Somebody claims I scratched their car.
April 19, 2008 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Somebody claims I scratched their car. What now?

This is in Massachusetts.

My doorbell just rang and it was someone claiming my car scratched theirs.

Earlier today, my wife pulled our car out of the driveway and parked it on the street behind a black Volvo. The Volvo's owners claimed that our car had been touching theirs, and that we had put a pair of scratches on their rear bumper.

Since my wife wasn't home to verify if she had bumped their car at all, I went out to have a look. The first thing I noticed was that they had moved their car a few feet forward, so there was no way I could know it the two cars had been touching Next, I noticed that the scratches were two horizontal lines, about the same height off the ground, but in two different locations: one slightly to the left of center, and one almost all the way to the right (we were both parked on the left side of a one way street).

I told them I was sorry their car was scratched, but that I couldn't claim to be responsible, and that I couldn't see how we had done it. They insisted that we trade insurance information. I said that was fine, as long as I could take pictures. I got my camera, and took a couple dozen pictures of the damage, including using a tape measure to show scale. As far as I can tell, there's no way we could have caused the damage, even if the cars were touching.

What should I do now? Should I preemptively call my insurance company? Should I just wait until they file a complaint with theirs? What should I have done differently (my wife says I should have refused to give them any insurance info)?

I don't want my insurance rate to go up because they claim that I did damage, even if I didn't, and even if they couldn't prove it even if I had.
posted by JonahBlack to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How much do you want to stand up for all that is good and right in the world, versus just getting this incident taken care of? A couple twenties hand-to-hand should be enough to buy them enough automotive fill-in paint to fix the scratches, even if they weren't your fault. It bypasses insurance entirely and is far cheaper than having your rates change. Maybe you didn't do it, but there's no way to prove it.

Some carriers won't treat damage less than $500 as an incident for rates purposes, but that probably varies by state (I'm in lovely Bal'more, Maryland, but I can't speak to Mass.)

Then again, if you really feel tweaked by this then go see if you have their paint on your bumper or vice versa -- if there's no wrong-color paint on either car then it probably wasn't you. Good luck convincing them of that; they seem to already be emotionally invested in the scratch. Of course, if it's fraud then you'll never be able to prove a darn thing if they were careful.
posted by Leon-arto at 3:38 PM on April 19, 2008

I wouldn't give them anything. "Bumpers are for bumping" - if someone doesn't want their precious car to be touched by other vehicles, they need to move to the suburbs where they can park off-street. I would simply call your insurance company and explain the situation - tell them that by your reckoning you couldn't have made the marks in question, and you have the pictures to back it up. I wish I could tell you more about how that will play out, but getting out ahead of it is definitely the right call. (There's a good chance that your neighbor will cool off and realize that his quest to blame you for nicking his ride is futile, or will cost less to fix than his deductible, but I'd still be preemptive about it.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 3:48 PM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Point of clarification: These weren't neighbors. I don't know if they were someone's visitors, or just parking in our neighborhood (we're very near the T), but I've never seen them before.

They only knew it was my car, because they asked my landlord, who happened to be outside.
posted by JonahBlack at 3:52 PM on April 19, 2008

Well, there's a couple of things missing here. First off, they're going to need a police report to progress. The police aren't going to accuse you, and it doesn't sound like you admitted fault. My guess is that the asshole's insurance is going to treat it as an unknown culprit type of accident, because it won't be worth tangoing with YOUR insurance company's lawyers.
posted by SpecialK at 4:06 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I wouldn't pay the guy any cash if he demands it. The damage is probably less than his deductible.
posted by SpecialK at 4:07 PM on April 19, 2008

I wouldn't exchange any information. I'd call the police and tell them someone is trying to blackmail me that I damaged his car, get over here soon.

I'd write down his license plate number and ask them their name, ask to see their driver's license, write down all the particulars and give him nothing. Show him nothing.

I would have pointed out to him that the cars aren't touching. Then I'd keep repeating it. If he thinks you owe compensation, he should have left the car where it stood. Basically you're calling him out on his lie and they can pound salt. He has to prove you did any damage whatsoever and when exactly did this occur and where was he when this apparently happened. You can't just blame the owner of the car behind you, you need proof, not heresay.

In Ontario, you don't even call police for 'damage' under $500.00.

I've experienced this, pointed out that I couldn't have done any damage, then stared. They backed off, because I mentioned I'll inform the police of the accusation, for the record.
posted by alicesshoe at 4:07 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

In all honesty, the Volvo owners have the burden of proving you did this. You have no obligation to do anything. I'd call your insurance company just to put them on notice that you've done your homework.
posted by December at 4:10 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, could be a scam. Especially if it was physically impossible ....
posted by coffeefilter at 4:17 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't exchange any information. I'd call the police and tell them someone is trying to blackmail me that I damaged his car, get over here soon.

Wow, this is a huge overreaction considering that the OP has no way of knowing what actually occurred.

two horizontal lines, about the same height off the ground, but in two different locations: one slightly to the left of center, and one almost all the way to the right

All this means is that your wife was not perfectly aligned with their bumper when she hit it, if she did indeed hit it.

