What I've learned from my fender bender

December 16, 2014
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It happened about 2 weeks ago. Here are the facts: 

It was around 6:30 pm in the evening, already dark outside. I was at our local gas station, driving straight past the station building and aiming to turn right into the last gas pump. On my left, a black Volkswagen was parked in front of the gas station (perpendicular to the station). I had almost passed the parked car when it suddenly backed out of its parking stall and impacted the side of my left tail light and slightly dented the metal next to the light. 

I stopped the car immediately, and after a second of shock, got out to assess the damage. Meanwhile, the Volkswagen returned to its parking stall. A young girl got out - she turned out to be a teenager with a temporary license. In the passenger seat was a boy, perhaps her boyfriend. 

Right away, she apologised profusely: "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." Seeing her dismay, I tried to comfort her, "It's okay, it can happen." I parked my car in front of the gas station and got out a notebook to get her information. I found out that the car belonged to her mother, so I got contact info for her mom, and I took photos of her driver's license and the license place. She wrote down my contact information. I told her we would be contacting her mother about this, and then we parted ways.

My Mistakes

Looking back, I made a number of mistakes. Here is what I should have done:
  • Taken photos of the entire scene, including her car (even though it was already parked) and my car, so that the relative positions would be recorded.
  • Tried to get either a witness (if anyone saw it, though I don't think anyone did) or at least another independent person, even if he or she did not observe the accident. That third person could later corroborate the circumstances of the aftermath, such as the relative position of the vehicles, and the description of the events as each side understood them immediately after the accident.
  • Insisted that the teenage girl call her mother right there on the spot, so we could both speak to her mother together, and so the girl could describe the events to her mother in my presence. That way, I would have had a chance to correct any misconceptions or gaps while on the scene, with every detail as fresh as it could be.
  • I should have checked and made photos of the damage on the girl's car. 
  • I should have gotten her mother's insurance information (just in case, though my own insurance company was later able to track down her insurance company by doing a 'plate search').
  • Potentially, I could have called the police - though I am still not sure I would do that, since it was such a small fender-bender, and originally I was expecting to settle outside of insurance.
Those are the things I should have done, and I recommend that anyone in my situation do those things. Even if you are clearly not at fault in your fender bender, these steps are very important for you to protect yourself. 

But, this time around, I didn't do any of those things. Instead I naively trusted that her mother would be cooperative, since I was clearly not at fault, and the teenage girl seemed very apologetic and aware that she had caused the accident. 

Misunderstanding "no fault"

I started learning my lessons once I talked to the girl's mother on the phone later that night. Her mother told me that she didn't know what the truth was, since she wasn't there. She didn't believe my story. Apparently, her daughter told her that she didn't know where I came from, and thought I darted out of a gas pump after having filled up (ridiculous, I had not even gotten gas yet, and the position of my car negated that idea). Her mother also hypothesized that perhaps I was in her daughter's blind spot. Still she wanted to know how much the repairs would cost. 

We got an estimate for $250 to repair the tail light, and called back to let her know. At that point, the mother told me that because the accident occurred at a gas station, which is equivalent to a parking lot, it was a "no fault" area and she was not on the hook for our damage.

So, we called our insurance company. Our assigned assessor clarified one thing right away. The mother was wrong in her understanding of "no fault" in parking areas. 

Here in Ontario, we have "no fault" insurance. Apparently, a lot of people have the same misunderstanding as the mother, that there are certain fault-free zones, such as parking areas. But as it turns out, parking areas do not erase fault. There is still a finding of fault in parking areas and everywhere else. Moreover, it is still important that fault is determined correctly. "No fault" insurance does NOT mean that it doesn't matter who is at fault. 

If a person causes an accident in a parking area, they will still be determined at fault, and their insurance rates will still increase as a result. The "no fault" aspect refers only to whose insurance pays for the damage. Here is part of what TD Bank writes about "no fault" car insurance::
Ontario has a "no-fault" car insurance system. But this doesn't mean that no one is at-fault in an accident. "No-fault" insurance means that if you are injured or your car is damaged in an accident, then you deal with your own insurance company, regardless of who is at-fault. You don't have to go after the at-fault driver for compensation.
Huge Repair Bill

Our assigned assessor sent us to a repair place to evaluate the damage. Wake-up call: the total bill for repairs was $1300 plus a 5-day loaner, as our car would have to stay in the shop. Most of the cost was not due to the tail light. Turns out it's really expensive to repair the small "ding" next to the tail light on the "quarter sheet".

Thank goodness that our insurance company believed my story. Our assessor was so certain that I was not at fault that he waived our entire deductible, and we could begin repairs immediately. We are so grateful that he continued to believe my version of events, especially in light of what was to come next. 

Thank you Walter from BelAir Direct for treating us so well in this crazy world of lies and deceit!

Twisting the Story

After our agent contacted the mother's insurance company, he gave us a call. Her insurance company was disputing my claims and had a completely different version of the story. 

The mother now claimed that I backed into the girl's car. Also, she claimed that the front of her car was facing my back, and that I damaged the front of their car. They apparently have some damage to the front of their car, and they asserted that I caused this damage. (The nerve: they were actually trying to make me liable for prior damage to their car). 

I was in complete disbelief. These were blatant lies, and mother, daughter and boyfriend must all have known it. It became evident that people really will resort to these low blows where money is concerned. I can't imagine myself outright lying in order to avoid responsibility, but apparently some people don't have those same internal inhibitions. Doesn't their conscience bother them? Personal integrity doesn't seem to matter much these days.

Lasting Lessons

The insurance companies decided to settle fault at 50-50, because it was our word against theirs. But because our insurance agent believed us, our insurance company picked up the tab for us anyway. Our insurance rates will not be going up, and we didn't have to pay for our repairs. This is one case where having car insurance really did benefit us. 

However, I have learned a lot of lessons from this whole seemingly small fender-bender:
  • No matter how apologetic people are at the scene of the accident, don't assume the sentiment of responsibility will last. Don't assume they will agree to pay for their own mistakes. 
  • Protect yourself by getting as much objective evidence as possible right at the scene. 
  • If possible, record the admissions of the party at fault. 
  • Get witnesses, even if they didn't observe the accident itself. 
  • Take photos and videos.
  • Get all the paperwork information you can, including: insurance information, license place, and make and model of the car. 
Continue to hope for the best, but cover your bases. Prepare for the worst scenario, just in case.

And when people treat you well in situations like this, don't take it for granted. Remember to thank them, and continue to pay it forward.

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