I was sitting on the passenger side of the front seat of a car being driven by a pretty young blonde woman (probably in her early 20s). We were in a parking space on a city street and the woman was trying to negotiate out of the space onto the thoroughfare, but she was having trouble getting around the car parked in front of us. She pulled out, but in the process the left rear fender of our car caught the rear bumper of the other car.
The woman didn't stop and as metal scrapped harshly against metal she continued pulling forward. I could tell that she was doing considerable damage to the cars but she didn't stop. Finally, she did get past the car and she pulled over to see how much damage had been done. I told her she would probably have to notify her insurance company since she was clearly at fault, but to my surprise she informed me that she didn't have any insurance. That caused me concern because I knew the law required insurance in this state.
We both got out of the car and a man who had been in the other car walked up to us. He wasn't actually the owner of the car but he told us he was going to represent the owner. He began by telling us that he was extremely angered by the event and he was in no mood for any kind of comprises. I immediately stood up for the woman and told her that if the man wanted to be that way about it, she should simply not answer any questions or assist him in any way. If he wanted satisfaction he would simply have to sue her.
I pulled the woman aside and told her it might actually be best for her to enter into some kind of agreed court judgment with the owner of the other car. She might agree to pay $10,000 for example. I explained that since she didn't have the money the owner wouldn't be able to collect it. What few possessions she did have (her car for example) would be protected by homestead law. As I talked to her, I knew I was giving her legal advice even though I wasn't her attorney, but it was evident that she needed someone to help her at the moment and I had more or less volunteered. I also mentioned that she could later file bankruptcy if she wanted and that the debt to the owner of the other car would be eliminated.
We spoke again with the man. He informed us that the owner of the car wanted $50,000 for the damage. He however thought we could probably settle the affair for around $29,000. I could clearly see the car, which was a yellowish color. The fender had been damaged and the bumper had been completely torn off, but it certainly didn't appear to be a great amount of damage. And besides, the car appeared to me to be rather old and not worth very much anyway.
I told the man that the amount of money he wanted was out of the question. I suggested the amount of $10,000 and pointed out that the car itself wasn't even worth near the amount he wanted. He protested that the car was brand new. I looked more closely at it and conceded that it might be brand new although it still looked rather old to me.
I told him that even if he did sue us he wouldn't be able to get anything from the woman because everything she had was protected by homestead law. I pointed to her car and said it was protected up to the value of $1,200, but then I realized that it was protected up to $1,200 under bankruptcy law; but under homestead law it was actually protected for its full value.
Throughout the discussion my main concern was the woman's lack of insurance. I thought that was an infraction of the law and I feared she might face some criminal charges if her uninsured state were uncovered. Therefore I thought I would be willing to be flexible in negotiating a settlement.
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