I'd wait until you hear her side of the story to do any wild finger-pointing.
posted by sondrialiac at 4:38 PM on April 19, 2008

He's made an accusation. So what. I can make an accusation too. You vandalized my car, you rotten punk. It means nothing. Without evidence, it's baloney. The dumbest thing you could do is pay him anything to avoid a claim. (a) It could be regarded as evidence of admitting fault. (b) If the insurer ever finds out, you risk having the policy dropped for insurance fraud.

Let the bozo put in a claim if he wants. His insurer and yours are going to laugh in his face anyway. Better he get mad at them for doing that, then hassle you any further.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:50 PM on April 19, 2008

It's pointless to refuse anyone your insurance information - they can call the cops and get that information from the police report anyway, so why go through the hassle?

Insurance claims don't generally require a police report at all, so the assertion that the claim can't process without it is not true, unless insurance law has changed in MA since I serviced insurance in that state (it's been a few years).

I used to work in auto insurance claims. There are a few possible things that might happen:

1) They call your insurance company to report the claim. If they do, your insurance company will contact you. You should tell them that you absolutely don't believe that your car caused the damage to theirs - don't act like you're unsure about this at all. You did not cause the damage, period. They may deny the person's claim outright; however, they may ask you to have your car inspected to see if the adjuster can see any damage on your car that matches up with theirs. Since they don't want to pay a claim, unless it's very obvious that your car caused the damage. They will then most likely deny the claim. Since it will be a dispute, the claim may be escalated to a senior level adjuster (depending on who you're with).


2) They call their insurance company, who will call you. They may also want to inspect your car. If they're paying the claim and have determined that you're at fault, they will want to subrogate your insurance company for reimbursement. If your insurance company denies the claim, they may try to subrogate you directly. Depending on how much money is involved and how much hassle is involved, it might be time for an attorney at this point.

This is also possible-

3) They call your insurance company > your company denies the claim > the claimant drops it entirely.

This is somewhat less likely but has been known to happen-

4) They decide not to call it in at all, to anyone.

Do not give them any cash or talk to them about the claim, at all. Let them talk to the insurance company. Had they been so sure that your car damaged theirs, then they should have taken it up with you while the cars were touching. As it is, there's no proof whatsoever that your car damaged theirs. This is really minor and is more likely to be dropped than anything, as I doubt that they'll want to pay a deductible or pay out of pocket for the damages.
posted by mewithoutyou at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2008 [6 favorites]

Thanks to everyone for your responses. A few further points of clarification:

All this means is that your wife was not perfectly aligned with their bumper when she hit it, if she did indeed hit it.

I drive a Grand Prix - the front end is somewhat pointed. In order to cause both these scratches, the front end would have to be moving parallel to the bumper of the volvo. Not only is this basically impossible, there was a drive way right behind my car, so no parallel parking was necessary.

I'd wait until you hear her side of the story to do any wild finger-pointing.

She says she pulled up very close behind him, as there wasn't much room. When she got out, she checked to make sure they weren't touching. We live in a network of one way streets with short stretches of curb broken up by driveways. This sort of close, on-street parking is the norm.

In Ontario, you don't even call police for 'damage' under $500.00.

I'm pretty sure this is the case in Massacuhsetts as well.

As it is, there's no proof whatsoever that your car damaged theirs. This is really minor and is more likely to be dropped than anything

Well, they claim to have taken pictures while they were 'touching'. I didn't see these pictures, and I took my own

There's no paint transfer on mine, and the scratches on his car didn't seem to have any of mine on his. Granted, I have a front license plate (with a plastic frame), on the front, so any contact would have been made with that.

My sense is that they came out, saw that I was parked close
, noticed some pre-existing scratches and decided to blame me.

I think I'm going to call my insurance company to make sure I get my side of the story in before they do.
posted by JonahBlack at 6:06 PM on April 19, 2008

i'm calling scam on these people. i was once involved in a situation like this, where i parked really really close to a car (but absolutely did not touch it) outside a store, went inside, and when i came out i was greeted with a nasty note on my windshield telling me that since i hit their car, the least i could have done was to leave my insurance information. it seems that there's a sect of people out there who assume that if you parked very close to their car, you must have hit it too. people who get all huffy for a few (pre-existing) scratches on their car that could be filled in with a $1.00 permanent marker piss me off. jeebus.

definitely call your insurance company and tell them your story.
posted by tastycracker at 8:22 PM on April 19, 2008

Someone once attempted to scam us exactly this way, so my advice takes the position that this should be assumed to be a scam unless your wife says "Why yes, I did drive into that car. That completely slipped my mind. Oopsie.".

(I wonder if they were expecting your wife at the door - to a scammer she might look less inclined to fight this than you. Same could apply if you are an older couple. You live in the suburbs, suggesting that the path of least resistance for you could be to just let insurance handle it and be done with it.)

If there is any damage to your car (or even if their wasn't), claim that they hit you. According to both side's stories, the last car to move was theirs - and it was moved while yours was parked and unattended. A parked car can't hit a moving car, theirs was the moving vehicle, therefore they must have hit you, and need to pay you.

