Jon DeVos: I owe it all to Judge Judy
July 18, 2014
Last October, I hit a pothole just outside of Granby causing considerable damage to my wife's Mini Cooper. This pothole was a big square cut in the road left over from some excavation. Erosion from weekend traffic had worn away the dirt and left a wicked edge exposed, and I hit it with enough impact to blow out both tires on the driver's side. Reacting immediately, I slammed both eyes shut and squealed like a pre-teen. Nonetheless, my wife tells me that after a harrowing 8-second ride, we somehow landed safely by the side of the road.
Happy for life, I pried my eyes back open and got out to inspect the damage. Both driver-side tires were shredded and both rims were mangled. Camera in hand, I walked back to see what-the-hell-did-I-hit. I watched as traffic continued to thump along, some hitting the cutaway asphalt worse than others. I got good photos of all the hubcaps on the side of the road as well as the two wreckers hauling away other cars with similar damage.
Two weeks later, after new tires, rims, wheel bearings and miscellaneous suspension parts, the dealership handed us a bill that read like a ransom note. We coughed up the dough and the car drives fine again. I called our insurance agent and asked if a claim like this would have any impact on the premiums.
"You know," he said, "that part of the message that goes, 'this call is being recorded for training purposes?'"
"Yeah? A customer service thing, right?"
"Absolutely. We're training folks in Bangalore how high they can raise customer rates for stupid calls like this one. Any actual claim would blow your payments through the roof, ha-ha, and that wouldn't be covered damage!" So we turned to the Claims Department of the Colorado Department of Transportation, only to learn that the Claims Department doesn't actually accept claims. But the letter thanked us for our participation in the process and sent us to the utility company.
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The utility company absolutely denied all awareness of human existence and advised us to take our curious little whims up with the subcontractor who actually chopped up the highway.
The subcontractor was most solicitous, expressing thanks that no one was injured in the harrowing ordeal and urged us to file a claim with the Colorado Department of Transportation despite the fact they would never accept it.
By now it's April, seven months later and we're back exactly where we started. My wife was just mad enough to make me get off the couch and sue them all in Small Claims Court. I must've been sleepy because it made sense to me and named them all in a row, from the State Attorney General on behalf of CDOT, to the president of the utility company, alongside the president of the subcontracting company.
The first response was from the CDOT attorney who inquired how much our house was worth.
"Why?" I asked.
"We're countersuing you for wasting our time. We're just trying to figure out what dollar amount to start at. Let's see, you listed two dogs and an aquarium; how many fish?"
Next we heard nothing from the utility company that seemed to be standing steadfast behind their pledge to customer indifference while claiming mere mortals held no jurisdiction over them. The most vigorous defense came from the subcontractor's hourly-billing attorney who interrogated me on the phone: "You say you didn't hit anything in the road and that your alleged accident was caused by a hole, something missing from the road. So how, therefore, could my client possibly be responsible for you hitting something that was missing? No jury would find negligence, knock off a thousand bucks and we'll call it a deal."
"I don't think there's any jury in Small Claims Court," I said.
"Really? Who knew? Where is this Hot Sulfurous Springs anyway?"
"Oh, you know, west of Denver, just a bit past Red Dirt Hill. I guess if that's your best offer, we'll see you in court," I said, hanging up with a Perry Mason flourish.
"Court's a gamble and you're out of your league," announced my wife, "what if the judge says, "You lose, fines and court costs are set at your life's savings. Next case, please."
"Won't happen," I said, "you need to have a little faith in your fellow man. Well, that and watch more Judge Judy." Sure enough, a couple of days before trial the subcontractor's attorney cried "Uncle" and agreed to our terms, saying that if we'd sign a release, they'd send a check. We said send a check and we'll sign a release, and that's what happened last Monday, a mere 10 months after the crash.
And the car insurance went up anyway.