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Personal Injury Law (Accidents/Slip & Fall)/Person Failing To Pay For My Rear Bumper Damage

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Hello Mrs. Schlitt,

A person struck my rear bumper about two months ago in bumper to bumper traffic. at night and in clear weather. There were no injuries including myself, the other driver in her late teens or early twenties, plus her passengers including her friend about the same age, and an approximately seven year old boy. She was driving her mother's car. She stated she would like to keep her insurance out of it and pay damages herself. She handed me her auto insurance company certificate but I failed to notice it had expired two months before the accident. She also lied and told me she was her mother's name, I discovered later. I should have called police to get an accident report filled out but no one was injured and there were no fluids, oil, or gasoline running from either vehicle onto the pavement, and only a few small pieces, mostly plastic, on the road.
I need to either use my "uninsured motorist" option on my auto liability policy or take her to small claims court to get my rear bumper repaired. Her mother and the daughter, the driver, signed a document that I emailed the mother saying they would pay for the bumper repair and any other damage possibly to be found during bumper repair process. I offered her an estimate of $624.00 even though I had received an estimate as high as $1280.00. The mother and daughter agreed to the $624.00 arrangement by each of them signing the document which I had emailed the mother and they both signed it in their handwriting and emailed it back to me. It has been over a month and a half now and neither the mother or daughter have came up with the money for repairs, nor have they made any attempt to further contact me about their plans to pay my repairs.
After my insurance company received photos of my rear bumper a few days ago, taken by a photographer they contracted with, my insurance company has offered to pay only $326.00 for my rear bumper repair and I'll also have a $200.00 deductible I'll have to pay.
I asked my insurance company official why should I have to pay a cent if it wasn't my fault and the man said, "You'll see the deductible there in your policy." Guess I should have read my policy better.
If I use my "uninsured motorist" option I should get the bumper fixed fairly quickly,(and that's if I can even get it repaired as low as $326.00)...and I'll never get my $200.00 deductible back.
If I take the other driver to small claims court, the filing fee on the driver as a defendent will be $113.00 in Tennessee. An attorney advised me I could also file an application, another $113.00, to make the girl's mother another defendant, (co-defendent?), due to the mom's negligence in not having auto insurance in force on her car at the time of the accident. I think there would be  a $28.00 fee for the sheriff to deliver a civil warrant to appear in court to the mother. I am betting the mother has enough funds saved somewhere to do the repairs.
I am hedging that if the mother, after receiving the civil warrant, realizes, should she lose the judgement, that she will have to pay not only repairs but also my filing fees in small claims court, and fee for the sheriff's delivery, and probably any other court cost fees that may develop, the mother and/or daughter may decide it'll be less hassel to go ahead and pay the full cost for the repairs. Should the judgement require the garnishing of the mother's/daughter's paychecks or other assets, it may take me longer to get the repairs, but eventually when she gets the court fees, filing fees, and bumper repair paid in full, I shouldn't have to end up paying a penny....except maybe a parking garage fee to go to court. Besides, my vehicle is a 93' Jeep Cherokee with a flat black bumper and one has to be looking for this damage to really see it...but it should be repaired in case I ever decide to sell it. I don't mind waiting awhile to get the bumper fixed going through small claims court as long as I can save paying that $200.00 deductible. Besides, I only thought that a motorist had to pay a deductible on their liability insurance if the accident was their own fault.
I could see myself paying a $200.00 deductible on an "uninsured motorist" claim if there was several hundred or more in damages, but if my insurance company is only allowing me some lowball estimate of $326.00, then I'm practically paying for the darn rear bumper myself. That's why I favor going to small claims court. Even though it may lengthen the time towards the repair process, it could save me paying a $200.00 deductible I shouldn't even have to pay.
I have two things which I feel are in my favor if I take this to small claims court as far as winning a judgement; 1. the document her and her daughter each signed in their own handwriting and emailed back to me saying they would pay the damages, and 2. the admission of my auto insurance adjuster telling me he called the mother and she admitted fault and they have just not found the money to pay yet. These two factors should help me win a judgement even though I failed to call the police and make an accident report. By the way, at least the mother has a job just a few hundred feet down the street from me working in some type of insurance in a nice office building. The mother has repeatedly stated to me on the phone that her daughter was in Washington, (State or D.C.,...I'm not sure), trying to sell some bonds to come up with the money to pay. I think that is bogus because one can sell or buy equities through a bank routing number or through a local bank branch in one's home town.
Question 1. Can you please offer me your opinion as to any crucial or necessary reasons that I should use my "uninsured motorist" policy instead of taking this issue to small claims court?
There is also the possibility that my insurance company might raise my insurance premiums a bit from using my "uninsured motorist" option. I think I would take a beating on that since I'd have to pony up 2/3 of the total repair cost anyway for my bumper using "uninsured motorist." I was told that underwriting has to determine if my insurance premiums would increase after my repairs, but if I should decide the increase in my future premiums from a decision made in underwriting are too high to suit me, then it's too late to unfix the damages and keep paying my original premiums. Another problem that using my "uninsured motorist" option might bring is causing a future auto insurance company I might choose to switch to later on to charge me higher premiums due to a prior accident, and possibly being whether it is my fault or not.
Question 2. Would it be wise or not to go ahead and take the mother to court as a co-defendent for negligence in not having insurance on her car in force at the time of the accident, since the car that hit me is owned by the mother?

