April 2014

April 6-12 is Victims' Rights Week

By David Feela

Hello? I’d like to report an accident. No, there are no injuries, just a fender bender. Where am I? I’m at the intersection of Oh Shit and Just My Luck. Yes, I was wearing my seat-belt, but it didn’t help. An officer is on the way? I’ll be waiting.

That’s the call, pretty much, with a few embellishments to protect the witless.

Okay, just the facts.

My economy-model hybrid, hibernating at an intersection, waiting for the signal light to change from red to green. Then my car lurches forward as it is struck from behind. In the rearview mirror I notice the grill of an SUV grinning through my hatchback window. Irony, I thought, cast in plastic.

I know, I should blame myself for choosing to drive a low-profile, efficient car, but I don’t admit anything like this to the driver that steps out of her vehicle as I step out of mine.

As I said, the accident was minor, and it wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t rub my neck or make any low moaning sounds while assuming the lawsuit position. Instead, I decided to be reasonable, to stop blocking traffic. We pulled into a nearby parking lot. That’s when I called the police.

I handed the officer my license and proof of insurance; the woman had no insurance, but swore her new insurance card was at home. While fiddling with her cell phone, she was issued a citation for careless driving and a summons to appear in court. The police officer couldn’t tell me when, but handed me his business card, suggesting I call in three to five days.

I did better than that. I stopped by the desk and asked for a copy of the report. It cost me $4. I told the clerk the accident was not my fault. She said I still had to pay, then handed me a sticky note with the court appearance date written in red ink. I marked my calendar.

Not that I had to go to court, but I wanted to observe the stern expression on the judge’s face, the consternation of the reporting officer while listening to the defendant’s inexplicable but surely elaborate explanation for driving an uninsured vehicle.

With only liability coverage on my car, costing me over $120 a year, I still would not be reimbursed one penny by my insurance company. My only consolation came from a $750 body-shop estimate to fix my rear end, more reasonable than my last colonoscopy.

She never showed up for court. A clerk told me a warrant had not been issued, meaning the driver would have to be involved in another infraction before she’d be required to have insurance for her SUV, probably the same one she’s still driving.

Unless.

Unless what?

Unless you know where she is and you want to report her location to the police.

I thanked the polite clerk and hung up, chewing one of my nails as I pondered what to do. The woman was a complete stranger to me. Then I had an idea. The first page of the $4 accident report listed her address. Feeling a bit like a stalker, I drove to where she lived.

Sure enough, her SUV sat in front of her apartment door. What’s more, she lived a mere half-mile from the county court where she’d been summoned to appear.

The rear end of my little car sagged all the way home. Though I hadn’t been injured, I’d been chumped. It’s the American way: the victim always pays.

Two weeks later I received an unsolicited phone call from the District Attorney’s Office, asking me if I had been compensated for damages by my insurance company. Could I submit a copy of my bodywork estimate to their office? Yeah, I could do that.

The 1982 Crime Victim Compensation (CVC) Act had me covered. I qualified as a victim, and the Colorado program is one of the best in the nation because each of Colorado’s 22 judicial districts posts its own guard dog, so to speak, to protect its victims. Driving without insurance is a crime. The DA’s office informed me that an arrest had taken place, and eventually the court awarded me a judgment of $749.99.

Of course, a judgment doesn’t spend like cash. The court still has to persuade the criminal to pay up, but somehow I believed in it like Christmas. And I’d not be receiving the victim’s usual lump of coal. This time, thanks to the CVC, a modicum of justice.

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See more of his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.