There’s very little that’s funny about being in a car collision, especially when the wreck wasn’t your fault. However, over the years I’ve had to keep myself from laughing more than once when a new client told me the at-fault driver’s version of the reason for the crash.
To answer the titled question – Yes! If you can reasonably get out of your car and safely walk over to the other driver, I encourage clients to ask the other at-fault driver, “What happened?” An admission of responsibility is always helpful – and many people are honest.
Usually the property damage alone and the appearance of the cars will tell the tale about who was responsible for the crash. If I’m rear ended sitting in my car at a red light, yes, chances are at 100% that the other driver was at fault. But, to seal the other driver’s liability fate, ask him or her, first, “are you alright?” and then, “What were you thinking?”
Answers come in a variety of responses:
“You came out of nowhere!” We’ve heard this non-answer a number of times. The implication is to project responsibility onto you in some Houdini-like fashion, as if your car mysteriously plopped itself down right into the path of their car right out of thin air. It could also be an attempt to state that you were driving at some breakneck speed so that you literally were not there one second ago. The honest answer is, “I wasn’t looking”.
“I was preoccupied.” This honest admission has come in a variety of ways. We’ve heard, “I was fiddling with my radio”; “I was reaching for a French fry that fell to the floor boards” – of course the driver had a bag of fast food still in his lap, safely buckled in as if it was an edible appendage; “I was smacking my kid in the back seat for mouthing off and couldn’t quite reach him and then I didn’t see you…” She hardly gets the mother-of-the-year award, but that’s so honest, who would make that up?
“The car malfunctioned.” Uh, yeah. Sure. “I hit the brake and the car actually sped up!” It’s possible, but I’ve never seen anyone prove this; “I just had my car in for repairs and they must have done something wrong.” Again, it’s an attempt to avoid responsibility by deflecting fault onto someone else – anyone else; “My flip flop got stuck under the gas pedal and I couldn’t stop…” Well your car is equipped with a brake pedal too.
Just Plain Crazy Answers: After a particularly bad crash the at-fault driver was approached, he rolled down his window and before even asked said: “Whazzzup???????” Yes, there was alcohol involved; In my own personal car crash I t-boned a driver after she pulled in front of me on a deserted road on Sunday night at 10 p.m. with absolutely no cars behind me. Had she waited 2 seconds this collision would have been avoided. After the dust settled we ended up two lanes over on somebody’s front lawn. I ran over to her car convinced she was dead, but she was seated calmly buckled in her seat, unlit cigarette in her mouth. Her first words were, “Got a light?” Yup, another DUI.
Probably my favorite story was when a client asked the at-fault driver, what happened? “What do you mean?” You hit my car! “No I didn’t.” There’s my car and there’s your car underneath mine. “That’s not my car.” Well, you were driving it! “No, I wasn’t…” I SAW YOU GET OUT OF THE CAR! Then he took off and ran away sort of negating his entire defense of mistaken identity. He was eventually picked up for leaving the scene of the accident.
In short, if it’s safe, inquire how the other driver is after the crash and ask the simple question of what happened? The answer might seal the issue of liability, it may infuriate you and it may even make you laugh.