You might remember seeing the beginning of this story on the news – an older Hispanic man standing by his car that has just been crushed by his neighbor’s tree. Can’t you see the pictures of Pete’s car lying beneath a large tree, a shadow of it’s former self. Pete spoke a bit about his experience in getting his car repairs taken care of. It’s not a pretty picture but it does provide us with some thought-provoking questions, such as, is everything that happens to you someone else’s fault? How do you determine whether it’s time to fight on the principle of the thing or let it go?
Pete and his neighbor talked after the incident and both put in claims with their respective insurance companies. The neighbor thought his homeowners insurance would pay because the tree was his. Pete filed with his insurance company because his car was in his driveway and surely his homeowners would pick up whatever the neighbor’s didn’t.
In the following weeks, both claims were denied. The neighbor’s insurance said it was a natural occurrence – the tree fell because of a lightening strike, not because of any negligence on the part of the homeowner, so no coverage. Pete’s insurance said the damage was done to his car, not his house, so his auto insurance should’ve covered it; Pete only had liability on the car and the damage would only be covered under a comprehensive policy. Both insurance companies told Pete that his only recourse was to sue his neighbor.
In speaking with Pete, he went over his options and here’s what he came up with:
* Both insurance companies were right – technically it was a natural event, not the result of any negligence; the neighbor did nothing intentional or negligent to cause Pete’s car to be damaged. It would’ve been covered under a comprehensive auto policy, but Pete didn’t have that coverage.
* Pete’s other option was to sue. If he were to sue his neighbor, he would have two options – hire an attorney to take the claim to regular court, because his damage was a little over $6000, or go to Small Claims Court without an attorney and settle for the limit of $5000. In either case, the result would be the same. Pete ran the risk of losing not only his claim but the goodwill of his neighbor.
Court claims have risen dramatically over the last 20 years. People feel they need to sue their neighbor, their boss, their favorite fast food restaurant, even their family members to prove a point. Most of the time, though, the wisest course is to just let it go, something most find hard to do.
Things happen. Trees fall, not because of anyone’s fault but because trees fall. People trip and fall over rugs or pets at their home or a friend’s because rugs are slippery and pets aren’t stationery. Empty trash cans get blown by the wind on trash day because most people work and aren’t home to collect them; yes, they may damage someone else’s car, but is it the fault of the homeowner or just what happens?
Then, you have to look at personal responsibility. In Pete’s case, he did the right thing by taking responsibility and filing with his insurance company; it was his car, it was in his driveway and it was an act of nature. But what about the woman who sued a fast food restaurant because she got burned by hot coffee? What if she had been using a travel mug instead of a paper cup and made the coffee at home herself? If she had been burned that way, would she have filed a claim with her homeowner’s insurance or sued the makers of her coffee machine because they made the coffee too hot? She didn’t need to file a lawsuit; it was her fault she didn’t put her cup of coffee in a cup holder before driving off.
Yes, there are true cases of negligence, such as when someone causes an accident because they’re texting or driving under the influence. But what if you go into the home of a friend who is a hoarder, trip over something and hurt yourself? You knew your friend was a hoarder when you went into the house; it should have been your responsibility to be careful. The same is true of the woman with the hot coffee. Coffee is hot. She knew that. She did not take responsibility for her own actions and figured it was easier to get some money from someone with deep pockets.
In the end, Pete recognized that sometimes things just happen. He decided to just take his car to storage and wait until he can afford to purchase the parts to repair his car himself. He said it wasn’t worth any bad feelings with a man who has been a good neighbor for years just for the principle and he had plenty of friends who could help him get around town in the meantime while he tries to come up with the money to fix the car.
Next, have you ever wondered about how certain warning labels got onto clothing, on appliances and furniture?