France Car Accident

Following is a true story about my car accident in France. I'm sharing it online in the hope that it will help others avoid the same problems I've had.

It was a foggy winter morning and I was driving my dog to the vet for an operation. As I went through a small village I saw a car coming towards me, partway over the centre line. I swerved to avoid a collision, but not far enough and our wing mirrors touched and shattered. We both stopped and I walked over to the other car.

Looking the other driver in the eye, in my best French I told him directly that I was driving in my lane. He accepted responsibility and admitted that he was too far to the left. Cautious that he might change his mind and later deny it, I got a piece of paper and a pen from my car and had him write this out, then sign and date it. I got his details and the details of his insurance company and then continued on my way.

It was a Friday and it was late evening by the time I returned home. My insurance company was closed for the day and of course for the weekend, so I could not contact them until Monday. On Monday the person I normally spoke to (the only person in the office who understood English) was out and did not return until Tuesday. We spoke on Tuesday and I faxed him all the information.

My insurance company sent the other insurance company a letter but received no response. After a couple of weeks (and my phone calls) they sent another letter to the insurance company and also to the other driver and still received no response. Feeling that this was going nowhere, I phoned up the other driver and asked him why he did not reply to the letter from the insurance company. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes (mainly due to my ranting in unbelieving anger and him justifying his position) but could be summarised as following:

  • Me: Why haven't you answered the letter from the insurance company?
  • Him: I've been told by my insurance company not to reply.
  • Me: Why?
  • Him: Because the official car accident form was not completed within 24 hours. My insurance company tells me that as a result I have no legal responsibility and so they won't pay anything out.
  • Me: But the accident was your fault and you admitted it!
  • Him: Yes, but the form wasn't completed within 24 hours, so my insurance company won't pay.
  • Me: Since the accident was your fault, you should pay.
  • Him: If you had done the paperwork within 24 hours, my insurance company would have paid. I gave you all my contact details and if you had asked me I would even have gone to the police station and filled out the forms. It isn't my fault that none of this was done and that my insurance company won't pay out. I've done everything I was asked to do and if your insurance company hasn't progressed this properly it is their fault and they should pay.
  • The conversation lasted about another 10 minutes but our positions didn't change. I felt that the car accident was his fault and I should not have to pay for the repairs to my car, while he maintained that the failure of my insurance company to progress the paperwork was not his fault and he shouldn't suffer financially for that.

I went back to my insurance company, explained the conversation and they confirmed that the position of the other insurance company was legally correct. They also explained that I should always carry a car accident report form in my glove compartment and ensure that I shouldn't leave the scene of the accident without completing it. However, they offered to pay the amount and not affect my no-claims bonus. I felt that this was quite generous of them, since in fact the delay was due to me not contacting them on the day of the accident or completing the form. However, I still felt aggrieved by a sense of injustice and went to the police station to make a complaint. I explained the situation and showed them the signed statement of responsibility by the other driver. Unfortunately, they confirmed the position of the other driver's insurance company and said that there was nothing they could do for me.

I was very fortunate in that the damage to my car was small and that my insurance company paid for it despite my bungling. However, I often wonder what would happen if it had been a serious accident, leaving me with substantial repair bills. I still feel a sense of injustice but I guess I got off lightly. In any case, I now know what to do in the case of an accident and hope that anyone reading this will not repeat my mistake.

*** Editor's note: For an explanation and English translation of the car accident report form, see France Car Accident ***

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