Is it ever okay to directly contact the other participant involved in an accident?
February 21, 2008 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Is it ever okay to directly contact the other participant involved in an auto accident?

I was involved in a pretty nasty car v. bike auto accident recently, and I’m having a difficult time coping with the outcome. His people are now talking to my people. There will likely be an insurance settlement that will hopefully cover medical expenses and other damages, and I’m in the process of healing. But I think my problem is primarily emotional closure.

The last time I saw this guy, I was strapped to a board and being wheeled into an ambulance. Now, he’s probably had his dents repaired and the only impact he feels will be slightly higher insurance premiums on his car insurance. I’m not even sure he was cited, as police don’t seem to have any idea how to deal with bike-related accidents. I can't imagine how it feels to hit a human being and watch their body fly up over your car. I'll recover, but his bad driving (I was struck from behind by a car going very fast) has now had a giant impact on my life, and I feel like he should know about it.

When the legal stuff is all done, is it okay (legally? morally?) to contact the driver, in either a letter or phone call, and say “Hi there. You’ve ruined a pretty substantial chunk of time for me. I just thought you should know about it.”?

Is that something people do? Should I? Or should I just let it go?
posted by monkeystronghold to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Talk to your lawyer, if you have one. You can quite easily step into bad legal territory by "getting off message" when you make a personal contact like this.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Meaning, you accidentally say something that is inferred as a legal offer, a waiving of your rights, a verbal contract, harassment, etc...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:27 PM on February 21, 2008

Cool Papa Bell is totally correct.

I'm sorry to hear about your accident, and I hope you work things out.
posted by jazzman at 3:30 PM on February 21, 2008

Aside from the legal angle, if he doesn't already feel terrible and horrified at the memory of a person being thrown up over his car, there is probably not much you can say that will make him feel that way. Any normal person would already be pretty devestated at the knowledge they had caused such an accident, I should think.
posted by frobozz at 3:36 PM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't underestimate the healing power of a letter that you write, but never send. If you really want to send it, send it to your lawyer, with instructions to put it in the file, or something like that. In a situation like this, the fantasy is likely better than the reality: in the real world, you might get to say your piece to the guy, and then he says "Yeah. Whatever. Are we done here?" In your head, you get to be wonderfully eloquent, and you get to have him really understand what he's done to you.

Stay with the fantasy. Write the letter, but don't send it (at least, definitely not without showing it to your lawyer).
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with Cool Papa Bell. Consult your lawyer.

Also, things can escalate and even though you are the victim in this situation, the other party can turn your letter or call into a harassment case.
posted by spec80 at 3:40 PM on February 21, 2008

A friend of mine hit a motorbiker with her car and the biker ended up in a coma. It was the motorbiker's fault (unlicensed, no lights, driving in the wrong lane on a country road at night), but still, my friend felt so dreadful about the whole thing that she was in therapy dealing with the guilt for over a year. However, the lawyers would not let my friend contact the motorbiker in any way. She wasn't even allowed to call the hospital to see how the biker was. So, I think you probably have no way of knowing whether the driver in your accident was emotionally impacted by the experience.

Morally no one can tell you what to do, but I think it's widely held that trying to make someone feel bad for making you feel bad is trying to make two wrongs add up to a right.
posted by xo at 3:44 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

For the legal and moral reasons listed above, don't do this.
Either the person has a moral bone in their body, and feels guilty, or they don't, and if they don't, contacting them (and them saying "so what?") will only make you feel worse.

Let go of the idea of revenge or "bringing it home to them" how bad it is to hurt someone.

I'm so sorry this happened. Maybe you can concentrate this energy on some positive thing you could do? Eg volunteer work, teaching kids how to fix up bikes, becoming very involved with bike issues in city council...?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:10 PM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Second LobsterMitten. I came in here to say that you should channel this emotional need of yours into something that might prevent accidents in the future, like campaigning for signs, bike lanes, and so forth.

On the other hand, if you think you can do it, there seems to be a small minority of people who can forgive in a case like this, and I've seen some very fantastic stories that have come out of that. Again, maybe best wait until your legal proceedings are complete.

I had a couple of very close calls with motorcycles when I lived in Chicago. I had a truck with a large B-pillar and just didn't see them. (Hint: whatever you drive, try not to sit in someone's potential blind spots.) One guy drove off calling me an asshole before I even knew what I'd almost done. The other guy pulled up to a light next to me and was ready to tell me off in a big way, but I leaned out of my window and apologized first. He was mollified. We exchanged a couple more friendly words and the light changed.

