And it feels strange.
Today, I embark on a new and slightly terrifying experience as a gearhead. I’m suing someone. Just over two years ago, I was on my way home from the grocery store in my new-to-me, only-had-it-three-weeks Pajero when I stopped at a red light behind a mildly modified Honda Civic. I recognized it as belonging to a guy who had just moved into my neighborhood a couple weeks prior. Purple body kit and hood scoop aside, I was glad we had another gearhead in the area.
The light turned green, he made his turn, and I had to wait for a car before I could follow. Upon clearing the intersection, I was surprised to discover he had stopped accelerating, wasn’t on his brakes, and didn’t have a turn signal activated. Oh well, I’ve seen enough of this over the years. People either immediately make another left into the Jack in the Box or go wide for the Circle K on the right. I checked my mirrors and moved into the middle lane.
My turn coming up pretty quickly on the right, I checked my mirrors again and began the move into the outer lane. That’s when it happened. BAM! My new neighbor had decided to make a wild right turn into Circle K from the inside lane, catching my little Pajero right under the driver’s door. We pulled over to the side of the road, activated the hazard flashers, and got out to assess the situation.
“I’m so sorry, sir! Are you okay, sir? OMG. My mom’s gonna kill me. I’m so sorry, sir!” The kid was falling all over himself apologizing. My 3-week old Pajero had a nasty gash ripped into the rocker panel under the door, which was slightly pushed in and sticking a bit. His front right headlight was smashed, corner light hanging by the wire, just ahead of a mildly damaged fender. “I’m 17 and only been driving 3 weeks,” he told me, “I kinda got a late start.”
Considering A) he was a new neighbor, B) he had a modified car, C) he was apologizing so earnestly for what was obviously his fault, and D) he had insurance, I felt a strange urge to do him a kindness. Rather than call the police and wait for him to get ticketed, I told him I was cool so long as long as he had insurance. He produced a card, I wrote down some info, he called his mom. As she read him the riot act, I felt all Good Guy Greg. He was sorry. He had insurance. His mom was going to be super-pissed. Why add a ticket to the mix?
THAT WAS MY FIRST MISTAKE
We exchanged info and continued on our ways. I was so shaken up, I was pressing the starter button without having the key turned to the ON position. (Previous owner did a shit job installing a shit alarm, apparently.) Kid insisted on staying until I was good to go. I told him not to worry about it and to let me know if he needed a hand fixing his Honda. There was another honk on the horn and I looked up to see him backing into the Circle K parking lot after pulling in front of traffic. Jeez.
Upon getting home, I put the groceries away, told Vanessa I was okay, and called his insurance to file my claim. Simple stuff, really. I was expecting another fight – I’d been lowballed on both my Galant VR4s in the past and had to fight for more than a couple hundred bucks on each – but not this. A couple days later, after taking the Pajero in for an estimate, I called the adjuster to follow up.
“Sorry, but our insured said he was driving northbound, you made a wide right turn and hit him. Since the police weren’t called and there are no independent witnesses, we have to take his word for it. We have to deny your claim.“ It still makes my blood boil. I took a chance and tried to do something nice for this kid – and he fucked me.
What’s more, a couple days later – now pushing a week after the incident – I get a call from MY insurance company, which I’d not contacted, as I only have liability on my $2000 truck. (I’d pay more in full coverage premium in one year than they’d ever pay, so it’s not worth it.) Turns out, kid decided to file a claim against ME. Again. Blood boiling. Furious rage brewing.
HE GAVE ME NO CHOICE
At this point, I only had one option – sue him in court. I’ve fought with insurance companies over value before, but never taken anyone to court. I decided to file suit in small claims court, as the total judgement is limited to US$2500 (in Arizona), and his insurance company can’t send an expensive lawyer to completely screw me over.
I’ve never done this before and boy is it a lot of work. Well, nothing physically demanding, but there is so much to research, it’s mentally exhausting. Where to file, which forms are required, process service, fees, copies, notaries, demand letters, responses – I’d say it takes more effort than researching your first engine rebuild. Thing is, I didn’t want to file until my insurance had denied his claim. There was only one problem with that, they couldn’t get a hold of him.
At first, I checked in weekly, then monthly, then every six weeks or so. Nothing. Finally, as we were approaching a full year after the incident, I told my adjuster I was waiting on them to deny his claim so I could take him to court. In a year, he ignored phone calls, emails, and snail mail, so clearly he wasn’t interested in pursuing his bullshit claim. I had an official denial letter in my inbox within 24 hours. I could begin.
BUT I HAD NO MONEY
Unfortunately, while I had a pretty good idea on the costs to file my suit, I got a little confused on how to formally serve him. I’d been doing so much reading, I somehow switched a couple numbers and thought it was going to cost me $100+ to serve him with papers, and another $100+ to serve his mom. (The insurance card only had her name on it and he was a minor at the time.) I was looking at over $300 to get this ball rolling. Shit.
My daughter was born at the end of October that year, and my wife’s maternity leave and reduced hours afterward really took a toll on our finances. I could come up with a hundred bucks, maybe a couple hundred, but it would take some planning, and $300 would pose a real challenge. The bills were piled up and had to come first.
And every single day, I drove right past his house, seeing his car in the driveway, seeing the Pontiac Grand Prix he replaced it with, and knowing he pretty much got away with lying to screw me over. Every. Single. Day. For the better part of 2 years. That all changed in April of this year (2014), when my wife got a solid job offer. Her take home pay more than doubled what she had been making gross. Three weeks later, when she got her first real check, I filed suit and had kid and his mom served.
TODAY’S THE BIG DAY
Today, Thursday, 29 May 2014, I’m walking into the court house to face he and his mom in front of a judge. I’ve never done anything like this before – not even jury duty. There’s no appeals in small claims court. The judge’s ruling is final. I’m asking for $1600 actual repair costs for my truck, plus the value of my time building the case and court costs – the full $2500. I’ve got a binder full of pictures, maps, estimates, receipts, and more.
And I’m scared shitless.
I have to believe justice will be served. I have to believe I will win.
Either way, I’ll finally have closure today, and you can expect a full report pretty soon.