What to do if I’m being threatened by an insurance company that claims it paid to repair a car my 17 year old son got into an accident with while riding on his bike?

Get Legal Help Today

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

What to do if I’m being threatened by an insurance company that claims it paid to repair a car my 17 year old son got into an accident with while riding on his bike?

My son tells me the driver of that car was at fault but the driver’s insurance company says the Highway Patrol found my son at fault. The adjuster says that if I do not pay for the damages within 2 weeks the insurance company will have the DMV revoke my license and my son’s license. My auto insurance company will not cover the damage.

Asked on July 12, 2013 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

 

The best advice I can give is to speak with a lawyer and go over the exact facts and circumstances and get some real professional advice on which you can rely. But as you know that and prefer to get general information for free (rather than hiring an attorney for actionable legal advice) It seems to me that here the insurance company's adjuster or collection arm is seeking to coerce you into making a payment by making improper threats that it knows are false and deceptive, and that is usually a crime, so it may make sense to try to let them dig themselves in far deeper and create a record that proves what's going on.   

 

By saying that please understand that I am NOT saying that your son may not have some responsibility for the damage he caused, or that, depending on the facts (such as if he was running an errand for you) you too may not have some responsibility as well. What I am saying is that you are dealing with a bully that is trying to scare you into paying, and you do not have to be pushed around. However, it may make sense to try to resolve this on your own, particularly if the amounts are relatively small, or hire a local attorney to help you negotiate a settlement as I am sure that after attorneys fees the cost of any settlement will be far below what the insurance company is now demanding. 

 

First and most important, start now to keep a copy of all written and all email correspondence in a separate file, and you and your son should make very careful notes of each and every phone call you have with them going forward -- who called whom, when (date and hour), what did you say and what did they say, and then date the note. And, as your memory today is far better than it will be in 6 weeks or 6 months from now, try to reconstruct each prior conversation in the same manner and write it down.

 

Second, call up the DMV headquarters and find someone knowledge who can tell you if  YOU can lose your license if you do not pay for an accident your minor son got int to while on his own non-motorized bike.  Then find out if your son can lose his license.

 

Third, although your auto insurance normally would not cover damage your minor son caused while writing an ordinary (non-motorized) bike, the liability portion of your homeowners or renters coverage and/or umbrella policy may well possibly cover it. Read your homeowners policy and then report the matter to your homeowners or renters insurance company.  If you have no homeowners or renters or umbrella coverage its just you against the driver's insurance company.

 

Although I do not purport to know the full scope of the DMV's authority, it seems to me that it would be outrageous for the DMV to penalize you as the parent of a then minor by taking your license, merely because your minor son was involved in a bike accident and you or he have not paid the insurance company for the damages it claims. But ask the DMV and also ask if he would lose his license as he was only 17 at the time of the accident. (And take names.) 

 

Further, although the Highway Patrol is entitled to great respect, and its officers routinely assign fault for purposes of their own records (and their conclusions are usually correct), and the insurance company may well rely on the Highway Patrol's assessment, only a judge or jury can actually determine fault for purposes of civil liability. In other words, you're not guilty just because the Highway Patrol says you are. (Feel free to call up the Highway Patrol and ask them.)  

 

I strongly doubt there is any law that makes you and your son automatically liable just because the Highway Patrol determined he was at fault. Here the insurance company is standing in for the owner of the other car under what its known as its right of subrogation -- the ability of the insurer to recover from a wrongdoer what it paid out to its policyholder (here the car owner). And it is bullying you. 

 

If you can't work something out with the insurance company and it  wants to collect the right way it would have to file a lawsuit at which the insurance company would have to prove your son was at fault and what damages he caused. Then, to the extent you or your son can establish the driver of the car may have been at least partially at fault, any damages your son may otherwise owe legally would be reduced proportionally. If sued, your son can simply deny liability and (so long as he does not lie) claim he did not cause any or all of the damage, the other driver was fully or at least partially at fault, the damages the insurance company is quoting are unreasonable and/or exaggerated. The insurance company has to prove its case. (Although if your son was fully at fault, and the driver was not at all at fault, and your son made statements to that effect it's close to an open and shut case it may not pay to argue about issues of fault.)