So, consider that your guy could have a different reaction than the one you expect.
posted by dhartung at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback. Just to clarify:

1. I didn't plan on doing this for some time, long after the legal issues were resolved.

2. This wasn't really a revenge fantasy. I think the goal wasn't even to make the driver feel bad (though I'm sure it would), but to make sure that they knew that I would eventually be fine and to confirm that this is something that they can and should learn from. Though I can see how the use of the word "ruined" in my original post would imply something else.

In the end, you're all right. I should write it for myself, never send it, and understand that this person already feels nothing or feels awful, and nothing I can say to them will change that. And forgive what was an unfortunate accident.
posted by monkeystronghold at 4:58 PM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I would add that I am very involved in the local cycling community, which is probably why the circumstances of the accident, the lack of citations, and the legal loopholes have been so frustrating for me.

But telling this particular driver all of these things, as you've all pointed out, isn't really going to fix anything.
posted by monkeystronghold at 5:02 PM on February 21, 2008

My daughter hit a cyclist and even though there were no injuries or damage she was completely devastated and freaked out. You're right that the legal, physical and financial consequences are not in balance, but that is not the fault of the driver-- his fault was the accident and it sounds like the system has done what it considers just (whether it is or not). You just don't know his mental state. It might help you to heal a little to assume the humanity of the driver, rather than feel like his indifference is extending your emotional and physical pain. Why do that to yourself? I'm guessing the driver's lawyer has told him not under any circumstances to contact you to say he's sorry. The guy might be chomping at the bit to assuage his guilt.

Perhaps as part of the settlement you could get an apology (written). The idea of talking to your lawyer, and/or writing a letter you never send is a good one. Better yet, talk to a therapist who may be able to help you deal with your (justified) anger.
posted by nax at 5:54 PM on February 21, 2008

the lawyers don't want you to talk because they don't want you to say anything that will hinder their big payday - or worse, be romanced by the driver to drop the suit. Remember they work for you and can only offer advice. No amount of money is going to make you feel whole again. Call him up and schedule a meeting so he can apologize and you can know he was a human who made a horrible mistake.
posted by any major dude at 7:36 PM on February 21, 2008

Call him up and schedule a meeting so he can apologize and you can know he was a human who made a horrible mistake.

Uh, no.

Don't underestimate the power of a person who has hit a bicyclist to manufacture reasons, in his mind, about why he is not at fault. His mind has been working overtime, during waking and sleeping hours, to come up with explanations that remove blame from him.

He is not going to be in any mood to listen to Monkeystronghold lecture him on what a horrible human being he is.

Furthermore, if he is already lawyered up, his lawyer will advise him not to meet with you. Indeed, the lawyer will forbid him from meeting with you.

I think to pursue this idea of lecturing him on how much he hurt you is silly, and would come across as a display of whiney immaturity on your part.
posted by jayder at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2008

and to confirm that this is something that they can and should learn from.

If he's a decent human being, he has already learned from it.
If he's not, you confronting him will not change that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:33 AM on February 22, 2008

I don't think it would come across as immaturity so much as that it might fall on deaf ears, and that would be so much worse for monkeystronghold than just letting it go.

In the fantasy scenario, you could go talk to the guy and say your piece, really explain just how bad it is, and how things won't be the same for you after this, and the guy will sit there and be moved and say "You're right, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize."

But the real-world scenario has a fair likelihood of either getting into a disagreement with the guy about the facts (ugh) or of the guy just saying "so?"... and in either of those cases, I would just imagine myself spluttering with blind disbelief and rage and losing all faith in humanity. Not a psychically healing moment.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:26 PM on February 22, 2008

Speaking from experience (hit by a car while I was on a bike six years ago, 100% the other guy's fault, still wondering why he didn't get a breathalyzer test), I've always wanted to contact that guy and tell him that what he did to my life well in terms more serious than a raised insurance premium. Beyond the physical, for months after that, even though the guy totally blindsided me, I'd get nervous when I'd see the occasional approaching car - in a parking lot, fifty feet away, whatever.
I think lawyers speak a certain language and you probably want to wait after the legal stuff is fully resolved, but I don't think the desire to communicate with the other person about what they caused is unreasonable. I saw the guy who hit me for probably less than a minute before I was tackled by firemen and EMTs and every six months or so, I still think I should just write him a letter, nothing creepy, just sharing what it is like to be on the other side of that impact. Good luck in your recovery.
posted by history is a weapon at 11:23 AM on February 26, 2008

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