maybe this is about an inability to pay. Maybe there's shame involved. Well, so what? Making mistakes can be embarrassing. Living with the repercussions of those mistakes can be painful. That's part of being a responsible person, and asking toomuch to shoulder the responsibility for someone else's actions just because it's unpleasant for the person in the wrong is unreasonable.

In your shoes, with a person who refused to come out and talk like a rational person, I'd send him a registered letter saying that you're sorry that he feels this is an unreasonable price but that's what the market charges. Offer to take the money in payments over the course of a few months or a year if that's too big a chunk all at once. But I would personally reiterate that however unpleasant he finds the situation, you similarly find it unpleasant to have to ask a grown man to take responsibility for his actions, accidental or not. Tell him that if he chooses not the talk with you maturely you're going to take him to court so they can force him to be responsible for his actions.
posted by phearlez at 2:15 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm going to have to also agree with toybob.

I realize the guy's a veteran and a neighbor, but he's also a 90 year-old driving around without insurance.

I'm usually a pushover in situations like this and will go out of my way to salvage a relationship, but honestly I think what the guy did was wrong, he knows it and that's why he's acting like he is.
posted by atomly at 2:30 PM on May 1, 2007

If I could afford the repairs or didn't care much about the car, I probably wouldn't push the issue with a 90-year old neighbor. He may not have the money. He may not be fully aware of how expensive everything has become over the past 20 years. He may have slowed down mentally. You can judge this better than anyone here.

90 is damn old. No one in my family has ever reached that age. My wife's grandmothers got there. I'd be hard pressed to make someone like them pay for their mistakes if I could afford to let the debt go.
posted by ferdydurke at 2:33 PM on May 1, 2007

Another issue that may come into play is that at 90 years old if he is starting to have fender benders his time to drive may be drawing to a close. This is a difficult situation for elderly people on many levels, but fear that someone could tell him he has to stop driving might be making him act irrationally. On the other hand, he might need to stop driving befor he has a more serious wreck. This might not be much of an answer, but it might give everyone something to think about. Beyond that, call the cops and the insurance company and you should get taken care of. We recently went through a similar scenario with an elderly relative and it worked out ok with a minimum of hard feelings by the time it was done.
posted by TedW at 2:38 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

If he really doesn't have the money, then suing him won't help either.

I assume that he has a house.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:40 PM on May 1, 2007

You'll have to choose the path that agrees with your world view.

If you believe that the world is black and white, that right is right and wrong is wrong, your only satisfaction will come from going to small claims court. Regardless of the social/relationship costs that will result from suing, not suing will just eat away at you and you will never be friends with the neighbour again, anyway.

If your world view is that everything is just shades of gray, then assume there are probably extenuating circumstances in your neighbour's situation (poverty, pride, embarrassment, stubbornness) that you may never understand. Leave him a note saying "I've decided to pay the whole thing, and you're off the hook - no hard feelings" or "the dent is minor and I'm not fixing it - no hard feelings." He will be able to save face, (maybe he'll privately feel guilty), and you will probably benefit from more that $714.32 worth of neighbourly help in the future.
posted by mediaddict at 2:41 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

wow a lot to think about. I'm convinced now that there is a fixed income thing going on here as well as a little pride in the mix. I think I was so close to this that I couldn't see some of the things many of you have brought up.

The last time I spoke to this guy, when he agreed to just pay the amount of the first estimate, he also told me that they were putting the house up for sale this month so they could move to a condo. I did a little public records search and there are no liens against the house and the county assessor says the place is worth about $1.1M. I could look at that two ways, 1) they are selling because they are running out of money or 2) they are about to have plenty of money and should just buck it up and pay me.

To respond to some points that others have brought up:
The car is about 4 years old but our only car. I really don't want to drive around in it's current condition and I will pay for it myself if worse comes to worse. In fact I'm thinking of just getting it fixed this week and see how these things progress. Also, I would have definitely gone to my insurance company and the police had he not practially begged me (in his own little way) to let him handle it on his own, not to mention my deductable is $1000 so I would be better off paying myself anyway. I really think he had every intention of paying or he wouldn't have told me about it in the first place. I would have never known it was him. I'm going to walk over again tonight and try and talk to him. If I get no response, I'm leaning towards having the constable serve him tomorrow and I'll drop a note in his mailbox asking to play nice and offering some sort of payment plan/settlement.
posted by toomuch at 2:46 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

While I understand those who point out that the man is in fact 90 years old, I don't quite understand the reasoning that because of this he is exempt from paying. Yes, he may be on a fixed income, but the payment plan option has already been thrown out there, and it seems fair. I think the key here is a bit of compromise on the side of both parties.

If anyone (90 years or not) is using their privilege to drive a vehicle, they need to pay the price for vehicle operation, including any applicable damage to personal property.