 

It's often very expensive for the insurance company to hire a lawyer (or tie up one of their quasi-in-house lawyers) and sue for a small amount, and they can not recover attorneys fees, although they can recover court costs. The insurance company's insured driver likely does not want to go to court to testify but would have to, and the Highway Patrol certainly has far better things to do with its officers' time than have them go to court in a simple civil suit for an insurance company. And the insurance company may lose in court, especially if the witnesses do not show up. Worse come to worse, let's say they win and get a judgment against your son. if your son has no attachable assets they may not be able to collect anything (although it may hurt his credit for years). Thus they want to settle with you. 

 

Of course, you don't want to have to go to court either. You'd be out of your element, likely would need a lawyer, and thus it's a loser even if you "win". Thus you and they are playing bluff -- but they are VERY experienced and you are not.

 

The best defense may be a good offense, so you may want to call back the claims guy who told you that you and your son would BOTH lose your drivers licenses if you don't pay in 10 days, and ask him if you understood him correctly. He will confirm it or more likely begin to wiggle. Ask him to send that statement to you in a letter or email. (He won't dare.) Ask him to tell you the basis for that statement. (Remember you will be making VERY CAREFUL NOTES all the time.)  Ask him/her to send copies of all the bills and records substantiating his claim for damages.

 

There's better than a 90% chance at some point in the conversation s/he'll say "look, if we can just settle this, I'll try to see if I can get the amount reduced, but I'll need to tell my boss... " 

 

Now you're negotiating -- how much damage was really done and how much is it worth to you to get this over and done with?  Here a lawyer can help you.  And if the fool at the insurance company continues his threats, you may well have a MAJOR claim against him or her, and his insurance company. That's something some lawyers would handle on a contingency basis.

Robert Johnston / Law Office of Robert J. Johnston Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

I assume that you have sought to obtain a copy of the Collision Report? Certainly you have.

However, if for some reason you have not, then by all means get a copy, so you know what your dealing with and can see it for yourself. You can contact the SC Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Its possible that your own insurance company can assist you with that. And moreover, if the adjuster is relying on the accident report of the Highway Patrol, then ask him/her for a copy. There is no reason why they wouldn't give you a copy. Especially since they are asking for money. Once you have the report, then you can make your own decision if the insurance company is entitled to be paid.

As far as everybody losing their drivers licenses, its not quite that simple. An insurance company cannot just pick up the phone, call the DMV, and have a person's license revoked. There is a lot to this area and its not feasible to address everything in this answer. However, you are also free to call the DMV and ask about that issue.

As far as your own auto insurance company not willing to pay for the damage, that does not surprise me. I'm assuming that they are simply taking the position that such a situation is not covered on your policy. Nevertheless, call them up and ask them to specifically tell you why its not covered. If you thought in the first place that maybe it was, then its a reasonable question to ask them why.

You didn't say how much the repair bill is. So I don't know. But I'm wondering just how much damage, dollar wise this whole thing comes to. I know that repair bills can get costly and expensive real fast with auto repairs, but I'm wondering at the same time, just how much it could possibly be if the damage was caused by a bicycle. If you think that maybe your son was at fault, or even partially at fault, maybe some sort of a comprimise could be made.

One other thought. I don't know any of the circumstances of the accident, but if it was on private property, then you may want to see if there's any insurance as to the real estate is concerned.

Last thought. You are free to mount your own defense and present it to the insurance company. Witnesses, picture(s) of the bicycle, witnesses, etc. And keep in mind, that the Highway Patrol's report is not absolute, concrete, proof of liability. Its simply one person't opinion as to what happened. Not every accident report that has ever been done has been 100% accurate. You are free to challenge it. And you (more specifically, your son) are free to litigate this and are entitled to have your day in court.

Good luck. Hope I've helped some.

Robert J. Johnston

 

 

 


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption