Innocent by Law, Guilty by State Farm

Several months ago, I was involved in a traffic accident. The police officer who arrived on the scene took statements from three witnesses and the other driver before approaching me with a ticket in his hand charging me with "careless driving".

A few things annoyed me about the charge. For one thing, the term "careless driving" is really broad. It doesn't really tell you what you did wrong, just that you didn't do something right. For another, I believed I was following the laws and acting not only according to what I believe was correct (especially with reference to what the Colorado Driver's Handbook says to do at a malfunctioning traffic light), but with how other cars present at the intersection at the time were behaving. Also, the fact that the cop issued the ticket without getting my view, but only that of the other driver and some witnesses, made me feel like the decision was obnoxiously one-sided. Finally, the fact that the officer's report stated the other driver was being cautious didn't fit the facts that, I felt, were obvious.

I was determined to fight what I felt was an unfair assessment. And after finding out how much it would cost to obtain a lawyer (from the one firm that found it worthwhile to actually return my call), I decided I could only afford to fight it if I fought it on my own.

To make a very long story short, the judge agreed with me, that I did take into account the situation (the malfunctioning traffic light, the large number of cars stopped at this light in all directions). One of the witnesses was key in this decision, as she happened to be behind me at the time of the accident, and she testified that I did in fact stop for plenty of time to analyze the situation before entering the intersection. It also sounded like the was about to say the other driver was at fault for entering against a flashing yellow when there was a car already in the intersection (which I was able to prove I had first, by a large margin), before she interrupted herself and gave her ruling, that the prosecution failed to prove my guilt. So, against the odds of representing myself in court, I prevailed.

With that ruling, I thought it would be prudent to contact State Farm and let them know that not only was I found not at fault, but a competent lawyer could likely take this case and go after the other driver's insurance for the loss — hey, if an incompetent fool like myself could win the case, imagine what someone with appropriate skill could do. Boy, was I ever in for a surprise. When I was connected to the agent in charge of processing my claim, and I explained the situation, she told me she didn't think they had a case. And then this State Farm agent proceeded to tell me why: because the other driver had the right of way, she had no obligation to watch for traffic in the intersection because I should not have been there; basically all the arguments the prosecution made at my trial, that were ultimately rejected by the judge. When she mentioned details that were just wrong (like the other driver having a regular yellow light and I ran a red light) and I tried to correct her, she accused me of changing my story. (I don't know if, in the heat of the moment when I first reported the accident, I got some details wrong; but the condition of the traffic light was a fact clearly spelled out in the police report for crying out loud.) She even went so far as to claim that there was no difference between a flashing yellow light and a green light! I was in shock.

I suppose ultimately it's their decision to pursue the case or not, but to just dismiss the results of a trial and accuse me of guilt after I had been found not guilty, does not sit well with me. I believe it is time for me to find a new insurance agent, one that does not stubbornly hold to an assumption of my guilt even after being found not guilty in a court of law, like State Farm has done.

No comments: