No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Car Parking
Car Parking

This past week Winnie and I had an interesting lesson in doing the right thing, and insurance claims, and how not to park cars.

Presently Winnie is working as a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) for an elderly Chinese woman about one hour’s commute away (given local traffic conditions, one hour’s drive is not so far in miles). The woman lives in a senior citizens hi-rise apartment building which has very little available parking for the number of PCAs working there.

Last Saturday the only available space was parallel parking in a tight cul-de-sac behind the building. While maneuvering her Nissan Versa alongside an inside-curved curb between two other vehicles, Winnie bumped the vehicle behind her.

It shouldn’t have been an issue. The transmission was in “Park,” Winnie took her foot off the brake to get out and check how much clearance she had behind her, her car rolled backwards just a little and hit the other car. Something I would only consider a bump, and normally I’d just pull away and continue trying to park. But after Winnie pulled her car away she saw a dent on the other car’s left front fender just behind the turn signal assembly. Winnie’s assumption was that she caused the dent and Did The Right Thing.

First, she called me. Winnie explained she had backed into a car in the parking lot, damaged the car, and was going to try to find the owner. I agreed that finding the owner was the right thing to do, and told her I’d drive up to help.

I arrived about one hour later, just in time to see Winnie coming out of the apartment building with another Chinese lady. The lady was apparently the owner of the car Winnie had bumped, and even though both were speaking Chinese I could tell the lady was giving Winnie a really hard time. Winnie motioned me to follow and we went to the scene of the crime.

While looking at the two cars Winnie explained she had located the owner of the other car through the apartment building’s security office. Once located, Winnie told the lady she had hit the car, was very sorry,  and was willing to pay for any damages without involving their insurance companies. The response from the other lady was aggressive to the point of verbally abusive. Before the lady even looked at her car to assess damages she berated Winnie for “not knowing how to park.” She demanded Winnie’s contact information, photocopied Winnie’s insurance card, and even wanted to photocopy Winnie’s driver’s license.

While Winnie explained this to me the lady was berating us and examining her car. It was a mid-sized late-model white sedan with numerous scratches on both bumpers and a few scattered body dings, the worst being the fender dent behind the left front turn signal. The more I looked, continually distracted by the lady’s constant chatter, the more I felt confused as to how Winnie caused the fender dent. The dent was above the elevation of the Nissan’s rear bumper and I didn’t see any damages on Winnie’s car.

Finally the owner announced in English “I have no more time. I have to leave. I will call my insurance company tonight because I don’t trust you will pay.” Then she left, and peace settled over the parking lot. Now Winnie was able to show me the damage to her car; the upper body panel on the left rear fender was slightly pushed in at a panel seam. I suddenly knew there was no way Winnie could have caused the other car’s fender dent. In that moment of blinding insight I also knew the other lady was scamming us by blaming Winnie for damages that wasn’t Winnie’s fault.

Winnie and I talked for a few minutes. I suggested that on the way home she take her car to a local auto body shop and get a repair estimate. Then I left.

Winnie called me later that afternoon from the body shop. Total cost of repairs to her almost new car; nothing. Winnie explained that the body shop man had simply reached up inside the wheel well and popped the body panel back into place.

That evening I assured Winnie that she had not caused any damages to the other car. I explained that the other lady was taking advantage of the incident to get money from our insurance company for pre-existing damages. I predicted that the next thing to happen would be getting a call from our insurance company for a damage claim of at least $500.

I received the insurance company phone call Tuesday afternoon and discovered I had been optimistic. The claim was $1100 to repair the dent in the left fender behind the turn signal, and repair several scrapes on the front bumper, all of which the owner claimed was caused by Winnie bumping into her car.

So the insurance agent and I talked. Once we were finished talking the agent called and interviewed Winnie using a Chinese translator.

We’ve heard nothing from our insurance company since Tuesday and the other lady has made no attempt to contact us. I don’t know what the resolution will be, or if the lady’s insurance company will pay the claims just to make her go away. I think if the lady does receive any insurance money she’ll pocket it without repairing her car.

Winnie made a significant effort to Do The Right Thing by locating the owner of a car she thought she had damaged in a parking lot accident and offer restitution.  Winnie’s “reward” was verbal abuse and a probable fraudulent insurance claim.

Could anyone fault Winnie if the next time she is involved in a similar incident, she just walks away?

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