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A reflection on auto insurance. By: Christopher Pascale

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Over the past two years, I’ve made so many insurance claims that I worried I’d be dropped from my policy.

I’m not sure if the company values me for the various loans I’ve taken out or paid off, or if I still fall within the safe zone of their algorithm. Either way, I’ve learned a few things and hope you get some good information from the events.

I’ll discuss 3 auto claims for 3 vehicles. Also, please be warned that like all auto accident stories, these will be boring.

As such, when you are in an accident, don’t tell people you like spending time with about them.

Early 2018: Ford Explorer

As written about in other articles, like the Partial FI piece, I’m not a car guy and generally find them to be a necessary evil. So when I was driving my 21-year-old Ford Explorer to work one wintry morning, it was disconcerting to hear the skidding that alerted me to the rear-ending that soon took place.

The impact smashed in my trailer hitch — a solid metal bar that goes the width of the vehicle.

Later that day I went to the doctor, bringing me to the related claims.

  • Claim 1: Cost of vehicle damage (not reimbursement for repairs)
  • Claim 2: Rental car reimbursement
  • Claim 3: Lost time from work (not lost income)

You can get reimbursed for lost income, but I didn’t lose any because I had paid time off.

You might wonder, ‘what about pain and suffering?’ Per the guidelines, I did not suffer any pain, even though I was uncomfortable enough to go to the doctor and a physical therapy appointment.

This will be explained in greater detail in a bit.

The process went like this:

  1. We had an accident
  2. We called the police
  3. I brought my car to a mechanic and let the other guy’s insurance company know where it was, then got a rental car
  4. I saw my doctor

The truck was totaled. They cut me a check for about $2,800 less $150 for me to purchase it salvage from them, and I drove it for about another year.

To get paid for the 10 days I was renting a car, I submitted the receipt. It was paid about a month after the accident, making the situation suboptimal. It was clear that this system really hurts people who don’t have money. If anything, the rental companies should be billing insurance directly, and if the insurance doesn’t accept responsibility, they can bill the person after the fact.

To get paid for the hours I took off from work I had to fill out a form and then have someone at my office confirm that I was out at those times. This money came in even later.

Early 2019: Honda Civic

Brought to a standstill on the highway, I was stopped for about 5 seconds, maybe longer, when I was hit full-on by a driver who, per his statement to the police, was “looking at his cigarettes” where I sincerely hope he found the meaning of life when he nearly took mine.

auto_claims_stories

Miraculously, I did not hit another vehicle and the airbag didn’t deploy, but was instead spun 180 degrees across 3 lanes onto the shoulder and just short of the cement barrier. Among my grievances was that my beverage, a mint green tea with milk and sugar, spilled. I also skinned my right shin and thought my arm was broken. After calling 911, I attempted to cancel my class (I was administering a test to my ACC101 students) but couldn’t seem to remember how to log in to send an email, so texted my department chair.

An ambulance arrived, I walked over to it after answering a few questions, and was taken to the ER where my wife was waiting. My arm was x-rayed and I was sent home in a sling, not a cast. To relieve the knot in my shoulder, I was offered a muscle relaxer, and once confirmed that it would not interfere with me getting an erection (since I assumed — correctly, by the way — that I’d be sharing in marital activities that night) I took it.

I went into work the next day, then began taking partial days off to attend physical therapy and other appointments.

This process was much more involved, but, believe it or not, there was no claim that I could make for pain and suffering. While my arm did hurt that night (and I can show you today on my shin where it was scraped), per auto insurance guidelines, I was not due any compensation. This was particularly surprising because the muscle strain in my abdomen and neck lasted a week, and made it difficult to sleep as turning over on my side was very painful.

The main reason I could not collect for pain and suffering, even though I clearly suffered from pain, is because New York is a “no fault” state.

Unlike the last accident, the vehicle was not an old truck with no actual value. It was a Honda with low miles, but a salvage title. I’d just bought it for $7,200 plus 8.875% sales tax.

The auto insurance company offered just under $7,000. I told them the offer was absurd and they came back with another $43.

Something to remember when negotiating:

  • Whoever can be more patient, wins
  • Whoever has more information, wins

For these two reasons, you really can’t win against an insurance company, but you can fight to a draw.

I made them wait, and upon further review of the documentation saw that I was being charged a $500 deductible despite being deemed as having 0% of the fault. I didn’t agree, and told them that maybe this claim will never settle.

They waived the deductible.

What I really needed was to find out just how much they would give me, but lacked that data, and could accept that the Civic was worth about $7,000, so accepted their offer.

Mind you, this matter settled right as I was returning my rental car, meaning that I would now need a vehicle, reinforcing the fact that if you don’t have money, this process severely works against you. Thankfully, I had some funds to replace my car before getting the auto insurance check.

I also made a claim for what was lost in the trunk since it could not be opened. For this, I was reimbursed about $180. No photos or past receipts were required. They simply said, “make a list and provide links to the products, or ones like them.”

Lastly, I had used sick leave for the hours I took off. This claim took about 6 months because they wanted more clarification regarding the hours I took and appointments I had. When it seemed like this would not end, I asked the adjuster if there was any room for reason in the matter. Couldn’t he see the wreckage and logically conclude that I might take some partial and full days off, even if I wasn’t going to the doctor? To this, he got approval and cut me a check for roughly $900.

The process went like this:

  1. We had an accident
  2. We called the police
  3. ER visit/x-ray
  4. Rented a car
  5. Primary doctor visit, then follow up
  6. Took some time off work over 3 weeks
  7. Listed items in my trunk and reported them as lost – received payment
  8. Negotiated with insurer; rejected first offer and was given another $43, then had $500 deductible waived
  9. Was reimbursed for rental car
  10. Bought another vehicle
  11. Was paid for lost vehicle
  12. Was eventually paid for sick time taken because of the accident

Summer 2019: Kia Forte

While stopping and going in traffic, a young lady on her phone rear ended me. I pulled over, saw that her airbags deployed, and ran over to help. She appeared to be in shock, so I got her out of the car and steered it off the road.

We exchanged information, I picked up the piece of plastic that was from under my bumper, put it in the trunk, and waited for the police and ambulance.

A week or two later an insurance adjuster came out and deemed me to have $2,700 of damage. A check was cut to me and I had the vehicle repaired.

To have done a full repair would have included buying new parts and having them painted. Not being picky about if my bumper looks like someone hit it, I spent $1,250 having the important damage taken care of, and kept the rest.

Main Takeaways

If you take nothing else away from these stories, take this: If you are in a car accident, the events will be both (A) time-consuming and important to take care of, and (B) extremely boring stories.

Just think of how damn boring these stories were — even the one where I was almost killed and then had marital relations after. Consider if I was telling you about it at a party. Sure, it’s funny at the part where my wife gets mad at me for clarifying with the nurse about the side effects of muscle relaxers, and then me scolding her for knowing that while I might be rude and crude, and that she’d be of constant sorrow if I died, she’s still a young woman in the prime of her life and would get very lonely, very fast. But it’s still just a story about some guy driving and some other guy driving into him. And everyone was okay.

Bottom line: Refer to the steps outlined when necessary, and don’t tell people long detailed stories about your fender benders.

For information on making claims on a home after a hurricane, find out more in my previous post.

mm

Chris Pascale

Chris Pascale is an author, accountant and professor from Long Island. He currently works for the Treasury Department and is on the Executive Advisory Council to the Deskovic Foundation. His finance writing has been published by the AICPA, GrumpusMaximus.com, and others. Since 2019 he has been working on a biography about Vice President Charles Curtis.
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