As I headed to my car in the grocery store parking lot, I noticed a bit of a commotion. Two police cars had blocked off the aisle where I was parked, and there was a woman screaming and crying. Leaning against my front bumper was a well-dressed, elderly man. He was just staring at the mayhem, so he didn’t notice me loading my bags into my tailgate. When I came around to the driver’s side, he stood up and apologized for sitting on my car.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “What is going on?”
“A minor accident- and I guess I might be the cause. See the screaming maniac over there?” he asked as he pointed to a distraught woman. “I backed into her car. I don’t understand what her problem is. It’s a little bump. I can’t even see much damage, but she started yelling that she was in pain and that she wanted an ambulance. I am guessing she is getting ready to sue me.”
“She is probably just upset and when she calms down, she will realize she only had minor damage to her car. What lawyer would take a case like this? “
“I would,” he responded. “I convince people to sue for less than this.”
I have to admit I was shocked, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck spring up when he said those words, and for a split second, I wished I had a crucifix to stick in front of this guy’s face, but all I managed to do was smile and say,
“I guess what goes around comes around?”
Do you believe the old lawyer didn’t see the humor in my comment? Anyway, even though this incident and impending law suit was happening to someone who might have deserved it, I was saddened by the woman’s reaction to this fender bender. Despite her hysteria, she knew that if she worked this accident just right, she might hit a small -- or maybe, a big lottery payoff.
As I drove home from this scene, I started to think how much kinder the world would be if we all ended our fender benders on a nicer note as I did a few years back. Allow me to reminisce. I was stopped at a red light in Northeast Philadelphia. Apparently, the guy behind me didn’t see the red light because he didn’t slow down until it was too late. He hit me pretty hard, and I knew there would be damage. At first, I was a tad miffed, but as we started to talk, I felt badly for the guy. He had just picked up his new Thunderbird from the dealership and was driving it home for the first time when he rammed my rear bumper. His front had a great deal of damage, and I think he started to cry.
After we exchanged information, he asked if he could pay me cash for the damage. I said I didn’t care as long as he covered the bill completely. During that week, the auto body shop gave me an estimate of $2,300. I thought that was really high, and so did my car accident partner. I went for another estimate and this one turned out to be $1,300. He was thrilled with the new estimate; and he sent me a check immediately for the damage. With check in hand, I went to the body shop, and they repaired the bumper. My accident friend called a few days later to make sure everything was okay, and we chatted for a few minutes. The next day, I got a dozen roses and a card that said, “Thanks for understanding, and it was a pleasure running into you! “
Now, that is a way to have an accident, but I know that these mishaps don’t always turn out so well. Sometimes, the threat of a lawsuit is the only way to get results. Picture it: my husband and I are making our way to our weekly pilgrimage to Home Depot when this woman veers into our lane and sideswipes my van. My husband pulls over to get information, but the woman panics and takes off. Yep, she guns the accelerator and flees. Now, being the calm-headed one in my marriage, I scream,
“Go get her! Let’s make her sorry she woke up this morning!”
Okay, I got a little animated, but my adrenaline was flowing. We followed her for miles and when she turned into a shopping center, my husband cut her off. When she finally came to a stop, I jumped out of my car and onto her hood and shouted,
“You are toast!”
Of course, my husband took the logical route and called the police who arrived on the scene within minutes. Let me just say that the police were a lot angrier at her than I was. The two officers wanted to arrest her right then and there. I would have gone along with the bust had I not noticed her son in the backseat of the car. I don’t think even the toughest person in the world would have wanted that little kid to see his mother get hauled off to the big house in cuffs over a vehicular mishap. While I was feeling sorry for the kid, the moronic mother was calling her husband, the attorney. When he got to the scene of the crime, he tried to argue to the officers that the entire accident was my husband’s fault. That is when I turned to the cop and said,
“Go ahead, take her in. Give her the chair!“
The police explained that she could get jail time for fleeing the scene of an accident, but the death penalty was off the table -- at least in the state of Pennsylvania. Now that I look back on the entire ordeal, I guess it’s a good thing that there is no capital punishment for fender benders. The one officer did make a point of telling my husband and me in front of this couple that if they tried to blame this accident on us in any way, he would encourage us to sue them and he would gladly testify on our behalf. He also informed them that he had time to press charges against the wife, and he would be happy to do so if they did not cooperate with us completely.
The threat of the lawsuit seemed to squash the attorney husband’s argumentative attitude pretty quickly. I think the idea of losing money was more disturbing to him than his wife getting sent to prison, but hey, it’s not my place to judge. The point of these vehicular tales is this (yes, I have a point – long winded, but valid): Accidents happen. You can either be an understanding person or you can be a schmuck. And while being a schmuck may make you richer, it does not necessarily make your life better.