By all accounts it was a great day in Southeast Oklahoma. A good day for motoring down the road with your RV. That’s exactly what was happening for David C., an RVtravel.com reader. Towing what he describes as “Our fourth rig, and our favorite of them all,” it was probably a picture-perfect moment. Perfect, that is, until he crested a hill on the two-lane blacktop and found a logging truck in his lane, headed straight for him. “Nowhere to go but into the ditch,” recalls David. When the silence finally settled in, David’s travel trailer lay on its side, a total loss. The family was the victim of a phantom driver—the log truck was long gone.
What’s a phantom driver?
Phantom driver? David’s experience is also known in the insurance industry as a “miss and run.” While the definition may vary, depending on state laws, it typically follows the definition that Oregon uses. “’Phantom vehicle’ means ‘a vehicle that causes bodily injury to an insured arising out of a motor vehicle accident that is caused by a vehicle that has no physical contact with the insured or the vehicle the insured is occupying at the time of the accident.’”
The phantom driver may be impaired by alcohol or drugs. They may have been driving recklessly—as one might claim in David’s case. Or they may be simply distracted by something and fail to see the other rig. Some phantom drivers are aware of what happened, and like a classic “hit and run” driver, leave the scene to avoid the consequences. Or some may be so distracted they don’t even know they’ve caused an accident and ride off into the sunset, blissfully unaware of the problems they’ve created.
Insurance claim headaches
In any event, known or unknown, a phantom driver is still responsible for the consequences. But a miss and run accident can create real problems for the damaged party. One can imagine being the insurance company who gets a claim from a customer. He says while driving on an icy road, another driver cut him off. He hit the brakes to avoid an accident and ended up wrapped up in the guardrail. “The guy never stopped,” says the customer. Naturally, the insurance adjuster is going to be suspicious—maybe there never was another driver, and the insured messed up and doesn’t want the accident to count against him.
To that end, state laws take a variety of stands on just what circumstances will enable the injured party in a phantom accident to get relief. In Oregon, the law on phantom accidents says the facts of the case must be corroborated by competent evidence, other than the testimony of the insured or any person having an uninsured motorist claim resulting from it. If a logging truck comes barreling toward you in your lane and you swerve, you’d best have a witness that sees it. That witness could be somebody in the rig with you, provided they aren’t hurt and so won’t be filing a claim against your insurance.
Insult to injury
For David, his one-year-old travel trailer was totally wiped out. Adding insult to injury, David had invested more than $5,000 in upgrades to the rig. Additionally, his pickup truck suffered damage. Happily, nobody in the rig was hurt, but that certainly didn’t stop the financial pain. How would David’s insurance company handle the case, seeing it was David’s word on the matter?
When the oncoming truck caused David to take evasive action it must have been a spectacular scene. The loss of control in hitting the ditch then forced the combination back across the highway, where it finally stopped on the opposite side of the road. Spectacular, indeed, and fortunately, there was a “spectator” who saw the entire incident. Another driver who witnessed the crash immediately stopped to help. That witness stuck around until a state trooper arrived, about an hour later. The trooper was able to get the “testimony” of a disinterested party. David’s insurance company paid for truck repairs, and cut a check for the total loss of his RV.
Lessons for all RVers
What lessons are there for the rest of us? Legal experts have plenty to say when it comes to phantom accidents. If you’re ever the victim of a “miss and run” accident, here’s their advice.
- If anyone stops to help, ask if they saw the phantom. Get their name and contact information. Immediately write down everything you can remember about the phantom vehicle, make, color, partial (or full) license plate number. Bumper stickers. What the driver looked like.
- Tell law enforcement at the scene, and when you file a report, about exactly what happened. Be clear, distinct, and precise.
- The first time you talk with a paramedic, a doctor, or emergency room staff, TELL THEM about the phantom vehicle. The more people who know about this, the better substantiated your case.
- If you have passengers on board and they’re willing to waive claims against your insurance, get their statements.
Dealing with insurance
As soon as possible, file a claim with your insurance company. This assumes that you are carrying Uninsured Motorist coverage. Be prepared for your insurance company adjuster to play hardball. Be cooperative. It may be wise to get an attorney to represent you, particularly if you’ve suffered injuries or took a lot of rig damage.
Buy as much Uninsured Motorist coverage as you can afford. If you or your passengers are hurt, the upper limits of your coverage are where you come to a grinding halt and pay the rest yourself.
Consider buying and using a dashcam (dash-mounted camera). A good dashcam can be your “disinterested witness” and go a long way to helping you deal with your insurance company. The higher the dashcam’s resolution, the better the images and more useful they’ll be. In the long run, a dashcam might help track down that phantom driver and make him accountable.
Work in advance with your insurance company
David adds his own advice. If you’re working with “declared value” insurance on your RV, find out from your agent if it will keep pace with the RV market. In some instances, what you paid for your RV may be less than what it would sell for now, due to the reportedly “hot market” for RVs. And if you pump a lot of money into improvements in your rig, discuss that with your insurance company so that if the worst happens, you’ll be reimbursed for them.
Miss and runs. Phantom accidents. There’s plenty to watch out for. Hopefully it’ll “never happen to us,” but it can. Be as prepared as you can be.
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