“Face it girls. I’m older and I have more insurance.”
― Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Insurance is one of those monthly out the door expenditures that translate into a lot of cash in any given year–cash that could be spent on things one actually sees, holds, or enjoys–but it does buy a sense of security. No matter what the eventuality, those policies standby like a big brother there to protect you. Or do they?
With regular medical and dental care, it is difficult to avoid accessing any insurance but in general insurance policies are usually paid and ignored. In many cases there is the fear that costs could increase even more if a claim is made. By making no claim on it, the comfort of thinking insurance is there to protect you remains undisturbed by the knowledge that it may not.
We were amazed one day to see hail the size of golf balls and tennis balls bouncing off our patio, it was such an amazing sight and not for one moment did we stop to think that those bouncing balls of ice were also hitting our house. It was not until I saw fleets of roofing trucks around the neighborhood that it occurred to us to have the roof checked for damage. Two contractors said we indeed had hail damage and should call our insurance company. I thought it was on us, that we would replace a few shingles, do some repairs, hand over more money than expected, and soldier on. Thinking it would come to nothing, I called our insurance and the first person I spoke to put the fear of God into me about, “Having a claim on your record” if the damage was not attributed to the hail. I hung up and called one of the contractors, who assured me that it was indeed hail damage, and he offered to meet the insurance adjuster to show him that damage. He was certain and assured me it was worth my time and effort.
The adjuster came and inspected the roof with our contractor. Everyone agreed there was damage from the great balls of ice and our story ended happily with a brand new roof for the cost of our deductible. We suggested a lower cost composite roofing material, knowing that many of our neighbors had gone with composite rather than cedar shingles because of the cost, but it was our replacement insurance that filled the gap between the amount offered for the depreciated age of the roof by our regular insurance and the cost of a replacement; we had to use the same materials as the original. In the end we got a brand new cedar shake roof, window screens, and gutters. We were unexpectedly covered for a very large expense. The need for a new roof was inevitable given the age of our house. Were it not for Mother Nature we would have been facing the cost of a roof in the not too distant future. Insurance came through in a very big and very unexpected way.
But that is not the only story.
It was one of those normal winter days tucked between polar vortex events, sun shining and temperatures hovering around a balmy freezing as compared with the usual subzero temperatures of that winter. I had ventured out to do some shopping and was edging my way up a lane in the parking. Suddenly I saw an SUV pull out fast from behind a van. Being in a parking lot, I was moving slowly and was able to stop about two slots before the SUV, leaning on my horn for good measure. The SUV was coming so quickly that it was not enough to give space and noise. Clearly the driver had other things on her mind as she was both deaf to the horn and heavy with her foot. My poor car– less than a year old at the time and still sporting a trace of that expensive new car perfume–jolted and cried out with that indescribable sound of crushing, crinkling, cracking metal and plastic.
Issuing a silent reminder to myself to stay calm, I collected my purse and grabbed the door leaver to get out of the car. The door would not open. I tried again, it made a little groan but would not budge. My car has a console between the front seats, which is very handy for storing my purse and convenient for shifting gears, but for climbing over it is a daunting barrier. But given that both seats have head rests reaching nearly to the ceiling my escape routes were limited, climb over it I did, pushing the driver’s seat back as far as I could and, fueled by adrenaline, somehow managed to struggle to the other side. It was not a pretty sight.
Once freed from my twisted metal I had a brief moment to examine hers, rust showing through places in the tired black paint, former damage that included what could be bullet holes to my heightened imagination, and a brand new ding on the aged bumper. And I was about to meet the occupant.
There is a very unusual Southern/Central Illinois accent that some people have here, very difficult to explain but consider that, although surrounded by the midwestern states of Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, Illinois shares a border with Kentucky to the south and Missouri to the west. There is a blending of accents that I am still learning to recognize, but I would say that I noted that accent as she said, “I don’t have insurance,” followed by, “This is my boyfriend’s car and he doesn’t have a driver’s license.” Things continued to get interesting when she said, “We are moving this weekend and I am not sure what my address is.” Her little girl got out of the car, her presence reminding me about the staying calm thing. I said, “Let me get my information,” and returned to the car looking for all the world calm and self-possessed until I tried and failed to open the door. Silently regathering my dignity and swallowing an expletive or two, I went to the passenger side, got in the car, closed the door, called 911, saying, “I have just been hit by an uninsured motorist.”
