2 November 2013

No Fault Car Insurance - how it works in a real-life incident

Revised Nov 14, 2013; Updated Dec 6, 2013 (minor changes in wording Dec 7).

Just over a month ago I was involved in a collision, here in London. I say I was “involved,” but what I really mean is that I was sitting in my parked car minding my own business when another vehicle rammed into mine. The driver of the jeep was very gracious, admitting fault, taking pictures, exchanging information with me, and advising me to go to the Police Reporting Centre to report the collision. He wasn’t interested in taking down my name at first, until I suggested that he did. After all, wouldn’t his insurance company ask for it? I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but looking back, it was an indication of something, wasn’t it?

Reporting the accident

Within an hour, after having my xray taken (nothing to do with the accident), at the medical building outside which the collision took place, I was on my way to report the accident. Pictures of the car were taken, and I had a couple of forms to fill out as well as write out a statement telling what happened. I returned home, reported the accident to my insurance company and dealt with that over the next week or so. The car was fixed, the insurance paid for it, and that was that. I was a bit concerned that my insurance rates would go up, especially because I still had nothing in writing that said the accident was not my fault. I was assured that with no-fault insurance, it was my insurance company that would pay for the damages, although I could not get anything specific from them in writing at that early stage, within a few days of the accident. The adjuster assured me I was not considered to be at fault, and that the deductible would be waived, but when I requested something in writing, I received a cryptic letter in response, confirming nothing and in fact, implying that I might be at fault. See the letter on my website: Notwithstanding, I decided to let the matter go, as it seemed pointless to pursue the matter further with him.

Insurance company – 'fault'

A few days later I received another letter – a form – from my insurance company, informing me that a claim had been made “on my policy” and asking me to fill out the form and return the letter to them if no such loss had occurred.  This was intended to reduce fraud, and so naturally I returned the completed form, informing them that, as far as I knew, the accident had not been my fault and so there should not have been a claim “on my policy”. At the same time, I was now seriously contemplating the idea that the claim actually had been put through my collision coverage, resulting in a deductible that I ordinarily would have had to pay, but for some reason, according to my claims adjuster, had been waived.

A few weeks later, on Oct 30, my claims adjuster called, to make sure everything was fine with the service – getting the car fixed, etc. By that time I had thought that the incident was long over and everything was back to normal so I responded briefly, and that was that. 

Police investigation

Then, out of the blue, the following day, on Oct 31, I received a phone call, from an officer in the Traffic Unit of the London Police Service. To my surprise, the police officer informed me that he was conducting an investigation into the collision. It wasn’t only a surprise, it was a shock. Suddenly, everything made sense.  The insurance adjuster had been withholding something from me. I suspected that he must have known the situation was not resolved when he wrote the letter to me in that cryptic manner.

Apparently, the driver of the other vehicle, that had hit mine, had not reported his involvement in the accident to the Police Report Station. I recall there being some inconsistencies in the interaction with the driver, but that was 6 weeks ago now. It hadn’t seemed important at the time but now I wondered. 

So now, 5 weeks later, a Traffic Unit officer was investigating the incident.  I had not stopped to find witnesses to the event, although several people came in and out of the medical centre while we were standing there, the jeep’s bumper jammed into the wheel well of my front passenger side. There was a CCTV camera on the Pharmacy wall, and windows all across the various stores and offices. And he had no doubt been in one of those place himself. No other stores were easily accessible from the parking lot.

Police Reporting Centre

I want to mention the experience I had within the Reporting Centre, as I felt my case was not dealt with as expertly as one might expect. Mainly, I realized that the writing of my statement was being taken over by the gal whose job it was to gather all my information. To begin with, I was going to write that I had just come from the swimming pool, parked the car, and was brushing my damp hair before going into the building. She suggested I not write in such detail (added Nov 12). She had more experience than me, about what was required, so I was agreeable in having her direct me in the writing of it, until she made a slip, and  continued to describe what happened in a way I wouldn’t have myself. 

One was just an error, I’m sure, when she was saying what to write and she referred to the jeep as a pickup, obviously because, in showing her how the accident occurred, she used tiny toy cars to demonstrate, one being a pickup. A second glitch was her attempt to describe the scene when the two vehicles became tangled together. She used the word ‘attached’ as in “the two vehicles were attached”. I decided to write down that his vehicle’s bumper became jammed into the wheel well of my car as he backed out, which seemed to be more descriptive and more accurate than using the ‘no-fault’ description she had suggested. 

Not in my report, but relevant, is that the other driver's wrap-around bumper and possibly the wheel are what caused the damage. The jeep’s bumper was quite large, protruding farther than ordinary ones. It, or the bumper cover, ended up with a football-sized dent in the front of it, and what other damage there was I don't know. See http://www.carid.com/2013-jeep-wrangler-bumpers/  (added Dec 7).

