You hear a lot about the rules of the road, but usually they apply to people who are actually moving: drivers, pedestrians, cyclists. In his quest to get out of paying a claim, one particular insurance adjuster invented a “rule” that left us pretty shocked. Apparently people in vehicles parked on the sides of the street are the ones responsible if a truck driver backs into them – well, at least in this insurance adjuster’s opinion.
So what did our client, who happened to be eight months pregnant at the time of her accident, do wrong? She didn’t beep her horn, of course!
An Irrational Rationale for Accident Liability
Our client was still in the parked car when suddenly a truck backed into her vehicle, causing her injuries. Then, to make matters worse, the truck driver’s insurance company took the ridiculous position that the victim was to blame for the accident because she didn’t beep her horn to warn the driver of her presence.
Let’s think about this for a minute. What happens when you park your car? You pull over to the side of the street, out of the way of the actual lanes, of course. You shut off your vehicle. Once you are no longer actually driving, your responsibilities as a driver largely end. Obviously, you open your door carefully when you go to exit the vehicle, but you aren’t required to keep your eyes on the road. You’re free to use a cell phone, read a newspaper, apply makeup, or complete any number of other tasks that are dangerous to attempt while driving. There is no law prohibiting you from remaining in your own vehicle after parking. There is no requirement that you use any type of signals or lights when your car is parked, and that includes the horn. So how, exactly, was it the fault of the person in the parked vehicle that the driver who was on the roadway and was actually moving failed to control his vehicle?
When you’re on the road, beeping the horn is a great way to warn other drivers of your presence if you think they might not notice you. But the responsibility for not hitting a parked car lies on the driver, not people inside the parked vehicles.
A Liability Lie
In any claim, liability – meaning who is at fault or responsible for causing the accident – is a concern. Barring extenuating circumstances like uninsured and underinsured motorist claims, insurance companies won’t pay a claim if the policyholder is not at fault, fully or at least partially.
In theory, insurance companies are within their rights to do this. Why should a person or business that did nothing wrong – or by extension, his or her insurance company – be the one to pay for the consequences of someone else’s reckless behavior?
The problem arises when insurance companies take the factor of liability too far. Instead of being a rational limitation on coverage, liability becomes a loophole these companies try to manipulate and exploit in order to avoid paying legitimate claims.
Consider this: if our client hadn’t been inside the parked vehicle, whose responsibility would it have been then to warn the truck driver not to back into the car? Or is it okay now for drivers to crash into parked vehicles? When I park my car, I expect that motorists driving near it will maintain their lanes and not cross into mine. What I don’t expect is to have to guard my parked car in person at all times to protect it from backing-up truck drivers. I don’t know a single motorist who does this, and there’s a reason or that. We have traffic safety laws that hold drivers responsible for their own behavior on the road, not the unlucky owners of properly parked vehicles.
The Real Assault on Personal Responsibility
One criticism that people unfamiliar with the claims process often make of personal injury lawsuits is that they “take away personal responsibility.” If anything, insurance coverage guarantees personal responsibility. However, the insurance industry has misled the public into believing that the vast majority of claims involve people who caused their own problems but want to take money from someone else. In reality, it’s far more often the case that insurance companies try to spin liability and wrongfully shift blame to innocent victims – but unfortunately, most people don’t realize that, or don’t believe it, until they have to pursue their own personal injury claim.