I'm Having a Crisis of Conscience

Almost two years ago, I was in an auto accident, struck from behind by another driver. Since then, I have lived in constant discomfort. I’ve gone through countless medical procedures, tests, physical therapies, chiropractic treatments and others, all to no avail. My medical bills have been astronomical.

My injuries are permenant. Considering this, I got a lawyer to deal with any potential suits/settlements.

I made it clear from the outset that I had no interest whatsoever in suing the other driver. She was a sweet old woman who called me frequently to see how I was doing, and tried her best to get her insurance company to cooperate.

The problem was, she only had $25,000 of coverage. My medical bills alone have been more than twice that amount, and I pay out-of-pocket almost two hundred dollars a month for pain medications.

My insurance policy had underinsured driver coverage which is supposed to make up the difference.

My lawyer called this afternoon and left a message on my machine that a settlement had been reached with her insurance company, my medical insurance company, and my auto insurance. He informed me that my auto insurance company is going to sue the old lady personally to try to recoup the costs.

I’m agonized over this. I feel tremendous sympathy for the old lady. She seems to be a genuinely nice person who had the great misfortune to make a mistake. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

It’s eating at me that she may lose everything because of it-- everything she and her husband worked for her whole life. If such a thing happened to me, I could rebuild-- I’m young and I’d have time to work my way back to where I am today. She’s in her eighties. I’ve seen what happens to the impoverished elderly, and it tears me up to think I might be sending her into such a life by accepting the settlement.

My family tell me that while it’s unfortunate what is happening to her, I have to think of my own future. I’m certainly not getting rich off of the settlement. (I don’t yet know the exact dollar amount, but I highly doubt it will be much more than my expenses thus far and a bit for future expenses.) They say I have to think of my own family, and the burden my expenses are putting on us.

To put it simply, I feel terrible. I know what I must do, but it’s grinding at my heart.

Why are you assuming that the “sweet old woman” does not have the means to pay? Just because she is pleasant does not mean that she is poor or that she will lose everything because of any suit. Besides, no lawsuit will extract from her what she can’t pay. If she’s on a pension you can’t touch that, and I doubt if you’ll have her kicked out of her house. If the situation is reversed, do you think that she would not sue you?

From what I gathered through conversations with her, she’s comfortable, but not well-off by any means. Her situation does not seem such that she could hand over a large chunk of money without being harmed by it.

As for her house, she has two, one here in this state, and one in Florida where she lives in the winter. I don’t know if her primary home could be taken by a lawsuit by my insurance company, but I’m sure her “vacation” house could.

But it wouldn’t really matter to me if she was well-off. Again, she probably worked her entire life to have what she has, and one mistake takes it all away.

I find that incredibly sad.

That’s completely immaterial to me. I don’t base my moral code off of what others would do, but what feels right/wrong to me. I’m sure there are people out there who would root for me to sue her blind-- to take full advantage of the situation, but that doesn’t make it right.

I see two mistakes: causing that accident, and choosing a level of insurance that put her nest egg at risk.

Not that it isn’t sad, and not that it makes things any easier for you. But sometimes things happen that aren’t fair, and there’s no reason for you to choose to be more screwed than you already are. It doesn’t make you any less good a person.

Yes she made a mistake, and unfortunately it will cost her some money. I agree that it is tough to make this decision knowing it will affect her, but you need to look after yourself and your health first. It is not mean or vindictive of you to make sure you can afford the treatment you need.

It was downright irresponsible of her to have such inadequate insurance when she owns two homes (both because she could have afforded better coverage and because she should have high enough coverage to protect her assets). I don’t think you should suffer on this account. I do sympathize with your feelings for the woman, but I can’t help suspecting she’s been playing nice at least partly to evade her financial responsibility.

I know you’ve read my recent posts about my accident. IMHO, the responsible party should be responsible. Period. Maybe I am just a little too close to the situation to be sensible, but your injuries are PERMANENT. I can deal with acute pain or disability, but the thought of chronic loss of lifestyle and activity level has begun to eat away at me.

Don’t beat yourself up over this. As someone else said, 2 mistakes here - that she caused the accident, and that her coverage is so poor.

You deserve some peace of mind. BTW, thanks for all your input on my own thread. It almost seems like my brain got rattled by the accident, because I don’t seem to be thinking straight when it comes to the obvious things like keeping a daily log. If you were here, I’d give you big hugs.

This caught my eye. Your lawyer should have told you the amount that everyone else has agreed on. For Og’s sake, don’t sign a damn thing until you know exactly how much you are getting, and keep in mind that whatever the total amount is, your lawyer is getting 1/3. What is the policy limit on your UIM coverage?

If you’re collecting money from your uninsured motorist coverage, then, it seems to me, the decision to sue her is not entirely your own. Your insurance company is entitled to recover their costs, and they are less sentimental about it than you. Perhaps thinking of it that way will make it easier for you.

The decision to sue her is not yours at all. If you’re collecting under UM or UIM coverage the insurer is out money and is entitled to look to the party who caused the accident to recoup it. Why should the fact that she’s a sweet little old lady insulate her from her responsiblities? If she chooses to drive then she has an obligation to the rest of us who use the roadways to be financially responsible.

Also, her vacation house in Florida is probably untouchable. All she’d have to do is make it her primary residence then declare bankruptcy. Florida has an unlimited homestead exemption, although this might have been changed by the GOP’s Credit Card Lender’s Obscene Enrichment and Debtor Gouging Act of 2005.

I haven’t spoken to him yet about this. I came home from work on Friday to a message on my machine. Likely, he didn’t want to be too specific on an answering machine out of respect for my privacy.

I will speak with him on Monday and find out what the settlement offer is.

I’m greatly relieved after speaking to my lawyer.

He says that it doesn’t appear that the old lady has much in the way of assets, and that likely “nothing will come of it” (meaning the possibility of her being sued by my insurance company.)

I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders!