It’s been a little over three years since we had a wreck while driving our RV down the road on our travels. While some people may have done things differently, this was our experience and we think it might provide some food for thought for other full-timers to think about. We hope you never have an accident, but if you do, maybe you’ll have some wisdom to carry forth from this very long blog post.
Tuesday, September 29th, 2015. We’re returning from our annual trip out west to visit family and heading to North Carolina for a family get-together. We left Odessa, Missouri in the morning with a planned stop at Diamond Lake RV Resort near Owensboro, Kentucky. It was a nice, sunny day.
As we approached the intersection of US 41 and Boonsville-New Harmony Road just north of Evansville, Indiana, a minivan in the opposing left turn lane started moving into the middle of the intersection, so we slowed down to see what they were going to do (they had a red turn arrow signal).
Just as we were getting to the intersection, we realized that the minivan is turning left directly in front of us. We had nowhere to go, so we laid on the brakes and t-boned the van directly on the passenger side. We ended up pushing it off the road and into the grass before we all came to a stop.
We were unhurt. Two occupants in the minivan – the ones sitting on the passenger side – were injured. One required brain surgery later that evening. Though the minivan had side curtain airbags, we assume that passenger might have been resting with his head on the side pillar next to his seat.
The police came and took reports. Fortunately for us, three different witnesses gave the same report to the officer that the minivan ran the red turn arrow and drove right in front of us. One even indicated that they knew we had nowhere to go and couldn’t stop in time to avoid an accident. At least one witness made sure we had his number in case we needed to talk to him at a later time.
Notes: Make sure you get some solid witnesses. It wouldn’t hurt to get their contact information. If any of them have a dashcam, ask if you can get the footage from them. If you don’t have a dashcam, it might be a good time to think about getting one. Take plenty of pictures, avoid talking to the others involved in the accident, don’t try to help any injured persons unless they are at risk before emergency crews arrive.
Our truck was obviously totaled as was the minivan. Both were towed off. Our trailer hitch broke loose from the truck bed and the trailer slammed into the back bumper of the truck during the impact of the crash. This action bent the frame rails at the front of the trailer as well as the kingpin plate on our MorRyde pinbox.
The trailer, fortunately, was towable. Full-timing friends of ours were ironically staying just ¼ mile away in the Vanderburgh 4-H Center campground. They helped us unload our belongings from our truck and used their truck to pull our trailer to the campground. They also ran Malcolm over to pick up a rental car and took us out to dinner.
Notes: Most places don’t have the equipment to adequately tow a large travel trailer or fifth wheel. In our case, we were fortunate that ours was towable by a regular pickup truck and that friends happened to have one nearby. Otherwise, it might be a while before your rig can be towed somewhere safe.
Once back at the trailer, Malcolm started calling both insurance companies. We have State Farm for our truck and (at the time) National General Insurance (through Good Sam) for the trailer. Since we were pretty sure the truck was a total loss, Malcolm also started truck shopping on AutoTrader and found a great deal on a brand new 2016 model about 3 hours away.
On Wednesday, September 30th, 2015, we picked up our new truck in Nicholasville, Kentucky, dropped off our rental car in Lexington, Kentucky and drove the truck back to the trailer. Also, on Wednesday, we tried calling the adjuster for the trailer whose number we were given the night before from the insurance company. The number kept coming back as disconnected.
On Thursday, October 1st, 2015, we finally got ahold of the insurance claims agent. She informed us that they didn’t have any adjusters in the Evansville area or, for that matter, within 3 hours of there. She asked if we could find someone local. We called a local RV dealer and the indicated that they could look at the trailer and prepare an estimate. We put it all on hold so we could continue on our trip to North Carolina in the truck (leaving the trailer behind). The insurance company agreed to pick back up once we returned in a few days.
Note: If the insurance company indicates they don’t have anyone to come out and look at your RV, push them to find one. RVs are harder to provide solid repair estimates for than cars and trucks. Just grabbing a local adjuster may not net you a solid repair estimate. Once submitted, the insurance company will pick over the estimate with a fine-tooth comb, which may take a while.
While on our trip to North Carolina, we made the executive decision that even if our RV was repairable (there were doubts due to the obvious frame damage) we would rather have another one instead. So, while on our trip, we started shopping for a replacement RV. On our way back, we stopped and looked at RVs at three different dealers. We decided on one we found at the last dealer, which happened to be fairly close to Evansville, and put a small deposit on it the next morning.
On Tuesday, October 6th (only a week after the crash), State Farm called and indicated they were declaring the truck a total loss. They paid off the truck loan and sent us a check for the difference within a couple days.
