By Jordan W. Charness

It all began one warm summer night in July. Peter’s two sons, age 16 and 17, were coming home in their car when they got involved in an accident. According to his eldest son, while driving down a hill, the steering somehow locked and he hit another car head-on. The two vehicles rolled onto someone’s front lawn and came to a stop. Minor damage to the grass occurred. This small fact didn’t seem very important at the time but would become dramatically more important later on.

Since there was a possibility that someone had been hurt, the police were called as well as an ambulance. Although the woman in the other vehicle maintained she wasn’t hurt, she was whisked off to the hospital by ambulance just to make sure. A police report was written up, but a copy was not given to either of Peter’s sons.

Their car was towed to the nearest mechanic. The car had to be sold for scrap. Thankfully, the occupants only suffered a couple of bumps and bruises. The insurance companies were duly notified.

About a month later, Peter received an unregistered letter. To the credit of the post office it was delivered to the right party even though the address was not 100% correct. The undated letter requested that Peter pay the owner of the lawn that had been slightly damaged the amount of $250 within 10 days, or legal action would be taken. Peter’s sister, Katherine took a look at the letter and accompanying invoice and discovered that while the invoice had been dated August 24, 2007 there wasn’t a detailed breakdown of the damage or even an indication of where the so-called repair was to take place. They amount of the bill was an even $250.00 with no taxes charged. Katherine thought that something was fishy, so she advised Peter to ignore the bill, as it sounded like someone was trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

In September, some three weeks later, Peter received a call at 10:00 pm from a man asking for payment of this invoice. Peter said that he had never received the first invoice (bad Peter!) and would he send off another copy? Another unregistered letter arrived asking this time that Peter’s son pay the $250. The evening caller identified himself as the owner’s husband, and invited Peter to verify with the police department as they had reported the property damage in their file. This one contained an official bill including the taxes but the total was slightly lower at $249.70.

Sunday afternoon, Peter went to the local police department to get a copy of the report. Property damage was claimed as less than $1000.00, the minimum, but with no specific amount nor with the dimension of the damage to the lawn. When Peter explained to the officer that the owner was demanding $250 in compensation, he started laughing.

Peter took a photo of the part of the lawn that had been damaged. He figured that unless they buried some gold in the “hole”, there is no logical way that it cost anywhere near $250 to fill a hole with earth and put some grass seed on top. Peter took some photos of the damaged area just in case he had to go to small claims court.

I did mention to Peter that if he was ever sued, the judge would probably find him guilty at least to some extent. According to law, people are responsible for the damage that they cause no matter how minor the damage may be. On the other hand the plaintiff has to prove that the amount that they are claiming is real and was not made up or inflated. Having a bill or two may help prove the amount. A judge however could look at the photo and decide for him or herself that the amount claimed is not justified and set a lower amount.

A better solution might be for Peter to call the owner and see if he can settle the whole business amicably and save everybody a wasted day in court.

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