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Monday
Jun162008

Liability

"We're okay and the car is drivable, but we were in an accident."

For once, I wasn't driving. For the third time since I've owned this car, it came away damaged. For the third time, it wasn't my fault. When I hit something, I make positive-sure it's inanimate.

Burger King! Nothing bad can possibly happen at a Burger King! Except for when you look both ways, make the right hand turn, and slam! I felt it but I didn't see it, the back of the car, the left-back side of the car.

"What was that, what was that?" I say to Josh, who was already pulling over and making darkly angry but fully polite gesturing motions to someone behind us to pull into the turn lane.

The dent on the front bumper from six months ago where the deer (a deer!) had rammed into the driver's side hadn't been touched. We couldn't afford the deductible or the out-of-pocket. We still can't. I fumbled around for our the thin little slip of paper, the insurance information. Florida policy, expired... Virginia... there.

"We're okay and the car is drivable, but we were in an accident."

"It's okay," says Josh. "The other driver made an unsafe lane change. She's at fault. She sideswiped us. Her company will cover."

I do not look over my shoulder as he pulled off his seat belt to converse with the driver in the car behind us. I don't even look in the rearview mirror. Somehow, if that car remained driverless, a friendly Herbie type of robocar, there remains some chance that any and all unpleasantness will be avoided, forever.

"Where did you come from?" Josh says. "I looked. You weren't there."

Seventeen year old on a cell phone, driving Mommy's Saturn on the first weekday of summer vacation. "I was in the lane," she says stoutly.

Josh calls the sheriff's office to file an accident report. The insurance adjuster will want it with the claim, the claim from the at-fault driver's company that will pay to fix my car. We sit and wait.

"The pattern of the damage is all on the back left hand side," he says. "And he'll take one look at my license, see I'm a CDL. He'll know I wouldn't do anything stupid like pull out in front of anybody."

"White Toyota Corolla," I say on the phone to our insurance agency. "No, we're fine."

"We're okay and the car is drivable, but we were in an accident."

The sheriff pulls up, occasional honkings of the lunch rush flying past. License and registration. Josh pulls out his wallet. Regist-- glove compartment, in here somewhere... what did it look like?

"What happened?" says the sheriff.

"She claims she was in the lane," Josh tells him, "but I would dispute that." And then shuts up. I burn holes in my dashboard with my lowered eyes, the glare of amazement. "I would dispute that?" He's going passive-voice on this? Tell him more, yell it, tell him about the crash to the back, tell him that you're a twenty-seven-year old who has a second job delivering pizza and the fact that we can meet the mortgage depends on the fact that you don't make a practice of screeching into the right-hand lane of a six-lane road without, you know, looking first. But he still remembers the second the brakes failed on a delivery truck he once drove, how the lawyers called, how he gave his only work break over to depositions.

There's a hubcap gone-- two now; the first one left this world with the deer. Angry gray scrapes on the side, tire marks on the bumper, crumpled metal runners. My car, my bridal getaway car, the first car I was able to put in my own name, is a redneckmobile.

The Saturn is missing a mirror.

The sheriff returns to lean into the driver-side window as I hang up from the first phone call of many informing various people that we're okay and the car is drivable, but we were in an accident.

"Well," he says, "without witnesses, I won't ticket anyone, but if I were going to issue a citation, it would be to you." He does not say, "You may now express your gratitude." But might as well.

I stare very hard, very hard out my own window, twisting my neck away, to avoid looking at him as he issues this almighty verdict, seeing my husband rigid with the utter wrongness of this thing. Car wash, tossing trees. Nursing home down the road.

Josh, in lieu of demanding an explanation, says something in even tones about damage patterns. The sheriff responds that he has reached his decision based on the fact that, quote, "the way they built this road is stupid." He's going on leave for ten days, so if we have any questions, leave a message, 'kay? Take care.

We sit for about five silent seconds, then Josh starts the car and we ease back into traffic.

"We're okay and the car is drivable, but we were in an accident."

"It could have been a lot worse."

"At least you won't have any points on your license."

"At least the car still works."

"At least we're okay."

"I hope her daddy's not a lawyer."

"The important thing is nobody was hurt."

"Are you aching anywhere?"

"No."

"We'll take the car to a body shop when we can afford it."

"So basically... never."

