Accidents are your fault — even if they’re not

A word of warning to folks who get into accidents — your rates may go up whether or not it’s really your fault.

The other day, I got my renewal papers for my car insurance, and on one of the pages I saw the following statement: “Based on your driving record and longstanding relationship with our company, you qualify for a benefits under our Accident Forgiveness Program. As a result, we have waived the increased premium associated with the accident on 01/20/07.”

The accident in question was a frightening incident on the BQE on a very cold, wet morning. A driver was weaving in and out of traffic at top speeds; in order to avoid him, another auto had to suddenly brake, hit black ice, and set in motion a pile-up that eventually involved about 12 cars. Jim was driving the 12th.

Our car was totaled, but luckily Jim’s injuries were limited to a cleanly broken knee (so no surgery was needed) and a sprained ankle. The guy who caused it was eventually arrested. We were clearly not at fault — Jim was driving well within speed limits and there wasn’t a whole lot he could do to avoid hitting the car in front of him — and everyone agreed.

So why would they even think about increasing our premium?

I talked to a very nice young woman on the phone today, who explained that the owner of the car that Jim hit got a payment of about $4,000. No matter what the circumstances of the accident, if one car hits somebody else’s — even if that car is pushed into the other by a car behind us — that car is considered “at fault.” If the payout is over $1,000, an increase is added. It was only because I’ve got a really good record with the insurance company that I was able to avoid the increase.

The moral of the story? That the circumstances of an accident aren’t really considered pertinent to whether or not the drive is held financially responsible.

Just so you know.

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