Once back in town, Malcolm went over to the RV dealer on Wednesday, October 7th to make an appointment for them to come over to look at the trailer. He also set up an appointment for having a hitch installed in the truck. They couldn’t get to it until 8 days later, on October 15th. Two people from the RV dealership came over later in the afternoon, took pictures and notes and said they’d start on an estimate the next day.
While we were sidelined at the campground waiting on insurance, etc., we took a little vacation away from it all for a couple nights and got a room at a bed and breakfast up in Brown County Indiana. It was enjoyable and relaxing to get away from all the phone calls and paper pushing.
Once back at the trailer, we decided to start moving everything out in preparation for moving into the new one we had agreed to purchase. On Tuesday, October 13th, we rented a smaller U-Haul box truck and ultimately ended up filling it completely up as well as putting things in the back of the truck and the passenger seat of the U-Haul.
Notes: You don’t realize how much stuff you have with you in your RV until you have to move it all out.
On Wednesday, October 14th, we drove the U-Haul and our truck to Clarksville, Indiana and got a hotel room across the street from the RV dealer. They promised us we could take delivery on Friday morning. The credit union where we had our first trailer loan from agreed to loan us money for the second trailer, as well.
Notes: Alliant Credit Union is a great place to finance your RV if you are full-time. Very few banks or credit unions will loan money on an RV if you are full-timing. If they do, they have to take and put one year’s worth of insurance money in escrow while you have the loan with them. Plan on that extra expense.
On Thursday, October 15th, Malcolm drove back to Evansville to have the hitch put on the truck. After the hitch was installed, he pulled our trailer over to the RV dealer who had agreed to store the trailer on their lot for us pending insurance disposition. He then drove back to the hotel that evening.
On Friday, October 16th, we did our walk-through on the new trailer, loaded everything in it from the U-Haul, took the U-Haul back and were on the road by lunch time, heading to Nashville, Tennessee to join some friends for an RV rally there.
At this point, we owned two trailers – both of which had loans on them. Fortunately, we had been paying ahead on the loan for the old trailer so the next payment wasn’t technically due until the following fall.
As we got into November, we still hadn’t heard anything from insurance on the trailer. Malcolm called a few times and each time was told that they were still looking over the estimate. The sticking point was the frame damage. The RV dealer’s adjuster wrote up the estimate as if the trailer would be getting a new frame, putting the estimate total at $40,000. Of course, an estimate that high needed to be carefully looked at. The biggest problem was that even though National General insured RVs, they often didn’t have to try to fix something with frame damage.
We eventually realized that the trailer would need to be winterized for southern Indiana’s winter weather, so we had the RV dealer do that and paid for it over the phone as well as another month’s storage fees.
Notes: Our insurance, once they found out we were paying to have the RV stored and winterized, reimbursed us. Make sure you find out from your insurance if you will get reimbursed for such expenses.
Also about this time, State Farm contacted us to let us know that the badly injured passenger in the van was suing the driver of the van, the owner of the van (who was riding in the van at the time) and Malcolm for medical expenses. Many people, when they heard this, asked why they would sue Malcolm since fault was obviously with the other driver.
This is fairly common practice since if the insurance companies didn’t come to some type of agreement, the case might go to court. In court, some percentage of fault may end up being assigned to the other driver based on various circumstances, so it never hurts to get everyone involved listed as defendants. In this case, at least, State Farm was the insurance company for Malcolm, the driver of the other vehicle and the owner of the other vehicle, so it was all pretty much staying in-house.
The attorney for State Farm told Malcolm what to expect and that he would pretty much be handling everything for us. We only had to let him know when we were served with the official lawsuit papers. Of course, service would be to our address of record which was a mailbox at the Escapees headquarters in Livingston, Texas – a place which we rarely ever visit.
Notes: If you are a full-timer using a mail service as your domicile, things like getting served papers for a lawsuit or other legal actions become much more complicated. Note that the burden of finding and serving you is usually on the plaintiff’s attorney.
By mid-November, with no apparent forward movement being made by the insurance company, Malcolm left a message on the Good Sam RV forum in the area regarding RV insurance and indicated his concern and displeasure with how the claim was being handled. This got the ball rolling and Malcolm was soon contacted by the head of the RV insurance division at National General who promised to get things moving and to keep in touch with us.
The main problem, according to the head of the RV insurance division, was finding someone qualified to give a proper estimate on repairing the frame of the trailer and who could actually do the work. Not many RV repair places want to attempt that (including the one that came out to work up the original estimate on ours).
Finally, in December, the insurance company indicated that they were going to have the trailer towed to Goshen, Indiana to Lippert Industries, the company that originally made the frame on the RV. Lippert agreed to look at the trailer and give an estimate to repair, if it could be repaired. The trailer was towed to them shortly before Christmas, so it sat until early January, 2016.
Notes: Up to this point, we could technically have continued to live in the RV while waiting on insurance, but we chose to buy another RV and just move on. You’ll note that it has been three months at this point. If you couldn’t live in your RV while waiting for insurance to take action, make sure you know where you are going to live. Note that our trailer insurance only offers to reimburse up to five nights at a hotel or a maximum of $500 while the RV was being repaired. Check your coverage now and think about where you (and your belongings) might stay in such a situation.
In early January, 2016, Lippert submitted an estimate for around $6,000 to repair the RV, including the frame. The insurance company gave them the go-ahead and also sent a check to Lippert for the amount of the repairs minus our $500 deductible.
Notes: Insurance companies typically send a check directly to you to take to the repair place when the repair is done so you can inspect the work and pay for it once you are happy with the results. Why they sent the check directly to Lippert is a mystery to us.
We were happy that the insurance company had finally moved forward and that our RV was now being repaired. Sadly, we found out that repairing RV damage is as fraught with delays as is taking an RV into a dealer to get repairs done.
With work having started the first week of January, 2016, it was June 24, 2016 (nearly 6 months later) before Lippert indicated that the trailer was ready to pick up. Their excuse during most of the repair time was that they were waiting on parts from Heartland (to repair the bodywork underneath the front of the RV).
When Lippert called on June 24th, they indicated that when we came to pick up the RV, we should have our insurance check in hand. When we indicated that insurance said they had sent the check way back in January, Lippert said they’d look for it and to come on up to pick up the trailer. When Malcolm arrived the following Monday, he looked over the work and agreed it was acceptable. Lippert never found the check and indicated they would contact the insurance company to have another one sent.
On June 29th, we parked our first trailer next to the second one at the same RV park and got it ready to sell. We cleaned it all up, emptied tanks and pulled any other accessories from it that we wanted in our new trailer.
After the July 4th holiday, on July 6, 2016, Malcolm pulled the trailer down to Houston, Texas to PPL Motorhomes for them to consign the trailer. Before he left, he called National General insurance, who still had the policy on the trailer, and asked if they would insure it while it was on the consignment lot. They said they didn’t insure consigned trailers, so we had to find another policy.
Notes: Check your RV policy to see if it covers consignments if you are planning on selling your RV in that fashion. Don’t let the consignment lot tell you it’s no problem to not have insurance on it or to not tell the insurance company the trailer is on a consignment lot for sale.
Our trailer garnered some interest at PPL, but we kept having to lower the price little by little before it finally sold on October 26th (almost 4 months after dropping it off and 13 months after the accident). We ended up having to pay the difference between our loan on the RV and the net amount from the sale at PPL.
Once we received the final settlement papers from PPL (too late to do anything about it), we noted about $300 of repairs were done to the trailer after they took it in. The items supposedly repaired were burned out lights, the seven wire trailer pigtail and the emergency breakaway switch. All of these items were working when Malcolm drove to PPL in July but were not verified there when the initial inspection took place while Malcolm was there. Lesson learned.
When we dropped the RV off to be consigned, Malcolm asked the National General claims agent about how we might go about claiming diminished value on the RV if it sold for less than we owed on it. National General said we would have to talk to the insurance company for the other driver about that (which we never bothered with).
The lawsuit from the accident was resolved in early September of 2016. We were never served papers. The insurance attorney indicated that the other parties had settled out of court (via insurance) and that we had nothing more to do with the settlement. We were sent a copy of the court order to release the suit and told to keep a copy forever to prove we were no longer liable for any damages regarding that accident.
Notes: Keep paperwork for everything. Insurance estimates, traffic accident reports, lawsuit correspondence and so on. Most everything we had was via email or PDF, so we kept it all in a cloud storage location as well as locally.
In August of 2017, we received a $500 check from State Farm, representing our deductible on the truck. They obviously collected something from either the van owner or driver. This brings up a good point:
Notes: You should check your insurance coverage for your vehicle to make sure that you have uninsured and underinsured coverage equal to or greater than the value of a complete replacement vehicle and RV. Most people on the road don’t carry enough insurance to pay for a totaled diesel pickup truck, let alone the RV behind it.
We hope you get some takeaway from this. I think the biggest takeaway that a full-time RV’er should get is thinking about where you and your things will stay if you are out of your RV for several months due to repairs and/or insurance red tape.
If you want to see the entire gallery of photos from the accident, they are located at this link.