Rosemary's Article: Having a Car Accident in Italy
otherwise known as: Beware of Flying Avvocatos
On a sunny Sunday afternoon on the 23rd of April, as I was preparing for a visit from my family, my husband Bob set out for the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items. We were living in Marina di Ragusa, a small seaside community on the south coast of Sicily. As he approached the intersection, he slowed down, looked to his left and then to his right and by the time he looked left again a car came screaming across from the side street and slammed into him from the left, continuing down the street for quite a way before coming to a halt.
His car remained where it was hit, the front end smashed. Thankfully, he was not hurt, but it was obvious he was upset when he shouted up to me from below our terrace to call our friend and landlord, Elio to ask him to come and help us, which I did immediately.
We owe so much to this wonderful man who did not hesitate to say he would be right there and I went down to find our cute little Toyota Yaris out in the middle of the intersection with its entire front completely crushed and demolished, liquid of some sort running down the street like blood at the scene of a murder. Bob was visibly shaken. He had the right of way and she should have stopped but she didn't. Unfortunately there were no witnesses, since the accident happened during pranzo (lunch) and everyone was inside eating. But of course the big crash brought everyone out and quite a little crowd gathered around and everyone had an opinion on what should be done. Kind neighbors offered coffee, water, a piece of cake, sympathetic words. Everyone thought they knew what to do. We just waited for Elio to arrive, confident that he would know the right thing to do and just stayed with the car.
There also was a man who seemed very interested in making friends with either Bob or the other driver, playing both sides it seemed and it turned out he was a lawyer (we tried to explain the term "ambulance chaser" to Elio but I don't think it translated). It turned out the woman who hit our car is also a lawyer and this was not, we were sure, a positive thing. In Italian, the word for lawyer is “avvocato.” (Hence the title of this piece.)
Someone called the police. Someone else thought we should move the car. Bob insisted he would not until the police came. Everyone seemed to be an authority on some part of this or at least had an opinion. The other driver wanted to just share information. Bob again insisted on waiting until Elio arrived as this was one of those moments when you are very aware of being a foreigner with not enough language skills, putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Elio arrived no more than 30 minutes after we called him, which meant he had dropped whatever he was doing and jumped in his car. The police had not yet arrived. Suddenly a young man pulled up in his car and after much conversation here and there we learned that he claimed to have seen it all and that Bob was at fault. Shocking, since he was nowhere in sight until well after the accident occurred. The police finally arrived. We scrambled to produce all of the documents they requested. We had insurance, thank goodness and all of our papers were in order. Thank god for Elio. The police drew lines around our tires; took measurements of the angle of the car in the intersection; statements were taken from the participants: car A – Bob and car B – the other driver, as well as the late-arriving mystery witness, much to our frustration.
Monday was a holiday here (similar to our 4th of July) and the body shop was closed. But on Tuesday morning the shop recommended by Elio came and towed the car to their garage in Ragusa and provided us with a loaner. Not a great car, but at least it was a means of transportation for the necessities and was also provided at no cost to us. We were very appreciative.
On Wednesday we went to the police headquarters to pick up the report of our accident. The officer in charge brought out this little booklet with papers stapled into it from the statements taken at the scene. Not realizing it would be something so elaborate, we asked if we could have a copy of it and he gladly made one for us. As with all the other documenti we have received here in Italy, it contained a generous amount of rubber stamps and signatures. We asked if the report indicated who had been at fault and he turned to the last paragraph on one of the pages where it clearly stated that the other driver had been wrong. She should have stopped. Bob had the right of way! We breathed a visible sigh of relief, thanked the officer and went off for a celebratory cup of cappuccino! We were very worried that if the report said Bob was at fault, we would have to pay to fix not only ours, but her car as well. In spite of our having insurance. We weren't sure how it would really work. Or that if they found that we were both at fault that insurance would not pay at all and we would each have to pay. We weren't sure why she seemed to prefer this arrangement but that was just a moot point.
Once again Elio helped us by taking Bob to an insurance counseling office, recommended by his insurance agent, that provides advice and assistance to people dealing with insurance companies explaining how to file the paperwork etc. The insurance companies, at no cost to us, paid for this service. Peppe Scapellato owns an auto repair shop in Raugsa and also, with his wife, this insurance counseling business. If you need this service in Ragusa, you can reach Peppe at this website: www.scapellato.com. In other Italian cities, look online at www.leoninsfortunistica.it or ask your insurance agent about this valuable service. We think it’s a good idea to locate this service before you have an accident.
