Albion Monitor /Commentary

Run in on a Rainy Afternoon

by Sara Peyton

As I slowly backed out of a parking space, I heard a crunch

Warning! The story you are about to read is true, but the names have been changed.

Faced with growing sons and small cars, last April my husband and I made a leap into a large van with clean, comfortable seats, and extended length -- almost a limo. Usually I prefer driving tiny cars, and the new one stretched for miles. Still, I was happy. That is, until one week later, when, as I slowly backed out of a parking space, I heard a crunch.

I immediately jumped out of my car, as did the driver of the other car, Mary, and her teenage offspring. Immediately the two began cussing at me with such ferocity, I felt under attack. As Mary yelled for witnesses to stop and relate their stories of what they saw, the possible witnesses quickly hopped in their cars and drove away. I shook with guilt.

No one bothered to notify me, legal under current law

A quick inspection revealed no damage to the corner of my left back bumper and a slight dent in left front fender of Mary's car. I couldn't have been going faster than 3 mph.There was no mention made of injuries by either Mary or her teenager. And I took Mary's word that the incident was my fault, and, that despite my caution, I had failed to see her. Now I'm not so sure.

Once Mary quieted, she insisted on calling the local police. Though lawmen declined to come to a private parking lot, it was clear that Mary and I weren't going to settle this matter privately. I did my duty: Mary got my phone number, address, and insurance carrier.

Hours later and without mentioning injuries, Mary filed a report with the local police department, falsely claiming that her car was dented in three places, and a few other fabrications. I followed those allegations with a letter to the police department and a warning to my insurance carrier to proceed with caution.

After months of silence, when I foolishly hoped the entire incident closed and forgotten, I learned -- during a routine renewal call -- that I had not one but two points on my record for causing an injury accident. And my insurance carrier informed me that my auto insurance was increasing by $1,000 every year for the next three years. Why? Because Mary received $20,000 in medical claims from my insurance carrier last November, five months after the initial mishap. No one bothered to notify me, legal under current law.

According to my insurance company, Mary fell hours after our encounter as a result of her emotional upset that I had caused. That fall inflamed a pre-existing medical condition. My insurance carrier acknowledged that Mary had been taking narcotics earlier that day -- but for pain only.

I made a mistake by immediately accepting my own guilt

In past weeks, I've tried to decide who I'm madder at -- my insurance carrier or Mary. Did she set me up? Or was she simply an opportunist? I can't decide. Still when Mary and her child verbally attacked me, I was reminded of a mugging I had endured more than 15 years ago. Certainly, to cross their path was indeed back luck.

My insurance carrier falls into a different category. I've been with them for nearly 20 years and during that time have had no claims made against me. Their job is to protect my interests. This they failed to do. They say if Mary had taken them to court, they would have lost. But what if Mary had had to file a medical claim with her own insurance carrier, would they have paid it? Would she have fallen?

That is why I'm voting for Prop. 200, the No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance, Initiative Statute on the March 26 ballot in California. I'm for any new provision that makes some effort to curb insurance fraud. I'm for any law that makes the companies we hire -- like our insurance companies -- advocate for us. This proposition is not perfect and even Ralph Nader is against it, in part because it places caps on how much money an injured victim can collect. But it's a beginning and I plan to send a message with my vote.

I'm also filing a complaint with the state's Insurance Commission, their fraud division, and I'm considering taking both Mary and my insurance agency to small claims court.

I've also learned some hard lessons. Under the present system I made a mistake by immediately accepting my own guilt. I could have been the sole cause of this accident, as Mary claimed. Or Mary could have been backing out of her parking space, too. If that was so, there would have been no blame, the fault would have been shared, and she would have had to file a claim with her own insurer for medical injuries.

I made a another mistake when I didn't stop witnesses and ask them for their story -- stories that would have contradicted the version Mary later gave to the police, and stories that would have verified the account I gave to my insurance carrier.

Accidents do happen. Reasonable people accept this to be true. And there's a vast difference between drinking and driving, speeding, or driving recklessly then slowly backing out of a crowded parking space on a rainy afternoon.

The fact is -- I was unlucky that day.

The truth is -- perhaps Mary got lucky.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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