When It’s Not Your Fault

What do you do when it’s not your fault? Maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’ve been in an accident caused by another person. Maybe you have been unsure of what to do. I’ve been in that situation before as well, and now that I work at Pearson Law Firm I quickly learned what I should have done so many years ago. I want to share my story with you.

In 2006 I was fairly fresh out of college and was working as a social therapist with youth. I had just picked up one of my “clients” (a 14-year-old girl) from her school and we were heading to her house to work on some life skills to implement within her home (which was full of other foster kids).

Leaving her school, it was nearly impossible to take a left hand turn on to the busy North Idaho highway. So, I did what everyone else did and turned right and pulled into the Dairy Queen parking lot to turn around and head the direction I originally needed to go.

I pulled into the parking lot, made my turn around, and lined up behind the other cars exiting the parking lot (doing the same thing I was doing). Stopped and waiting, I noticed the large SUV in front of me suddenly put their reverse lights on. Assuming they were just readjusting or straightening out, I didn’t panic right away. I would have backed up myself, but there was nowhere for me to safely back up. Suddenly I realized the SUV was now moving and backing up! I started honking to let them know I was there…but the car kept coming backwards towards me. I honked some more…and after the impact she stopped. She ended up hitting my front driver side fender. Confused and shocked by the honking, she pulled forward as it became her turn to exit the parking lot. I was anxiously waiting to see if she was going to pull over or if she was going to “hit and run”.

Thankfully, she pulled aside. I was nervous and unsure of what to do. Because I was working and on the clock, and felt uneducated about what to do when in an accident-I did not call the police. I assumed that would be breaking the rules and some sort of client/therapist boundary as I imagined that my client, who was a minor, would then have to go on the record as a witness. That made me nervous, and I thought I would get in trouble-so I only did what I knew to do: exchange insurance information with the other driver.

The driver was a young girl who could not have been older than 16. She was crying and flustered, and I will never forget her words “What kind of action are you taking here?” when I asked for her insurance information.

We exchanged info and I headed to my client’s house. After some time had passed and after discussing with her foster parents about what had happened, they encouraged me to file a police report. So, I stopped by the police station on my way home. Little did I know that because I had not called them at the scene of the accident, there was nothing they could do.

I came home to my husband and showed him the damage to our car. I explained the situation and we filed a claim with our insurance. This is where it all goes South. I am not sure how much time had passed but I remember getting a call from the other party’s insurance claim adjuster…who told me they had a few questions for me. Being young and naïve, I happily obliged thinking how helpful this would be for them to hear the truth about what really happened.

Young and with no experience I explained the accident and gave a descriptive play by play. When they asked for specifics on what part of her car hit my car…. I got the wording off. And boy did it cost me. I referred to the side-step (“running board” I believe is the technical term) as her “side fender thing”. This was a large SUV and I was in a small sedan. I was then asked to draw the accident showing a visual of what happened. Proud of my thorough story and detailed thinking, I again happily obliged.

My husband and I were then asked a few days later to come to the insurance office for a meeting and for them to see the car. In that meeting they pulled out my drawing and the other parties drawing. I laughed out loud at the other drawing and the description of the accident. According to the young teen, her car was stopped, and I was a moving vehicle who then (according to her drawing) T-boned HER! It seemed so silly and ridiculous that I could not wrap my head around why someone would be untruthful and say something so opposite of what really happened.

I was shocked when they sided with her drawing and story and said that her drawing and story paired with the damage on MY car, fit her narrative more than it fit mine. “Side right fender thing” ….my own words naively spoken, being used against me in the worst way. I was told her “running board” was where the damage was-and therefore I must have T-boned her and her picture speaks the truth.

Never in my life have I ever felt so sucker punched and betrayed in that moment. I felt so personally wronged. I was so upset that I was being called a “liar” and had to walk away with a damaged car that was caused by the other driver, who was a liar.

So, what did I learn from this?

First, call the police at the scene of the accident. I later found out it would have been fine to have had my client on record and I would not have been breaking any HIPAA laws.

Secondly, don’t talk to the other party’s insurance if you don’t have to. In most cases, you don’t. I never knew I had a choice! I thought they were there to help. I was wrong. They are there to deny responsibility and find a way to argue that their insured is not to blame-and they may even use your words and lack of proper terminology against you. Let your own insurance company or your lawyer communicate with the other party and their insurance adjuster.

Thankfully, no one was injured, but I was left with a damaged car and a jaded heart-as I was so disappointed and felt so manipulated by this young teenage driver who so boldly told (and even drew) a blatant lie to shift the blame.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you are ever in an accident, here are a few simple things to remember:

  • If you can, dial 911 and report.
  • If you are injured, tell police or anyone else who comes to your aid, and accept all aid at the scene since injuries may not be immediately apparent; and go to the ER to get urgent care and document what happened.
  • Be safe and do not move your vehicle until law enforcement instructs you.
  • Take pictures or have someone else do it before vehicles are moved.
  • Record names and contact info of all persons involved, including any witnesses.
  • Call the Pearson Law Firm at 425.831.3100, if you have any questions.

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