Back home, Josh backs into a parking space and inspects the damage again, some more, until I am ready to throw...something...somewhere. I can't look at it, the crumpled silver lining, the bare wheels. The insurance company, our insurance company, calls with the announcement that since ours was the car pulling into traffic, our policy will pay the damage on the Saturn. Rate hikes to be determined later.

It's two o'clock in the afternoon, and I lay down on the bed still with my purse over my arm, because even though we're okay, and the car is drivable, we've been in an accident.

bright side at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (22)

Total suck! I am so sorry, but I am glad you are both alright. If you feel the need to scream, do it loudly (that way I can hear you all the way in California). Hang in there, MB!

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

Please pardon my language, but... F**K!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My admiration for Josh has increased 3 orders of magnitude; at 27 he's now more mature than I will ever be in my entire life.

I'm deeply sorry for the damage to your car, and undoubtedly when both of you are driving a Lexus or a BMW after you become the succesful writer you deserve to be, this incident will be remembered with laughter.

But until then, I know what it feels when your mind is telling you you shouldn't feel so much attachment to material things, while the pain at the bottom of your gut keeps contradicting it :-(

Then again, I'm very thankful none of you sustained any injuries.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Oh MB! That SUUUUUUUCKS! I have been in many accidents, unfortunately, and the last one, that was TOTALLY not my fault, we went to court on and HE LIED AND WON!!!!???? He even claimed I was on my cell phone and I totally WAS NOT! I had to drive my car around bumperless for months because we couldn't afford the $500 deductible.
Empathy, empathy, empathy!!!!
Glad you two are ok, though!

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Oh geez that stinks...I personally think cars should be made of Nerf, but that's just me. I'm just glad you guys weren't hurt though.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGreggy

MB - glad you two are ok. Being on the receiving end of that call ("I was in an accident...") is never fun, either. My DH was in a wreck last Nov, and we are STILL trying to get the car properly repaired. Nothing like a leaky trunk and stinky trunk carpet to keep you riled up about a 20-something who was late to class.... I'm with Greggy - cars made of Nerf would be great. Then maybe my mommy-van would have come away without a scratch from the "I-was-buying-a-book-and-someone-hit-my-PARKED-van" incident. Yes, we are both driving around with the scars of someone else's inattention.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Southerner

:(

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJess

A 17 year old on a cell phone with their brand new license gets off and you get blamed? I'm outraged! Is she related to the Sheriff? WTF???!!! (Pardon, but I do sometimes swear like the sailor gal I am). That is so appallingly WRONG!!!! I'm with Chelsea - scream until we can hear you in California.

I'm so glad you two are OK. That really is the most important thing even though you're struggling with budget woes. Virtual hugs from San Diego. And a pox upon that a** of a Sheriff and twit of a 17 year old.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCA Sailing Lady

Sending lots of empathy your way, MB. I've been there. It's not fun. The headache, the knot in the stomach, the sadness (or is it just sheer frustration?) conspire to leave you unable to function. Somehow even on the sunniest of days, things like this bring dark clouds to shroud you with gloom.
I agree with screaming---and hitting the bed with a tennis racket! It works!!!!

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemmingAZ

Contributing to the piles of empathy being flung your way....and the piles of dung being thrown at the stupid driver and idiot cop. Brings back memories of driving through St. Cloud and passing a car just as it was getting hit by the stupid driver, and then I got hit by the car that was first hit....huh? Or the time in New Orleans where I totally looked both ways going through an intersection and still managed to get t-boned! Blah....much suckage accidents are.....glad y'all are ok.

If it's true that all is wrong with her car is the mirror, I think you would be much better off paying for repairs out of pocket than going through your insurance company and enduring the years and decades of a post-wreck rate hike.

June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

I am soooooo sorry. If I could come down there and punch the sheriff and 17 yo in the knees, they'd be hobbled for at least 6 months.

I am glad you guys are okay. I agree with RPJ that when you are a rich famous writer, not just the famous writer you are now, you'll look back and be thankful for the material this experience gave you.

KB

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKell Belle

Unfortunately, what may have doomed you was, in fact, JTP's sober rationality.

Many people, without the benefit of eyewitness experience, take the hype over the facts. Hence why Kris had to drive bumperless and why some loser cop insisted he would, when push came to shove, insist JTP was in the wrong. If he (or Kris) had instead completely lost their mind and acted more like someone who had just been hit, they may have received the benefit of that doubt.