Additionally, if you live in state where insurance is required, I would be hard pressed not to notify the proper agencies of this man driving uninsured. What if another more serious incident happens with him involved that involved bodily injury or more severe damage?
posted by Asherah at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2007

One other thing: last year he totalled another car running a stop sign a few streets up from ours. It's quite possible he can't get insurance.
posted by toomuch at 2:51 PM on May 1, 2007

Not sure if you're still in Utah (per your profile), but pulled from the Utah state insurance website, the following, "Utah law requires motorists to carry bodily injury and property damage liability insurance to help pay for damages they cause in an auto accident. The minimum amounts drivers are required to carry are: $25,000 per person and $50,000 for two or more persons for bodily injury liability and $15,000 for property damage liability.

So with your posting above that this is not his first incident, and the previous one was quite serious, I think you may think about taking action with reporting his lack of insurance.
posted by Asherah at 3:03 PM on May 1, 2007

I think TedW is really onto something, especially after reading this guy has had a recent accident. All of this may be tied up in a very real fear of losing his license (if he hadn't already after running the stop sign). Losing freedom and mobility scares the elderly something awful.

It may be that he has been hearing from his own kids "Dad needs to stop driving," and he is afraid of giving them the final proof they need.

Toomuch, however this turns out, you are OK in my book. This sucks for you, but it is super-cool to me that you are willing to try to work this out. If I am ever in your situation, you have really given me something to think about.
posted by 4ster at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2007

Until you said he totaled another car last year, I was in the "cut him a break, he's old" camp. Screw that. Just because you are old doesn't mean the law doesn't apply to you. He knows that he shouldn't be driving, he just doesn't care.

Being old isn't a valid excuse for being a dick and doing whatever the hell you want. We live in a society that is built on laws. He broke them and then is trying to take advantage of you by playing the "I'm an old man" card. Don't let him get away with it. Go to small claims court, get a lien against the house if he doesn't have the money. You'll get paid whenever the house changes hands.
posted by jtfowl0 at 3:11 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wow, that came off harsh. Regardless, if the house is worth 1.1 million, is it really going to hurt him to give you a grand when it sells? No.
posted by jtfowl0 at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2007

...not to mention my deductable is $1000 so I would be better off paying myself anyway.
Your deductible shouldn't apply to claims that are not your fault. At least, that's how it's always worked with my policies.

last year he totalled another car running a stop sign a few streets up from ours. It's quite possible he can't get insurance.
He shouldn't be getting a license either. You actually may be doing the old guy a favor by pressing things a bit and getting him off the road before he kills someone.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:14 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thorzdad, thanks I'm calling my insurance company right now
posted by toomuch at 3:17 PM on May 1, 2007

If you're insured by a small local agency and friendly with your agent, you might be able to get your insurance agent to call the guy and press for a settlement without actually filing a claim. I used that technique once to get a settlement out of a driver who damaged my car in a fender-bender.

That one phone call saves the agent some paperwork and it saves you from possibly taking a hit on your rates after filing a claim.
posted by excoriator at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2007

Just talked to my insurance company. I am responsible for the deductible and my rates would most certainly go up. They did agree to make a courtesy call to him though explaining that they would be going after him for the full amount. I can't believe how helpful this community is.
posted by toomuch at 3:56 PM on May 1, 2007

Also, do the world a favour and report him for driving without insurance and report the accident to the police. Last time he totalled a car, this time he hit a stationary car in a driveway, next time he could kill people. If you report his dangerous driving, chances are the licensing people could look into his fitness to drive.
posted by Lucie at 4:53 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

mkultra: Hell if I'd leave my kid with a 90-year-old for babysitting.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:00 PM on May 1, 2007

I've known two people who've been seriously injured by uninsured drivers. One of them nearly died, and will probably be in debt for the rest of his life thanks to the medical bills. It sucks to have to lose a good relationship with a neighbor, but that guy really needs not to be driving, ever again.
posted by hades at 5:16 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

A 90 year old man knows the hazards of driving without insurance, and he took the chances anyways. Your relationship with him will not be salvaged, because there will always be a monetary element, whether he pays you or not.

People saying "leave a note saying 'I paid it, forget it.' and feel awesome about how great a person you are" are the asshole-enablers that force the rest of us to put up with this crap, gaming on the idea that we'll be shamed into doing the same. Letting this man (who did something illegal and clearly understood the risks) off the hook without any negative sanctions is doing the population at large a disservice.
posted by almostmanda at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2007

Screw him. He is responsible and driving without insurance. It isn't just your 350 bucks. It is the danger he's causing the community. What if someone is hurt by him and he cannot pay?

Call your insurance company. In about 7 days this will be cleared up.

Meanwhile, report him to the police for driving without insurance. What he is doing is wrong, regardless of whether or not he is a vet.

We owe obligations to one another to pay for what we did and to not endanger others by failing to insure our motor vehicles. He is breaking that obligation. He needs to be stopped before his behavior harms others.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

As for the question about being able to prove he did the damage, in terms of court, his hearsay statement is admissible against him as a statement against interest. The poster's testimony will be enough to get it taken care of.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:32 PM on May 1, 2007

Thanks again for all the responses. My insurance agent called my neighbor and advised him that if we filed a claim, they would go after him for the money. He yelled "You're not going to get a red cent out of me" and hung up. Shortly after, he walked to the end of his driveway, shook his fist at my house and walked back in. As sad as it makes me, we're going to go ahead with the lawsuit.
posted by toomuch at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2007

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