Thank you very much.

Mike E.

Answer
Mike,

I wish I could help you but I am a lawyer who practices exclusively in New York and I am not licensed in Tennessee.  The answer to your question would depend upon the law in Tennessee.  With respect to your uninsured motorist coverage, that would depend upon the written terms of your insurance policy.  There are requirements to that coverage that should be clearly spelled out in your policy.

I would suggest that you contact a lawyer in your area to obtain the answers to your questions.

I wish you the best.

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Carol L. Schlitt

Expertise

I am a New York personal injury attorney with over 20 years experience handling car accident and motor vehicle cases, slip and fill cases, medical malpractice, premises liability, pedestrian and bicycle accidents and personal injury cases. I have been named Municipal Attorney of the Year in New York City and had my cases listed among Top Ten Verdicts in New York. I publish the leading legal blog, New York Law Thoughts. I am active in the New York Trial Lawyers Association, and the Bar Associations of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Suffolk.

Experience

I am a New York personal injury attorney with over 20 years experience. I previously served as Associate Corporation Counsel in the New York City Law Department and was named New York Municipal Attorney of the Year. I served as Lead Trial Counsel for Manhattan Law firm of Acito and Klein. I have led my solo law practice for over ten years focused on personal injury and medical malpractice awards. My cases have been listed among the Top Trial Verdicts. I publish the leading legal blog, New York Law Thoughts. I am active in the New York Trial Lawyers Association and the Bar Associations of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Suffolk and I serve as a judge in the national collegiate moot court competition. I am admitted to practice in New York and the Federal District Courts, Eastern and Southern Districts.

Organizations
• American Trial Lawyers Association • New York State Bar Association • New York State Trial Lawyers Association • Bronx Bar Association • Brooklyn Bar Association • Suffolk County Bar Association • Holy Cross Alumni Lawyer’s Guild • St. John's University Alumni Association • National Association for Female Executives

Publications
My writings have appeared in Newsday, The Long Islander, the Times of Huntington and the legal blog, New York Law Thoughts.

Education/Credentials
I received my undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts and graduated from St. John’s University Law School. I have taken graduate courses at New York University.

Awards and Honors
• Named Municipal Attorney of the Year • Cases listed among the Top Ten Verdicts in New York State • My blog, New York Law Thoughts, has been listed as one of the leading U.S. Law Blogs

Past/Present Clients
I have had hundreds of clients over my 20 plus years as an attorney. All of my current clients are individuals living in the New York metropolitan area (Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester). I can provide references upon request.

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