Do have any rights with a subregation claim?

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Do have any rights with a subregation claim?

I recently got into a car accident. I was at a stop light the vehicle ahead of me started to take off. So I followed. He stomped on his brakes and I hit him from behind. We both got out checked our vehicles mine took most of the damage if any at all. We did not call the cops. I gave him my identification number then we went our separate ways. About 20 minutes later he called telling me that his vehicle wasn’t running, so it needed to be towed, etc. Unfortunately at the time of the accident I did not have insurance. Now I am getting calls from a company in regards to a subregation claim. I have not called them back yet as I don’t want to incriminate myself. I know there is no way I’ll b able to pay for this but I also don’t think there is anything wrong with his vehicle. Without a police report does he have a case against me? If he were to win and I get a judgement against me I will not b able to pay. I am currently unemployed. Do have any legal grounds on my end or am I going to get screwed because I didn’t have insurance? I drive a 26 year old vehicle. His car was newer, 12 years old; I don’t know the make/model.

Asked on October 26, 2017 under Accident Law, New Mexico

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You are probably, in your words, "screwed." First, the good news: he can only recover from you costs, damage, etc. which he can prove in court--or, in a subrogation claim, his insurer can only recover from you costs, damage, etc. which they can prove in court--occured and was caused  by you in the accident. The compensation sought must be supported by evidence and provable by a "preponderance of the evidence" (that it is "more likely than not" to be true). So they can't just make up claims or numbers and demand them; they must be able to back them up.
But now the bad news:
1) When you rear end another car, you are almost inevitably found to be at fault and therefore liable for the damage, costs, etc. The law requires you to maintain such safe following speed and distance, and pay sufficient attention, that even if the car ahead of you slams on its brakes, that you can stop in time. So it's almost certain that if sued, you will be found liable and have to pay.
2) Insurers can claim against an at-fault driver to recover any amounts they paid out to their insured ("subrogation").
3) If the insurer paid out money to their driver, they already concluded that his claims were true and were backed by evidence--therefore, assume that they will be able to prove that you owe most, if not all, of the money they seek.
4) A police report has little bearing on a lawsuit. The police report is evidence, nothing more: it can help someone if there is a report and it supports their version, but lacking one does not prevent them from proving their case some other way.
5) Since you were then uninsured, you will owe the money personally.
6) In your state, if they sue you and win, the judgment can be enforced for up to 14 years. so if during that time, you become employed, they can try to garnish wages; if you inherit or other get money or real estate, they can try to get it; etc. This is something that can haunt you for years despite your current inability to pay.


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