“Ma’am, due to the location of the debris, I’ve determined that you are at fault for this accident, and I’m citing you with Failure to Maintain Lane. If you choose to fight it, your court date is February 25th.”
Freshly exonerated by the police officer, the guy who’d just side-swiped me drove off gleefully in his minimally-damaged truck.
My Honda Accord’s fate wasn’t quite so charmed. It had a smashed-in driver door, a flat tire, and a completely severed front bumper. In the minutes following the accident, I wasn’t entirely sure who the guilty party was. My less-than-pristine driving record, coupled with the officer’s effective intimidation tactics, didn’t allow me to immediately discount the possibility that I’d caused this. When the disgruntled officer asked me what had happened, I told him the truth: that I was pretty sure the other driver had drifted into my lane and collided with me. He berated me for not being 100% certain, bellowing that I was at fault. I thought in despair, “How will I live successfully if I’m not a safe driver?”
Over the next few days of conversation with some wiser people than I, the hazy situation began to gain definition. Several people brought up a point that hadn’t occurred to me: The intact, severed bumper was evidence that I’d been clipped from behind. If the impact had come from me, the bumper would probably have remained attached and suffered damage, rather than flying off unscathed.
I left five voicemails that week for Chad, the adjustor assigned to my case, but I was unable to get any response from him. Desperate to get the repair process moving forward, I got connected to a different adjustor who, despite lacking the power to do much since she wasn’t in charge of my claim, at least seemed to exist. Thanks to Chad and the extremely weak excuse he eventually gave me involving a home modem repair, I had an extra week-plus to ruminate on all of the ways I could be found liable. As things languished, my self-doubt grew. My mind spiraled: “Shoshana, you’ll be found at fault, you’ll have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines, you’ll get points on your license, you’ll become uninsurable….”
As women, we’re socially conditioned to apologize for the sake of keeping or creating peace. If you’re like me, you tend to assume that things are your fault and be fairly quick to accept blame—particularly if no one else steps up to the plate. But in this case, there’s more evidence to suggest that the other driver should be liable than that I should. This is the perfect moment to remind myself that I am not a doormat and that I don’t deserve to be held liable for a mistake I did not make. At the very least, uncertainty on the part of an authority figure isn’t a valid reason to hold someone responsible for the situation.
A few years ago, I probably would have just paid the fine, shouldered the responsibility, and added this to my list of blunders. But if February 25th rolls around and you’re looking for me, you’d better believe I’ll be in court, leaving my comfort zone and growing a backbone by telling my side of this story. I owe it to myself to seek justice by having my name cleared. I believe in admitting to errors, but only the ones we’ve actually made. Let’s start considering whether we truly owe each apology we make. We are not always wrong.
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