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By Jordan W. Charness

If you missed last week’s column, Peter and his lovely wife Mary spent some of their hard-earned dollars vacationing in an exotic foreign locale. Peter rented a car, but unfortunately, he was not fully aware of all the local laws and customs that applied to drivers at his vacation destination. Let’s join them on the road.

Mary was navigating and Peter was driving but neither one of them was paying sufficient attention to the road – sometimes, it is hard to be both a tourist and a driver at the same time. Since Peter was not paying enough attention he accidentally bumped into the rear of a car ahead of him. He didn’t cause too much damage to his rental car but he did cause a fair bit of damage to the older car that he hit.

To make matters worse, the people in the car that he hit were not wearing seat belts. When hit from behind the driver bumped his head which started to bleed. Even small head wounds have a tendency to bleed a lot and this one was no exception. To top it all off, a bystander claimed to have been hurt as well. Peter immediately stopped and got out of his car, as did Mary, the driver of the other car, his passenger and a number of other people who seemed to materialize out of nowhere.

All of a sudden there was a lot of commotion in the local dialect. Mary’s high school language lessons weren’t enough to help her keep up and they just stood there until the local police arrived.

Although everyone had remained fairly calm and polite, it was obvious that Peter was at fault for the accident. He told Mary that she needn’t worry since they had taken out the maximum amount of insurance that was available when they rented the car. This is where things started to get really tricky.

Even the maximum amount of insurance that was available in that country is different from the type of insurance coverage available here. In Peter’s case, according to local law the insurance that he purchased was nullified because the accident was his fault. The rental agency was allowed to seek damages against Peter for the damage to their car and the owner of the other car was entitled to claim from Peter for the damage that was caused to his car as well.

Since there was an injury the applicable local law was that the accident was considered to be a crime. Since it was a crime the police had to establish responsibility by doing a complete and thorough investigation. This may take up several months. While the investigation is taking place the driver may be prohibited from leaving the country and in fact could be jailed. There will eventually be a trial which could lead to a long jail term if the driver was found guilty.

In this case, Peter was lucky. Although he was carted off to the local police station, all the parties involved including the bystanders admitted that there was no obvious criminal intent on Peter’s part, and fortunately the injuries turned out to be extremely minor. Even though there was some blood, the other driver’s head did not require stitches and the bystander who claimed to have been hurt decided that he was not really hurt at all. Peter still had to pay for the damages to the vehicles because he was not covered by the insurance that he purchased.

If you are going away this summer make sure that you find out what the local laws are before you get behind the wheel of a car – or you never know where you may end up.

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