I had reason to remain calm, an inconvenience of course, but I do have uninsured motorist coverage. And now, covering all bases, I would have a police report. I returned with my insurance cards and drivers license, informing her that the police were on their way. While we were waiting I took pictures with my phone of the damages. All would be well.
A car came up the lane and I realized I would have to move my car to get it out of the way of other cars (and it would box her in so she could not drive off, so definitely worth the effort). I opened the passenger door and commenced the ugly and awkward climb back into the driver’s seat, moved the car, then struggled back out again to await the police officer. Later I discovered that the easiest way in and out was to go backside first dragging the legs behind, not feet first followed by an attempt to bend in ways unnatural for someone far younger and more limber than I. I did not know this at the time.
A nice young community officer came and took our individual statements, entered our information, and called it in. The driver, perhaps nervously, chattered away as the waiting time dragged on and on. Perhaps what she was telling me was an effort to gain sympathy for her circumstances, and for the most part it worked.
Although not a polar vortex day, the thin sunshine did little to keep the creeping chill from setting in. Still silently reminding myself to stay calm, I noticed the back seat of the police car looked sparse and hard-edged, not a space I would want to experience. I observed aloud, “It does not look very comfortable back there.” Not missing a beat, she responded with, “Oh no it isn’t. I hate riding back there.”
Nearly an hour after he arrived, the officer finally began to print our copies of the report but had just enough thermal paper to print one. He struggled with loading the printer for some time before giving up. Saying that he still had to write the other driver a citation for driving without insurance, he let me go with the one copy. Once again I climbed into the passenger seat and, not having discovered the easiest way to get across the great divide, struggled and strained to get to the other side, eventually getting all my parts in one place. Unbent and ready to drive I was set; with my uninsured motorist insurance, photographic evidence, and police report all would be well.
When I parked in the garage, somehow I made the great discovery that back-end first was easier than grunting and groaning and bending in ways I do not bend. Things were looking better already. It was with great confidence I called to report the not-my-fault-according-to-the-official-police-report accident to the insurance company. It was then I learned that, yes I do have uninsured motorist coverage but…I was not insured for an uninsured motorist damaging my vehicle. Uninsured motorist insurance is for medical expenses only, not for property. Although a little worse for wear for all the bending and struggling between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, it was not medical coverage I needed. My car’s front end was crunched and, although my slide back-end first discovery was a great improvement, the driver’s side door really needed to be fixed.
Unlike the great balls of ice, the uninsured motorist story ended less happily. My collision insurance paid to fix the car, but I was told by the insurance adjuster to collect the deductible–our higher deductible to save on premiums deductible–from the uninsured driver. The saying, “blood from a turnip” came to mind, as did the thought that she had my name, my address, my phone number, my driver’s license number, and my car license plate number. Not only did I not want to make an obnoxious nuisance of myself but there was no phone and no address, just a driver’s license number and a plate number for a car that belonged to someone else. Blood from a turnip that could not be found. I was resigned to the fact that I had just learned an expensive lesson about uninsured motorist coverage.
Some months later, I got a letter that the claim was still open. I called and was informed that they were in the process of trying to get the cost of my repairs, including my deductible, from the uninsured driver. From what I gathered, they had not been able to find her. Still later, I got another letter from a collection agency saying they were attempting to collect for the insurance company. As far as I know, the claim is still open.
My reality is, the case was closed that first day when I was told what it meant and what it did not mean to have uninsured motorist insurance. I paid the deductible and considered it essentially a poverty tax. There will be times when those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to afford insurance, deductibles for repairs, newer cars, and permanent addresses will encounter those who are less fortunate and cannot afford all of those things combined. It is random, it is upsetting, and perhaps it is even unfair, but in the end perhaps it is the the risk we assume for having while living among those who have not. It was a random misfortune to be hit by someone who could barely afford to operate a car and could not afford the “luxuries” of insurance. Yes, it is against the law to drive without insurance in our state, but if it is a choice to be grounded or to break the law to drive and survive, then I must believe that there are many more on the road just like her. A randomly assessed poverty tax and I only hope I have paid my share.
So, a split decision on insurance, one experience came through with more there than expected and one with less. We need a tie-breaker. More in the next blab.