Diagram from PRC self-report. The triangles
on each vehicle indicate the front end.




The space on the page was too small to contain everything I would have liked to say, and no additional page seemed to be available. When it came to the end of the space, that was it. I do want to emphasize this because I am sure I am not the first person who could have written a more explanatory statement had I been given more space, and the officer from the Traffic Unit seemed to think more information would have been advisable. Before leaving, I was given a copy of part of the form the two of us had completed, but not of the statement I had made, so when the police constable commented on it I was unable to respond properly, except to say that the girl behind the desk had encouraged me to write it a particular way.

I was na├»ve, for sure, in believing that the man whose jeep hit my car was genuine in his concern for my predicament, leaving me in a situation which could just mean my rates would be increased as well as my reputation damaged. I have no proof that the incident happened the way I said, and 6 weeks after the fact, who in that medical centre would remember anything that could help?  Would the bodyshop I took the car to have saved any paint chips from the parts of my car they replaced? And then, why did the Police Department wait so long to investigate?

Was the officer serious when he said, Could I identify the driver of the jeep from a lineup? Does he realize I know his name and he knows mine? His vehicle is worth 20 or 30 times as much as mine.  Yes, I could identify him if I saw him in a lineup. And could probably identify his voice too. Just have him repeat a few words – like Oh darn! Darn it! What a darn thing to have happen!

I agree. At first I had felt sorry for the man. To do such a thing would make a person angry at what they’d done. And his was such a nice new vehicle. And why was it that the girls in the x-ray department, where I went afterwards, whispered and acted as though this was a situation that might lead to something, providing the results to my test to me within a day instead of two weeks later, as is usually the case?

No fault insurance

Of course, when I started talking to the adjuster, I began to feel more concern for myself.  Having done all that I could to keep my old car in shape and running, I was now in a situation where my car might be considered a write-off, due to the black book prices. That resolved, the next surprise came when I discovered the investigation wasn’t complete, which to me explained the carefully worded letter from the adjuster when I requested confirmation that I was not at fault.  I was annoyed at the insurance adjuster for withholding from me the fact that the driver didn’t bother to have a Police Report filled out, or pics of the big round dent in his front driver’s side bumper taken, or to explain how he had damaged my car. I had assumed everything was finished with, but I had been wrong. Later, I was told that there might be little exchange of knowledge and facts between the police and the insurance company, each having their own situation to work out.

I am sure I still don’t know all the ins and outs of no-fault insurance, but I have learned quite a bit from going through this. I have been reassured by the insurance company that the problem of wording in communications between us has been resolved, and I am considered by them to be not at fault, and that something will be put in the mail to that effect.

The entire situation was handled by the insurance – my insurance – as though it didn't made a difference who was at fault. But the other half of this is the police investigation. So when I say the entire situation was handled by the insurance, that may not be entirely correct. If there’s a glitch, as, for example, the other driver does not report it, then it’s not altogether over.

Implications of not reporting the accident

It looks as though the driver of the other vehicle might only be charged with not reporting the accident, if that. I’m sure it wouldn’t take someone like him to realize within a minute or so that the damage done to my vehicle could be less than $1000 worth – considering the car itself is worth less than that. He could always claim that, and  no doubt the police officer would agree that he could hardly have thought otherwise.

So after a month of thinking the situation was resolved, now I discover no real investigation was done – no one questioned, no attempt to find a witness, and no responsibility taken by the driver of the jeep that rammed my car in the parking lot.

I'm just wondering . . . if I had been the one that hit the other car, would it have left the kind of damage that my car received? And wouldn't my car have had to move sideways to inflict that kind of damage onto its bumper? I hope this doesn't become a situation where I have to show I couldn't have been responsible for the damage.

What happens, under our legal system, if the driver of the jeep pleads not guilty to leaving the scene, for whatever reason. If he goes to court over this, and there is not enough evidence to convict him, who will take responsibility for the accident?

Additional notes – added Dec 6

Court case – failing to report

The police constable, calling me 6 weeks less a day after the day the collision occurred, had commented on the lack of detail in my official hand-written statement that I had provided at the Police Reporting Centre.  When he called I did not have a copy of it to refer to as I had not been given one at the PRC so a few days later I did go to the Police Station to pick up one, as well as try to find out more about the possibility of getting this matter sorted out properly. As it stands, it’s likely to be me left holding the bag. I have learned that the case is going before the judge, that the driver has been charged with failing to report an accident to the Police Reporting Centre.  I wouldn’t like to see the man charged with the offence being the only one allowed to speak. And I would appreciate the opportunity of explaining more about the incident.

