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What NOT to do in a car accident

After reading about my friend J Money’s car accident and followup (it’s totaled!), I was amazed at how nice the other party (who caused the accident) was to him. It’s a complete opposite to my last accident back in late 2011, and I wanted to put out there some simple do’s and don’ts around auto accidents.

Back Story

Back in November 2011, my wife and I had planned a trip to Germany to visit friends and do a bit of touring. I’m the type who would rather “be an hour early than a minute late”, especially for a trip we spent a few grand for and non-refundable tickets, so I gave us about 3 hours to get from her office to the airport, about 10-15 miles away. For an international flight, you want to give yourself a minimum of 2 hours to get through parking, check-in (we had to check bags as it was a long trip), get through security and, for a large airport, get to the terminal and gate.

So my wife works in a small office complex just off 2 major roads. We had everything packed and ready to go. I just had to pick her up, get onto the main highway not far away, then onto the airport access road where we would park in the cheaper extended parking. We would take a shuttle to the airport terminal and go from there. But life didn’t have the same plan.

I won’t try to explain all the nuances of the incident, but what happened was a very angry man made an illegal turn onto the access road from my wife’s office to the first main road and then he rear-ended my truck with his and tried to blame it on me. This was in a “no-fault” state where an accident like this is automatically the fault of the person in back unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And to top it off, he not just blamed me, but got out of his truck in a fury and was yelling at me like it was his own personal racetrack to do as he wished and I violated his rights or something. Now we’re stuck at an accident scene (luckily my truck was drive-able) and time is ticking away until our flight to Europe!

Accident DON’Ts

  • Realize when you’re at fault and DON’T LIE. He made an illegal turn and he was speeding on an access road, then he tried to stage the scene while I was snapping photos to make it look like I pulled out right in front of him.
  • Always have your insurance information and SHARE IT. If this was a standard accident, and he admitted fault right away and we got his insurance info, we could have been on our way to the airport. But he refused to show us in insurance info! I even had to call the police to get it, but more on that later.
  • Don’t try to move your vehicle to stage the scene differently. That’s fraud plain and simple. He pulled his truck WAY back to make it look like I pulled right out in front of him, but in reality, I was already driving straight down the road when he came up on me like a bullet. It happened as I was slowing for a tight turn (where cars park into the roadway as it’s not a full 2 lane road during the work day).
  • Don’t ever raise your voice to my wife. Ok, this is a personal one, but I kept my cool through all his rants until he directed his wrath towards my innocent wife (just a passenger and bystander). I calmly, but assertively, told him to never, ever speak to a woman that way and that any communication during this time was between he and I ONLY. My blood was boiling inside, but I didn’t act on it.

Eventually, I did have to call the police to get this man to share his insurance information with us (turns out he didn’t even have it in the vehicle), and that zapped about 45 minutes off our precious time to get to the airport.

Accident DOs

There are tons of tips from your own insurance carrier and other sites, so I’ll just share my own specific tips from this incident:

