Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How I was rear-ended and was determined to be ‘at-fault’

You often hear that when you are rear-ended, the car at the rear is usually found to be at-fault. I ended up on the wrong side of that statistic. I was found to be ‘at-fault’ and the person driving the car that rear-ended me was fully exonerated, by my own insurance company, Farmer’s. Here’s the story of how it happened.
Disclaimer: Conversation records are not literally accurate but an accurate summary of the actual conversation, to the best of my recollection.
Day 1, 3:35pm
My version of the story:
I was on the 2nd lane (3rd from right) on north-bound Montague Expressway, just accelerating out of Mission College Blvd lights. I spot enough gap on the 3rd lane (i.e. the lane to my right), so I put on the blinkers, and start moving to my right, while keeping an eye on the traffic in front of me, as well as the vehicle behind me in the 3rd lane. After I put on the blinker, the vehicle (a mini-van sized or slightly larger cargo van) starts to accelerate pretty hard, so much so that I am afraid it will hit me if I complete the merger. In panic, I try to stay where I am, and break hard to avoid hitting this van. I come to a complete stop and the vehicle (driven by Graham - not his real name) behind hits me.
I exit out of the vehicle, make sure that the other party is not injured (he wasn’t) and doesn’t need my assistance (he didn’t). I just have a few big scratches on my rear bumper cover, but his front-end is severely damaged and and the radiator is leaking. Then I ask him if he wants to pull out of the traffic. He does, so we wait for the traffic to clear out and then pull to the (very narrow) shoulder.
We get out and Graham calls the cops. Then we exchange insurance information. He calls his insurance and I give them my insurance details. Graham is very cordial and I appreciate his composure. We hang around for about 20 more minutes (till about 4:25pm). He calls the cops again and tells me the cops won’t be coming since there is no injury, so we are supposed to exchange insurance info and leave. I suggest him to get a tow truck since his radiator is leaking, but Graham is confident he can drive the car for a few miles without damaging the engine further.  We had already exchanged insurance information, so just get in our cars to leave. I am in the front so I pull out first, and I did not check to see whether he left or not.
Day 1, 4:30pm
I call Farmer’s and inform them of the accident. They tell me that since I was rear-ended and seems to be the other party’s fault, I should be filing my claim against Graham’s Insurance (called GINS hereafter).
Day 1, 5:30pm
GINS calls me to get the details about the accident. I tell them I have spoken to Farmer’s and they have opined that I should file a claim with GINS since the accident is their client’s fault. She says: “Not according to our client”. Then she takes the reference number given to me by Farmer’s, tells me she will call back and hangs up without getting my version of the story.
I wait for the second call which never comes.
Day 2, 12:50pm
I get a call from Farmers’ claims processing. The adjuster (let us call him Mike – not his real name) records a detailed testimony from me regarding the details of the accident.
Day 3, approx. 9:30am
I call GINS claims and get connected to the team that is handling this particular claim. The lady gets detailed account of the accident and asks me whether there was any damage to the rear of the Graham’s car. I said I only glanced at the rear, and did not notice any damage. She tells me there IS damage. According to her, another car hit Graham’s car from behind and then he hits me, making this third party the at-fault person in the accident and so GINS is not responsible for any damage to my car. This car then absconded without contact with either me or Graham (‘hit and run’). She suggests I file an uninsured claim with Farmers.
A weekend intervenes, so there is no progress for the next 4 days.
Day 7, 3:07pm
Mike calls me and announces that I was found at fault. I am dumbstruck. I ask him how is it possible that I was rear-ended and was found to be at-fault. He says that Graham claims that I went out of my lane and then came back before braking hard. I say it is my word against his. And Mike says: Graham’s account is corroborated by a witness. Having spent about 40 minutes at the accident site and not coming into contact with any witness, I ask him for more details. He says the witness claims I put on the blinkers and rushed into her lane, she honked me since I was too close to her, so I rushed back into the previous lane and braked. She had to drop her daughter somewhere, but she eventually came back to the accident site (apparently after more than 40 minutes after the accident), talked to Graham and agreed to be a witness. I tell him nobody would do that and he says: “not at all. Witnesses come forward all the time”. I lose it at this point. Someone witnesses an accident, goes on their business, comes back to the accident site after 45 minutes, stops voluntarily at the narrow unsafe curb of an (extremely busy) expressway with cars zooming by, talks to Graham and agrees to be witness. That is pretty much impossible in the Bay Area / Silicon Valley, however much the Kansas-based Mike wants it to believe. Mike says he HAS to accept Graham’s account that is corroborated by the witness over mine so he has to find me at-fault.
 Day 7, approx. 3:25pm
After thinking about it for some more time, I call my agent (who is locally based) and explain the events to her. She agrees with me that this witness appearing after 40 minutes doesn’t seem possible. She takes all the details and promises to check further, including calling GINS.
She calls me back to say that GINS has found me at-fault as well, based on my own account. I said it is impossible because I have precisely explained the details of the accident to GINS (as well as Farmers) and I don’t see anything that can point the finger at my direction. She suggests I call GINS.
Day 7, approx. 4:00pm
I call GINS (get connected to someone other than lady I spoke to before) and ask him as to how they found me at-fault. He tells me that it is my word against their client’s and they chose to trust their client. I ask them about this witness and he says they didn’t know about the witness until Farmer’s claim adjuster (Mike?) call them that day (i.e. Day 7) and told them about it. I was taken aback. I ask him to repeat it. His statement: “We spoke to Graham at 5:30pm on the day of the accident and asked explicitly – were there any witnesses? He said ‘No. There were no witnesses’. I ask him whether he finds all this to be fishy. He agrees with me.
Also it looks like GINS changed the story from 'third party at-fault' to  finding me at-fault after Farmer's claim adjuster called them. In the words of State Farm adjuster 'it doesn't even make sense'.
Day 7, approx. 4:30pm
I call my agent and leave her a message detailing the conversation with GINS and ask her help me out.
Day 8, approx.  9:30am
I ask him: “How is it that when State Farm called him at 5:30pm, more than 90 minutes after the accident, there were no witnesses? They say they explicitly asked him whether there were any witnesses, and he confirmed that there were no witnesses. Did Graham hang around at the shoulder of this expressway for more than an hour after I left? Did the witness return to the accident scene (shoulder) after it became dark, and risked personal safety to offer this guy to be witness to the accident? If she did come earlier than that, how come State Farm didn’t hear about this?” He pauses for a couple of seconds and says: “She didn’t want to get involved!”
Now, think about this: This lady returns to the scene of the accident after dropping her daughter to wherever she needs to go. She returns AFTER 45 minutes or so after the accident. She parks on the shoulder risking personal safety so she can check on this poor guy. And then, she didn’t want to get involved. But then, magically, she DOES get involved!
I rant some more about how this story gets more and more unbelievable. Suddenly this investigator turns hostile. “You drove like a maniac, changing lines erratically, driving in an unsafe manner. It is your fault!”. I am dumbfounded: “That’s not true at all!”. He says: “I have two witnesses here who say that IS what happened.”
Let us recap the story of this witness:
  • She is going on the road, a guy jumps into her lane too close for comfort, she honks, he jumps back to his previous and brakes. He is hit from behind (while possibly she has already crossed him. She will have to have witnessed the actual accident in her driver’s side rear-view mirror).
  • She has to drop her daughter somewhere (judging by the time it took her) about 8-10 miles away, so she continues to her destination.
  • Once she drops her daughter, she makes it back to accident site, braving evening commute traffic. It takes her 45 minutes (after the accident) to reach the site.
  • She takes a U-turn at the Mission College Blvd, and stops at the shoulder that is barely big enough for her vehicle and talks to the party involved in the accident.
  • She agrees with him that his story is exactly how she remembers the accident happened, but she doesn’t want to get involved so she refuses permission for him to claim her as a witness.
  • For some reason, Graham decides he HAS to have this witness, so he convinces her to come forward and be a witness.
Now, why would an investigator readily believe this story, to the extent of coming up with this magical defense: “She didn’t want to get involved”? At this point, let me just rue the fact that Kansas is not as ethnically and racially diverse as California.

I told my agent that I feel I have been had, and Farmers did not stand up for me. So, I am pulling my life, auto and home insurance policies from Farmers and am in search of a better insurance company.


Farmers has sent me two 'closure' documents (electronically) which state two slightly different versions of the reason for finding me at fault. I quote:

Version 1:
Our initial investigation included a review of the loss description. We also had obtained your
verification of the facts. Based on all of the information we collected, we have decided that 100% of
the fault for the cause of this accident rests with you. This is because the driver of your vehicle had
improper lookout while changing lanes. Accordingly, we would attribute 0% fault to the other driver
or party to this accident. 

Version 2:
Our initial investigation included a review of the loss description. We also had obtained your
verification of the facts. Based on all of the information we collected, we have decided that 100% of
the fault for the cause of this accident rests with you. We have determined that you made an unsafe
lane change and collided into the other party’s vehicle. Accordingly, we would attribute 0% fault to
the other driver or party to this accident.

Got that? I made an unsafe lane change and collided into the other party's vehicle and somehow ended up with damage to middle of my rear bumper and the front-end of other party's car. I guess I should be wait for a week and see if I receive a third closure letter which will find me responsible the serial murders in Minnesota and a typhoon in Indonesia.