Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Negotiate a Traffic Settlement

Yesterday, Kathy and some friends were on their way to a meeting in a friend's pickup truck when they were hit by someone on a moto. The lady driving had just started to turn her wheels for a left-hand turn on a back street when a young man came ripping up beside her. She had her turn signal on, but maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe he did see it but thought he could make it by if he just accelerated. Whatever the reason, he didn’t make it. Instead, he ploughed into the front left tire, snapping off the moto’s right leg guard and the brake pedal, and mashing his foot against the truck wheel.

I got the phone call just as I was on my way back to the office after siesta. Stopping by the SIL Centre, I grabbed Adama, a Burkinabè colleague, and headed off to the scene.

We arrived to find the vehicles parked, the ladies standing, and the young man from the moto sitting down with a visibly swollen foot. Fortunately the skin had not been broken, so there was no bleeding. A couple of other men on a moto had stopped to help in the situation, but were doing more to aggravate the situation than calm things down.

After assuring ourselves that the young man was in no immediate danger (something that Kathy had already assessed), we began to talk about damages. The truck was fine, but the moto wasn’t, and according to the rules of the road here, the moto had the right of way, no matter what speed he was going. So we discussed the cost of repairing the moto and of getting the young man’s foot looked after.

Unless the accident is a serious one, most people prefer to settle things amiably on the spot. Involving the police can take a huge amount of time both now and in the days to come, involving numerous trips to the police station to determine and assign blame, as well as negotiating a settlement. Meanwhile, the damaged vehicles would remain in custody (which in this case would be the young man’s moto, which turned out not to be his after all, but someone else’s). The owner(s) would meanwhile be deprived of their means of transport.

In addition, getting the insurance company involved will mean even longer delays. It could be six months or more before the owner of a damaged vehicle succeeded in getting reimbursed for repairs (after paying for them first), again necessitating innumerable trips to the company offices. The young man was understandably not eager to embark upon this route, which certainly facilitated our efforts to negotiate a settlement.

In the end, we made a rough estimate of the repair costs, the costs of an X-ray of the young man’s foot and subsequent medication, and added a bit more, just in case. It crossed our minds that perhaps he’d found a creative way to make some money, that he’d find a cheaper way to repair the bike and wouldn’t bother with the X-ray or medication. But that was his choice. Hopefully he’d think twice before trying that particular trick again! One way or another, he’d probably end up paying for his misjudgement in wrath from the bike’s owner and one heck of a sore foot for some time to come.

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