  • Keep your cool. Whether it was your fault or not, keep a level head from the moment of impact through the entire process of working with the insurance companies and, if it comes to it, going to court. While I have a temper problem, I pride myself a bit that I can keep my cool through ordeals like this even if I want to erupt inside. Yelling and violence only escalate the situation dramatically and get you either nowhere or into a worse pickle. Only speaks the facts, if you’re going to speak at all.
  • Get tons of photos! When I was working with this man’s insurance company, he altered his story and tried to say I pulled out right in front of him. Even if I did, the damage was straight on, so either he was 1) not paying attention, 2) going too fast and/or 3) “administering road rage”. If he had hit a corner of my truck, then the story would be different. But I made sure to snap photos INSTANTLY after I got out of my truck, which was good because he pulled his truck away soon after. I left my truck where it was and showed my truck with the broken pieces right where they lay. I got multiple angles from the stop sign, from his truck, from my truck, and I even used Google StreetView to show angles I didn’t get like where he turned in from the main road (even if I couldn’t prove he made an illegal turn).
  • Be prepared to use technology. I mentioned snapping photos, but I also used Google Satellite view and SnagIt (you can probably use MS Paint even) to show the multiple stages of the accident with cars scaled to the photograph. I proved my diagrams with the photos I took so everything matched up and showed how far away from my original turn I was when he hit me.
  • Call the police. I mentioned I called the police, but it was only because he wouldn’t share his insurance and I needed it before I could leave for the airport. This was all during DC rush hour, so police personnel were already limited. We waited 45 minutes for an officer to show, then he told us this was on private property so he couldn’t write it up (I don’t know if that was BS or not), but he did tell the man that if you’re in an accident, you MUST share insurance information. He then left and the man called his wife (I suppose) to get the information.
  • Get photos of licenses and insurance cards. This man kept swatting at me when I tried to get a photo of him and his license, but I wanted all my bases covered in case he tried to lie and say it wasn’t him driving and so on. I can understand the concern for privacy and safety of your personal information, but either I write it down and hope I got the numbers right, or I also snap a photo and have proof in my hand who he was.

Did we make the flight?

After at least an hour after impact, we were able to get going. I wanted to get the claim opened with his insurance ASAP, so my wife started the process while I drove to the airport. There was a chemical spill on a major road, but we got past that and onto the dedicated highway to the airport. For some reason, I parked in long-term parking (habit I think) rather than daily where we could save a few minutes.We had to cut the claim process short as the shuttle bus was arriving, but we got them enough info to get started.

We got to the check-in window less than 45 minutes before take-off, and the woman said the system usually doesn’t let you check baggage within that time, especially for international flights. I don’t know who to credit the rest of this to, but the system accepted our luggage, we got down to security where there were horrendous lines just to get through ID check. While standing in line, our plane had already begun to board and I knew we still had security, a train and running left to do. Once in the security line, someone overheard our plight and let us cut in line. We got through, found our gate info and just missed the train to the terminal. UGH!

But we got the next train a couple minutes later, then ran Amazing Race style down the insanely long corridor to the escalators up to our terminal. As soon as I got to the top, I heard the final boarding call for our plane! ACK! My wife was lagging behind, but then I found out she was carrying 500lbs of books in her backpack, so I took it from her and we shot off to our gate which, of course, was at the end of the terminal. I saw the door was closed but yelled my name and said “We’re here!” and we made it just in time. Turns out a combination of a packed plane and some mechanical fixes made for slower boarding and a slightly delayed take-off. Just enough time for us to make the flight. We were gasping for breath and had no liquids for our parched mouths until we were airborne and the drink cart came by, but we made it! I never want to call it that close again!

Did we close out the claim successfully?

Luckily, again, for us, our hosts in Germany had a U.S. Vonage modem, so I could call the U.S. for free to complete the claim. I think I had my work laptop with me, so I did all the diagrams, etc. and submitted to stop their arguments against our story, but it was over a month before closure from beginning to end. And then came the process of getting my truck fixed, which was more than a new bumper as he also hit my tailgate.

In the end, with the evidence I made sure to capture, with patience against both this man and our dwindling time. with a little prodding from the law and with some grace and luck, we got through the ordeal, made our flight, enjoyed our trip and got my truck fixed in the end. I wish it wouldn’t have happened at all, but it did and I learned from it and can share that with you.

Unfortunately in J Money’s case, he has a bigger decision to make since his car is marked as totaled due to its low value. I don’t know if I would just take the money and keep driving it, go find another cheap car, try to be a one-car family or what. I hope I don’t have to make that decision anytime soon!

How about your horror stories from accidents (I don’t mean people dying)? Anything else to share for others to do/not do when (not if) an accident happens?

This post brought to you by Clever Dude.

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Clever Dude

5 Comments

  • Wow. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that guy!

    I do want to mention that you really aren’t SUPPOSED to admit fault because sometimes you might think you’re at fault but you’re not because of some obscure law/rule, and if you admit fault, you make it harder on your insurance company to get things sorted out right.

  • @Jenny, you’re right that you should never ADMIT fault, but know what there’s a high chance you’re at fault and don’t do anything that could result in insurance fraud or just making it worse for you or someone else.

  • I can’t believe you kept your cool!! That is awesome man, I know that can be hard. I tend to smile and laugh when people get all pissy with me which usually makes things worse (the last thing they want you to be doing is smiling when they’re cursing you out ;)), but I’m glad it all worked out well for you guys in the end. And now – all these years later – it gave you a blog post idea! haha… gotta love that. We’ll see what we end up doing with my car, but I really REALLY hope we get to keep it now. After driving it around a bit I now appreciate her more!

    • @J, if it’s just some damage you can repair yourself (enough to make it safe enough to drive, like putting the headlight back in place), then I would take the money and run that car till it dies. However, we don’t have a kid in the equation, so if I got stranded, that’s one thing, but with a kid…

  • My wife and I were involved in an accident on the campus of my old employer. My wife was driving me to work (we were carpooling) and the other driver exited a parking area and attempted to cross the intersection with the road we were on. He T-Boned us. Luckily, there were no injuries, however, our car was a total loss.

    The guy that hit us was a peer manager to my manager at work. Before security came, he said it was the company’s policy to move any vehicles out of the way so that we weren’t impeding traffic. Our first mistake was listening to that advice. We moved our cars into the parking area. Site security arrived shortly there after followed by city police. We gave our statements to the officer. While waiting for a ride to take us home, we saw the other driver speaking privately with the officer. We didn’t think anything of it — until we saw the police report. He somehow managed to convince the officer to write up a completely different account including a completely inaccurate diagram of the intersection where the accident happened.

    Then he started lying to his insurance company. Well, I had to tread lightly because he and my manager are good friends. So, the first thing I did was contact site security to get their records of the incident and then asked for permission to
    1. Bring a camera onsite to photograph the scene (I wanted special permission because the best way to get a good shot of the intersection was from the top floor of the building. However, the windows there are inside a secure lab. Recording devices aren’t allowed in secure areas, so I needed to cover my bases here).
    2. Turn their records over to the insurance company

    I also asked about the manager’s statement to us that company policy was to move vehicles to prevent impeding traffic. He said it was NOT policy, however, I didn’t have any proof other than my word against his that he said this.

    I did this in an email and kept both my request and the response from the head of security. I figured if this guy (a manager) was willing to lie, then I had better keep good records.

    Well, I turned both the photographs and site security records over to the insurance adjuster and requested that she come to the site personally. She did so and immediately saw that both the accident report and the other driver’s statements could not have been true.

    They ended up accepting 100% liability. When he found out, he came by my office to say that company policy prohibits cameras and recording devices in secured locations. I said that I was aware of that, but that I had gotten permission from site security and could produce the email if he would like to see it. Well, he turned and left in a huff.

    I left that company for a new job early in 2012, and just a few months after I did, this manager became manager of the team I had been on. I don’t really want to know what would have happened had I stayed and this guy ended up being my direct supervisor — considering his penchant for lying.

    I asked the insurance company about whether they were going to do anything about the fact that he provided false statements. She didn’t give me a clear answer, but the feeling I got was that they weren’t going to do anything. I never followed up with why the police officer’s report was so inaccurate.

    But, a few tips that I have in addition to the ones in the article:
    When being asked to give a statement, be thorough. If you are asked follow up questions, answer ONLY the question asked. I’ve found that some insurance companies try to ask leading questions to try to bait you into saying something to limit their liability.

    Also, know your state’s laws. In NC, it’s all or nothing. If the other person’s insurance company can find that you were even 1% at fault for an accident, they don’t have to pay anything and you end up having to file through your own insurance.

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