I have, since then, in fact today, been back to both the Police Reporting Centre and the Police Station, to draw their attention to errors. The first error, if that’s what it was, was made by me when I filled out the accident report form at the PRC. I was still under the impression, at that moment, that the other driver had been cooperating with me and would be along shortly, and admit to being at fault. So when he had informed me, while I was checking out his driver’s licence at the scene, that the address on it was not his current address, I took his word for it, crossing it out and referring to his ownership details for his address. And it was this address that I gave as “his address” when asked at the PRC. There was no space for two addresses, as drivers are supposed to have only one official address, so it was a non issue, as far as filling out the form was concerned. The clerk helping me also took for granted that if the driver had said that first address was an old one, then it must have been.

Also, a minor adjustment was needed of the diagram of the vehicles on the constable’s report, as it didn’t depict accurately the position of the two vehicles when one hit the other. The drawing he made of the incident was not the same as the drawing on my report of the accident, made at the PRC.  So, that I did, using a marker for emphasis, changing on the sketch the direction the jeep was headed as it backed out - not this way but that way. So this would be new information for the court when he appears.

I decided to set the matter straight at the PRC, and report the other driver’s original address as it appeared on his driver’s licence. From there I went to the Police Station, to leave for the constable in charge of the incident a copy of his report, with the correction/addition of the additional address, in case he was having difficulty locating the man, and the change in the sketch of the cars on the official police report.

Investigation

Does it make any difference whether he is named as the one responsible? Yes, I think so, otherwise it is simply me left with no explanation of how the damage to my car occurred. There are two parts to this. One is the  initial settlement of the claim by the insurance company, which in this case, resulted in my being declared fault-free. But if the other driver gets off, then, under our adversarial legal system, it leaves the situation as having no one at fault. If he declares he wasn’t there at all that day, at the parking lot in the medical centre, is anyone going to investigate the truth of that?  Would the various health departments in the medical centre be checked to see if he had filled a prescription that day, or had an xray or blood test, or visited a doctor there?  It wouldn’t be that hard to check, though it has to be someone with the proper authority to do so, to ask questions about the person by that name.

Handwritten statement

One further issue is the lack of space for writing details about the accident. By now, my handwritten statement would have been typed up, ready for the judge, who  might not realize there had not been enough room on the form to write down all that I would have liked to.

On measuring the space allowed for my statement (after correcting for the resized version I received a copy of) I found it came out to just over 9 square inches, which for ease of understanding I will reshape into a space 4.5 “ wide x 2 “ high, the size of a business card plus an extra inch in width. To visualize it more clearly, take a business card, put it on a piece of paper and use it to draw a rectangle. Then add one inch to the width, to 4.5 “. If I type out my statement, it takes up just under 4 lines, Times New Roman font, size 12, on a standard letter-size page.  If you have never seen this Self Reporting Collision Report form before, that is the amount of space you would have to write the details of an accident.

This form is called a Self Reporting Collision Report. It is intended that the person reporting the accident provide some of the information to the clerk, who fills in some of the blanks, while other parts of the form are to be completed by the person him or herself. The handwritten statement is also to be completed by that same person. That might be difficult for someone doing it for the first time, not knowing what was required and what not to bother stating, if it seemed obvious.

I would advise anyone faced with writing the statement out to make sure it reads as it happened, and that the facts are included, regardless of whether there is a proper space to put them. If you assume that the person who hit your vehicle will do the right thing and take responsibility, you may find out otherwise. In these days of identity theft, one never knows, but if the driver locates the required documentation with no problem, even though the address may not be current on one of them, plus the fact he was coming out of a medical centre which places a focus on his reason to legitimately be there, one could expect that he was who he said he was. 

Why I am writing about this incident 

There are websites devoted to enabling violators of traffic laws to avoid being penalized for their misdeeds.  But what is there to help the persons involved who become ‘collateral damage’?  My hope is that readers of my story can learn from it and thus take precautions if they are involved in a collision, to achieve the proper outcome.

I am not writing this to intentionally cause problems for the other driver, but to draw attention to my side of the story, including the implications of having damage done to my car while no person is seen to be legally “at fault,”despite my naming the person responsible for the incident outside the public medical building and collecting his details, as required. If I have done everything I needed to, as required, I should be able to feel satisfied that justice will be done. 

On another level . . . . 

The legal system is based on the idea of opposites, as are most ways of thinking in society. There is a winner and a loser, unless one can get mediation and find a middle ground.  However, in my life, justice has usually been one-sided. One person is left being made responsible for the incident, while the other walks away. Usually, this depends on which one has the most power – the wider social network, the most potential in life, the ability to get others on his/her side. So sometimes truth is not the issue at all. As with other legal cases that I have written about on my blog, outcomes may not always seem fair, even if it seems obvious to most people what the result should be, and despite legitimate exceptions.

In some ways, the legal system works against people, making them oppose one another in court, instead of considering alternative solutions that suit both parties. I don’t want to be left thinking to myself, We are left with no one taking responsibility for this incident, despite the fact I saw him do it and he knows he did it. If he gets off would it be because someone didn’t do their job properly, and they don’t care about that?