A piece in today’s WaPo Outlook opinion section has the tale of a local woman whose new Mazda was hit twice in one weekend: the first time, a kid in a shopping center parking lot “carelessly flung his door open so far that it scraped the side of my car.” The next day, the woman discovered someone had crunched her back bumper without leaving a note on the windshield.
In the first instance, the woman practically has to stand in front of the car at the shopping mall to get the driver to stop. The man driving the car launched into a tirade in front of his two young sons, shouting, “What’s the big deal? What’s the big deal?” The author said she felt sick about the lesson the father had just demonstrated for his boys.
A few weeks ago, while driving to Baltimore to visit a friend who was in town for the day, I had a minor fender bender on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The roads were slick with rain, and in stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic, I tried breaking to stop for the car in front of me, but my Jeep didn’t stop. Instead, I slid into the rear bumper of the blue VW golf/jetta-thing.
After he nervously called his insurance company, I offered to pay for the damage outright, thereby specifically not involving my insurance company. He was very hesitant, so I did everything I could to vouch for myself (showed him my ID, let him copy my insurance info, etc.), and we went on our separate ways.
The next morning, the guy’s wife calls me, berating her husband for having never been in a car accident. “Yeah, when I met him, I was like, I can’t believe you’ve never had a car accident.” So I again confirmed my willingness to pay for the damage. Just get an estimate from your dealer, I said, and I’ll take care of the rest — I can give them my credit card number before they start the work if you’d like, or I can make a deposit on the work if that makes you feel better.”
Oh no, everything is fine, she said. We won’t call the insurance company. My husband will fax you the estimate.
A few hours later, the husband calls me (I gave him my home, work and cell phone numbers as a sign of good faith). He just wanted to be sure he covered his bases, so he went ahead and called Geico (my carrier) to file a claim, “You know, just to make sure nothing goes wrong.”
Ugh. I confirmed this with Geico, which said the damage was done, so to speak, because once the claim is filed, they are legally responsible. That’s why we have insurance. I then called the wife back and told her that they would have to deal solely with Geico, and that I was sorry they couldn’t find the trust to let me do what I said I would. (My reasoning, by the way, was that I didn’t want my rates to go up for such a minor accident, which is why I was willing to pay the body shop charges out-of-pocket.)
The opinion piece in the Post reminded me of my frustration in dealing with the husband and wife, especially because I really went out of my way to demonstrate I could be trusted, and that I would honor my word. In the end, I don’t know that I fault them, simply because they were trying to protect their investment in a new car.
But it’s frustrating all the same. Like the couple at the end of the opinion piece who found the car owner and said their son had accidentally crunched the bumper when he backed into the car, I tried to do the right thing.