I say this as someone who has hit a bicyclist who broke about four different traffic laws in order to be in the spot he was in where I hit him and was considered fully at fault, and someone who was hit by a driver who blew through a stop sign to hit me and then drove away and was considered 30% at fault for the accident by their insurance company after the driver was located. In both cases I acted responsibly, and thus people who were not there interpreted my responsible actions as bearing some responsibility for the accident.

If people were not tricked by the old fake-the-neck-collar-in-the-courtroom schtick, then nobody would ever do it. But B.S. artists will always exist as long as someone's willing to buy it.

It's not that I want to add salt to the wound, but please explain one thing to me, you guys: In the US, when you have an accident and call your insurance... aren't they supposed to send an agent to check the damage, take pictures, and assess who had the fault?

That's what happens here in Mexico, we call those guys 'ajustadores' (adjusters), and some insurance companies even brag that they will get to the site of the accident in 30 minutes or less—the 'adjusters' ride bikes, which is kind of ironic since I guess that in order to get to an accident, they may be causing accidents of their own!

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

RPJ, here in the US, even though insurance is required in most states, you won't even go to jail if you can't provide proof of insurance to the police officer when/if you have an accident. You know, I LOVE that about Mexico - no insurance? Involved in an accident? You're going to jail, period.

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJaqueDuAlabama

Oh, the adjuster comes out, but not to the accident. Nobody hurts themselves to do you a favor these days. The Pole-eece (sorry, Baltimore thing) assess who's wrong. The adjuster just tells you how much they'll cover when the repair place gives their estimate.
Insurance rules the world, unfortunately.

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Well, here in Mexico the police only appear to get their bribe, since apparently it is a serious offense to have an accident on a public street ;-)

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Glad you're both OK, MB. It's a scary world to drive in nowadays what with people like that 17-year-old too busy with their cell phones and rush to get home to worry about how bad their driving is. I was on a VERY long drive these past few days, and I had to avoid several drivers who cut me off, didn't bother to signal as they switched lanes, and truckers who very nearly ran me over.

Maybe you can get a couple cheap hubcaps from a junkyard/scrap yard? And wax/buff out some of the scrape? It's kinda like trying to cover up a pimple with makeup, but it might take out some of the obviousness?

June 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

So sorry to hear that, MB..... take a few deep breaths. You guys are physically ok, and that's the most important thing.

June 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJules

Wow. Condolences on the accident. That sucks. I know how it drives me nuts when my car gets beat up in the parking lot. Heck, the last guy who hit me had no insurance, and I just got a letter from the attorney for my insurance co.'s reimbursement guys saying that apparently none of us are getting squat.

There's no "t" in reimbursement...who knew?

Josh was lucky not to get ticketed. Tickets kill CDLs, and the feds don't let us give much of a break on 'em, if any.

In America, I'm pretty sure insurance companies are NOT on their policy holder's side. And frankly I wouldn't wanna hafta wait for some insurance chump to come out to tell me they're only gonna pay if it's really bad and the car's fairly new.

On differences between Mexico and here, I gotta call BS. In my current neck of the woods, the Mexican Nationals commonly lack both license and insurance. Come to think of it, in 5 years I don't think I've seen the same Mexican license twice. I thought there was only like 35-40 states in Mexico.

Not to mention that in America we try to reserve jail for just the criminals (and unfortunately the broke mildly mentally ill often end up there, too), and not the run-of-the-mill mopes. Unfortunately they are legion. Don't get me started...

U-S-A! U-S-A!

p.s. still sucks. Glad to here you and Josh are OK.

June 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFlip

Flip, there are only 32 states in Mexico, plus the Federal District, but keep in mind this: each local government often change the design of the license (and the car plates) from time to time. Each time I have renewed my license (every 4 years or so) it is a different design.

Of course, I'm not apologizing my 'paisanos' for not having insurance ;-)

June 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

not to claim that I know how you feel--but a similar situation. In high school my parents had a tough time financially, and I had a car that was an older than I was. I don't know how many times I ended up in tears because I was left stranded by something horribly unreliable--and knew that it would be a pinch to get it fixed. It was always frustrating knowing that it couldn't be counted on because of the lack of something that you either love or hate ... money.

things have to be bad before they can get better, but it's just the time getting there that's painful.

July 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjess

[...] exotic cars, which are no less cool, if only because they don’t possess, as a main feature, a dent made by a deer.  Here’s one– the 2010 Honda Odyssey.  It’s  this BIG ENORMOUS MINIVIAN with [...]

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