I suggest this because right now his possible outcomes are either he gets richer with your money, or he gains nothing but loses nothing either. So as it stands he can't lose. You want to change that by introducing the possibility that he stands to lose something. When I did this, he backed down.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:26 PM on April 19, 2008

sondrialiac, I could have clarified,
Yes, my 'over reaction' would be told to the accuser. The OP mentioned it after looking at said damage and seeing it was rather improbable.
So when faced with scum a liar, mentioning the police stops the bullshit rather quickly, he may move on to an easier mark.
My life's lessons vary from yours, I take...
posted by alicesshoe at 5:04 AM on April 20, 2008

Tell them: "Well, none of us remember doing that, but I suppose it's not impossible. Are you sure it was us? Okay." Take out your driver's license. "Got a driver's license? It'll save time, if I give our details all at once to the cops." If he refuses, or kicks up a fuss, say, "OK, wait outside 'til the cops arrive." and shut the door.

If that doesn't scare him off, invite him in, have him sit down (a position of relative safety), offer him a cup of coffee, polystyrene if possible (establishes hospitality/gratitude and a host-guest relationship), and call the cops in front of him. Tell the cops: "My name's Jonah Black, I have with me Fred Nerk. Fred's claiming my wife or I did some damage to his car, but we're pretty sure we haven't, so we'd like a police officer to attend to take statements from us both. We're at 8 Blah St, my address. I can give you Fred's address, and both our license numbers." Ideally they should take these, and look them up for priors for both of you. "When should we expect the officer?" If they give you a "call receipt" or similar, write it down.

If the answer's anything other than "One will be on the way shortly," tell Fred they might be a while. Ask him what exactly happened, and take brief notes. Did he see your car touch his? Was anyone else a witness? Did any other cars pass? What color is the mark? Where was he standing? Sketch of the street. (The primary purpose of this is to establish in Fred's mind that (a) you take him seriously, even if you're not necessarily accepting his story immediately; (b) you're paying attention to what he says, so if he is lying, he better lie well and consistently. The secondary purpose is to keep him from whining pointlessly about his car or getting aggro.)

When he's nearly finished his coffee, ask if he has a camera. Get yours. Leave his coffee cup untouched. Both of you, ideally, photograph the damage, the street, the cars' positions, and the view from where Fred was standing. Photograph him pointing to the damage on his car, at a distance so you have a photo of him, and also in closeup. If he doesn't have a camera, ask if he has an email address, and email him the photos. This establishes that you and he have the same photos. CC your insurers; when you call them later, you can tell them you sent photos at such-and-such a time and date.

If the cops didn't say they'd be over soon, ask him to leave his phone number, give him yours, and write down the number of the police station you rang and the call receipt number if they gave one to you. Tell him you'll give his number to the police officer, and he should expect to receive a call from them to take a statement. Swap insurer details and license plate numbers as well. This whole process shouldn't take more than a half-hour.

Again, the primary purpose of this (fairly small) effort is to establish your serious person credentials. You've dotted all your i's, crossed all your t's, and if he's a scammer, he'll be worried, because he now thinks you look about five times as reliable a witness as he is: organized, calm, in control. He should have backed off before you called the cops; at the latest, after his coffee. So if he is still here for photos, he's probably sincere (if mistaken). Either way, after he goes on his way, box up the coffee cup he used (pick it up by spreading the backs of your fingers inside) and put it away somewhere dry. When the cops come by, show them the photos, the car, and the notes you took during the conversation. Don't mention the cup yet. Notify your insurer, tell them you deny any responsibility and want them to resist the claim, and forget about it 'til someone contacts you. If they or the cops mention fraud to you later, say: "Yeah, he seemed a bit shady. I still have the cup he used unwashed, do you want it?" Just in case he's not the "Fred" of the driver's license.

If Fred shows up again, ask "Fred, why are you here? My insurer DenYingCorp hasn't contacted you? The cops haven't contacted you? That sucks, I'll call them now, wait here." Don't invite him in. Call whichever, or both, and give them Fred's number again. Then tell Fred: "That's all I can do. They say you'll have to wait for them to call you, or you can call them yourself. Sorry." Be aware, if he's sufficiently violent (honest or dishonest, though it's far more likely for the dishonest) he might jump you, so keep your distance. If he demands payment, tell him "You have to contact the insurer. There's no point in asking me for it. I haven't got it, and even if I had, it'd be my insurer who would pay your insurer who would pay you. Me paying you would be pointless, my insurer might even sue me for doing it. So I'll ask you to leave now, Fred, unless you'd prefer my wife inside calls the police to come talk to you."

Here's another line for you to use: "I'm not saying that I didn't scratch your car, Fred. I honestly don't know either way. My car has no paint or marks on it. We've sent the photos in to our insurers and the cops, and they will decide. If they decide I did, my insurer will pay up. But if the cops and the insurers say I didn't scratch your car, and I certainly don't remember doing it, then you'll need to consider the possibility that it was someone other than me. But until we hear from the insurers, there's nothing more to talk about."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:14 PM on April 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

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