Bob faxed a copy of the report to our insurance company in Ancona and subsequently received a call from the Peppe to come and sign some papers, indicating that everything was proceeding smoothly and authorizing payment directly to the body shop. We didn’t realize at the time that the form should have been signed in front of a notary (notaio) but because they were not, this complicated the issue. When we stopped there to sign the papers we saw our car outside with its hood already removed indicating to us that work had already begun. A very good sign.
However, we soon got word that our “flying avvocato,” the other driver, was claiming that we were both at fault and insisting that we were at least 30% responsible because, she said, Bob was driving too fast through the intersection. This would mean that we would have to pay 30% of the costs ourselves to have our car repaired. Obviously, we disagreed. At this point, Peppe at the counseling office took us to consult with an attorney (at no fee) who outlined 4 different options, none of which were appealing to us. We decided we might just have to pay the 30% and let it go at that, feeling frustrated partly because our own insurance was not really coming to our aid.
Shortly thereafter we got a call from Peppe that a meeting was to take place in the office of the other driver’s insurance company to discuss responsibility for the accident and subsequent payment. Peppe came prepared. He had taken photos, made diagrams, studied this accident from every possible angle and proved that we were not at fault. The clincher was the photo of the air bag sensor, which stated that it activated at 20 kilometers per hour and since it had not deployed, it proved that Bob was going less than 20 kilometers an hour and not speeding. At this point the adjuster closed the file and said they would pay 100% of our costs of repairs!
The check arrived. We paid for the car. And drove off into the sunset.
Accident- Part 2 Beware of Flying Avvocatos
In June we moved to Verona. At the end of August we received our bollettino (the bill) for our insurance payment for the next 6 months. We were shocked to see that our payment was a full 33% higher than previously. All we could surmise was that because we had had an accident they had raised our rates. But wait! We had not been at fault. Our insurance had not had to pay anything, we thought. Bob called the “verde number” which is a toll free 800 number set up to assist clients. He found out that our flying avvocato had petitioned our insurance company stating that we were guilty of “concorso di colpa” (contributory negligence), which meant that she was claiming that we were partly at fault. Amazing. We contributed to the accident because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time! And, since she is an attorney, she knows the system. She clearly wrote a convincing letter, in spite of the evidence to the contrary! We figured that it was easier for the insurance company to shut her up and then recoup their losses from us by way of increasing our rates, than fight it out with her. It seems that business practices for insurance companies are universal. Originally we were in insurance category class 14, and because they paid her 1200 euros, the “minimo” (minimal amount) they could pay, we were now in class 17.
Trying to reach our insurance company at the “Servizio Liquidazione Sinistro” (the claims adjustor) was quite an adventure. They only answer on certain days of the week at certain times of the day and even during those specific times the phone is busy and it is difficult to get through. When Bob finally got an answer he kept the woman on the phone for at least half an hour, pleading his case. He did an incredible job of defending our position, with limited language skills, and kept as calm as possible. It’s difficult enough in one’s own language to deal with insurance companies and their jargon. Even the Italians, our friends told us, have a hard time comprehending all the terminology and rigmarole – which we feel is universally intentional. If you don’t understand, how hard can you argue? But Bob stood his ground. We had not been at fault. The police report stated this. Her own insurance company declared her 100% responsible. We should not have to pay more. They should not have paid her. In the end, the woman on the phone basically said to Bob “OK, so what do you want?” His response was: “To not have to pay more.” She agreed. He asked her to put this in writing and send a copy to our insurance agent and one to us, which she did. Giorgio, our Verona landlord who has also been trying to help us sort all of this out made a call for us and found out that they had indeed changed the class. He had looked into the possibility of our canceling and going over to his insurance company but that would have resulted in our being assigned to class 18, clearly intended to discourage changing insurance companies after an accident.
Sure enough, true to her word, the woman had indeed changed our class. Two days after this conversation the new “bolletino” (the bill) arrived in the mail. She put us back down, not merely to a 14, but down to a 13, which is where we would have been when it came time for renewal had all of this not occurred. We were elated! Bob went immediately to the Post Office with the bolletino and sent off payment.
The moral of the story is “Beware of Flying Avvocatos.” Plus, learn the language. We cannot stress this enough. Make friends with the locals – when you are in a foreign country you really do need help understanding things like this and doing the right thing. Make sure you know where your insurance papers are in case of an accident and don’t be afraid to plead your case.