When your insurance company ruins a good day

“We’re calling about your claim,” the pleasant voice said; “about the hit-and-run collision you were involved in on March 17.” This is a really bad way to start your day. While I was still catching my breath the pleasant voice mentioned my car rear-ending the other car but then leaving the scene of the crime.

I knew, of course, that I’d not been in any collisions recently – the last being over a year ago when a 16-wheeler turned right from the center lane as I was turning right from the turn lane. The 16-wheeler won that one. But as my reaction had been swift; only the front of my car and the rear portion were demolished while I managed not to get demolished in the driver’s seat.

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This is critical back story to the current episode: I lost my beloved, snazzy green 2000 Volvo S40. It was immediately replaced by a slightly less snazzy silver 2001 Volvo S40 with about 100,000 fewer miles and with my bank account about $4,000 lighter.

But my new old car was thoroughly repainted and sort-of like new, and my learning curve (I’ve declared myself too old to deal with gadget-filled computerized new cars) remained flat.

Hearing one’s insurance representative declare you were involved in a hit-and-run collision is, nevertheless, unsettling. I assured him they had the wrong car, that I didn’t think I’d even driven anywhere that day. That my trusty Volvo S40 lives in a locked garage in a building with 24-hour security and really doesn’t go out rear-ending other cars without my permission.

Would this not have been a good time to say, “Oh, sorry; we’ll fix that”? I felt so. Instead, I was referred the “the adjuster of my claim.” Then I was asked to make a recorded statement, after which I was asked to email photos of my car from all sides. Which I did. Thanks to its having been all painted and spiffed up when I bought it, the little silver auto was quite emphatic about being without a scratch. I, though, was not undamaged. Beginning with the spike in my blood pressure from the original call, continuing through a trip to the garage to make sure I wasn’t crazy, recording my statement which felt like pleading innocent in a court of law and doing a photo-shoot in the garage – there went my day.

Eventually I received a copy of the “pending” file with assurance that it would soon be “settled” and nothing would appear on my record. It noted that the Vehicle Identification Number of the car involved didn’t match my car’s VIN, and – by the way – the car involved was green, so clearly not my car. This is “actually quite common,” the adjuster assured me, which was not reassuring in the least. Since no one seemed inclined to answer my emailed questions, I finally called the adjuster to ask.

The accident happened in Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco and you couldn’t pay me to drive across the Bay Bridge. None of the streets in Berkeley or Oakland make sense to me any more, and BART does. How did the other insurance company (the one covering the car that was rear-ended) get my insurance information? “Oh, the driver of the other vehicle probably wrote down a license number one digit off, or something; that happens all the time. We were just doing our job.” Would it not have been simple to check the VINs and immediately know the car involved was not my car? “A lot of times we do not have the VIN on file . . . We were just doing our job.” I wanted to check out my now secret suspicion that my old car had somehow been put back together and sold to a careless driver in Oakland, but by this time I did not want to hear once more that my insurance company – which will remain nameless here to avoid further damages – was just doing its job. Does its job not involve trying not to drive its clients nuts?

Apparently not.

Collisions and Other Injustices of Today

Do we need any more catastrophes? Pandemics, economic free-falls, California wildfires and toxic air? How about getting smashed by a 16-wheeler?

It is the final indignity.

Metal being ripped and torn, car parts scraping the concrete roadway, the harshest sound accompanied by the ugliest of sights and smells, this is just not a good way to start your day. But some days just seem to choose their own paths. Mine was chosen not by me but by the giant 16-wheeler truck that decided to turn right from the center lane precisely as I was turning right from the proper right-turn lane. You would think he might have noticed that little car directly in his path (doing exactly everything legal and proper, it should be noted.) But no.

The first life lesson here is, in any encounter between small cars and16-wheelers, the big guy wins. The second is, sturdy small cars are good.

Eventually the crashing and shattering slowed, and I crunched my way to the curb. The big guy  pulled to the curb in front of me – unscathed, I might mention. It was reassuring to find I could open the door and get out of my car; we should be grateful for small favors.

The thing about early morning catastrophe – this is probably true of catastrophes any time – is that the rest of one’s life is simply tossed aside while the catastrophe takes over. For thirty minutes or so I waited for the police. We are trained – aren’t we? – to remain at the scene of the crime, and after all, that giant truck had just killed my beloved 2000 Volvo S40. Its name was the LilyPad. I don’t know about other urban centers, but if you’re in San Francisco waiting for someone to come to an accident scene, forget that. I have since learned that the thing to do, in San Francisco at least, is mention blood or difficulty breathing and the police will come. I called the tow truck for the LilyPad.

All one really wants in these circumstances is affirmation. At least, that was all I wanted: someone, anyone other than the driver of the giant truck – who was unlikely to fill this role – to confirm how utterly blameless I was. And how cleverly I had steered myself out of mortal harm. I mean, seven decades on the road and not one moving traffic violation. Am I going to let a poorly driven 16-wheeler mess up my record? Mr. Quoc, the driver, was single-mindedly interested in repeating the only three words of English I know him to speak: “Wide right turn! Wide right turn!” In Mr. Quoc’s defense, he simply didn’t see me way down there. My understanding of his position, however, stops short of excusing him for not noticing the LilyPad in her proper lane.

The indignity of losing control of one’s day grows exponentially with the insurance experience.

Early on, my friend Naomi of the giant truck’s insurance company evidenced more concern with my health and wellbeing than I thought necessary. Nice of her, but still.

“You didn’t go get checked out?! You should go get checked out!”

It’s possible Naomi – who had at least graciously said they were “accepting responsibility” – was thinking Personal Injury Claims. So she wanted to send my octogenarian self to a hospital in the midst of a pandemic? I thought better of that.

But the final indignity is the bottom line. Not only is no one going to compliment me on my driving skills, Naomi is going to pay me about $1,300 for my beloved 2000 Volvo S40 – something about book value. OK. – and absolutely zero for anything else – something about the way insurance works. Days lost? Angst and agonies of buying a new car (at least I found a 2001 Volvo S40)? No dice, I should’ve thought to break a bone or something.

RIP, LilyPad.   

(This essay appeared earlier on Medium.com, a good site for information and ideas that I’m enjoying writing for. Check it out.)