One of the most dangerous things you can do in Panama is drive! Some roads are very narrow and have deep gutters on each side. Drivers in Panama don’t always pay attention to their surroundings so you need to be extra careful anytime you are driving in Panama.
In late February, I was driving my gardener home. There is one section of the road that is narrow and a blind curve. After living in Panama for 11 years, I know to go slow in that area because you can’t see what’s around the corner. As I was rounding the curve, a huge truck was coming right at me in my lane. He was passing another car! There was nowhere to go to avoid the pending impact.
It was my first time to have an auto accident in Panama and the second time to have an accident in my whole life.
Luckily, no one was seriously hurt but my car was so messed up it could not be driven. The driver’s side door could not be opened so I had to climb out of the car on the passenger side.
The FIRST thing you need to do when you have an accident is to call the police to come to the scene to do an accident report. If you don’t speak Spanish, there are emergency helplines you can subscribe to who will make the call for you.
The SECOND thing you need to do is call your insurance agent or your insurance company. When you get insurance in Panama, they give you a sticker to put on your car with their phone number, or you can just keep it stored in your contacts. I contacted my insurance agent using WhatsApp then the agent contacted the insurance company
The THIRD thing you need to do is take a lot of pictures and videos of the accident scene. You need to take pictures of the damage to the car, but it’s also very important to take photos of the position of the car. (this will come in handy later)
The FOURTH thing I did was call a Panamanian friend (he is also one of our Private Tour Guides) to come to the scene. I knew he had experience with auto accidents and could guide me in the process. Even though I speak enough Spanish to get by just fine, I know that in a stressful situation, I would not be able to comprehend “muy rapido” Spanish. The chances of getting a police officer who speaks English are slim to nothing. It’s a good idea to have a list of people you can contact just in case you have an accident.
DO NOT MOVE YOUR CAR until the police tells you to. The police needs to see the position of the cars for the accident report. I could not move my car because it was so damaged. The guy who caused the accident did move his car probably so the police could not see the position of his car.
The police officer arrived about ten minutes after the accident occurred. She took pictures of the accident scene and asked for everyone’s driver’s license and auto insurance. She took pictures of the documents with her cell phone.
You are required to have auto insurance in Panama and keep proof in your car. I have full coverage insurance for my 2018 Sante Fe for about $600 a year.
The police filled out an accident report and asked each of us to write what happened. (It’s ok to write it in English if you don’t know Spanish)
The guy who ran into me did not have insurance in his car. If you don’t have insurance, the police will have your car towed and impounded. The guy said the insurance was at his house. Surprisingly, the police let him go to his house to get his insurance papers. But when he came back, about 40 minutes later, the insurance was just issued so he really did not have insurance at the time of the accident. Apparently, his insurance had expired and he called to renew when he went home.
Once the accident report was finished, the officer gave each of us a slip of paper to appear at court about a month later. If no one claims responsibility for the accident, even when it is obvious who is at fault, you are required to go to court. More about my court date later.
Then the police officer said I should move my car. I climbed back into the driver’s seat and started the car but it could not be driven or moved. A man who lived down the street who came to the accident scene went to his house to get his truck and some cable to drag my car out of the way.
THREE HOUR ORDEAL
My insurance company called several times while I was still at the accident scene. They wanted to know if I was ok and said they would send an “inspector” to the scene to determine if a tow truck was needed.
About an hour after the accident, the inspector showed up to determine that the car needed to be towed.
Three hours after the accident, the tow truck showed up. Insurance had sent me a list via Whatsapp of authorized places to get the car towed to.
My Panamanian friend drove me home. My neighbor, Liz, brought over a bottle of wine!
The next day, I called a car rental company who came to my house to pick me up. My insurance company pays for a basic car rental if you’ve had an accident.
AFTER THE ACCIDENT
My insurance agent and her son asked if they could come to my house to explain the procedure after an accident.
They said because the guy who ran into me did not claim responsibility, so it would be up to the Judge after court to decide who pays the deductible and which insurance company has to pay for repairs/replacement. She said even when it is very obvious, the person at fault rarely claims responsibility. Meanwhile, the car repair place could not do anything to start evaluating if the car could be repaired or what the cost would be.
It was going to be a month before I went to court and my insurance agent said it could be 2-3 weeks after that before we got a determination from the Judge about who was at fault.
Alternately, I could pay the deductible now so the car repair place could get started determining the cost of repairs. Then I’d be reimbursed once the Judge determined that it was not my fault. Because I’m over 60 years old, I get 50% off deductibles with a Pensionado Discount. So, I paid the $520 deductible.
My insurance agent also said that if the repairs were less than 60% of the car’s value, the insurance company would pay for repairs. But if the repairs cost more than 60% of the value, the car would be total the car and I would receive a check for the value. I still don’t know what the repair costs will be.
The insurance company assigned an attorney to represent me in court. I received several emails from them prior to my court date.
A PICTURE TELLS A THOUSAND WORDS!
Evidence! Despite that I had sent all photos and videos of the accident to my insurance agent and the attorney, I thought it would be a good idea to take in printed photos to court too. So, I sent the accident scene photos to a print shop and asked them to print them at 8.5 x 11 in color then laminate them so I could take them to court.
The accident occurred in Boquete so I went to court in Boquete.
I arrived about 15 minutes early because I didn’t know how long it would take to find parking and had no idea where the office was located. My attorney sent a whatsapp that he would arrive at 11. Surprisingly, “court” started right on time at 11. The guy who ran into me showed up a few minutes late. He did not have an attorney.
I was thinking that it would be some big court room with a Judge presiding but it was just a 6’ x 6’ office with a young guy there to write down what each party presented. The office did have amazing views.
First, my attorney showed the police report with a diagram of where the cars where positioned that clearly showed that the other car came in to my lane then ran in to me. Then the attorney read my report, in Spanish.
My attorney asked me to show the photos that I had and I explained each photo including the one that showed where my car was at the time of impact.
Then the other guy told his story and claimed that I came in to his lane and ran in to him. The young guy presiding asked if he has any photos to prove his case. He said they were on his other phone that he left at home (seems to be a pattern with this guy)
My attorney explained that my photos and the police report clearly show that he came into my lane and that he ran into me.
The statements were all typed up by the young guy in the office. He printed the statements then put them in a folder along with the police report and police diagram and my photos. He said everything would be given to the Judge who would determine who was at fault. We should have a verdict back in 2-4 weeks.
My attorney said it was obvious that I would win because of all the evidence we presented. I truly think the photos printed out are important even though the insurance company nor my attorney recommended that I bring photos.
Winning means that the other guy will have to pay my deductible and that his insurance company will have to pay for the repairs or replacement of my car.
THE WAITING GAME
I could still me many months before I get my car back or get a check to replace the car.
I’ll post an update to the final verdict and results when I have them.