Two years ago, on Monday, September 28th, 2015 at around 4:00 PM, we were involved in a traffic accident while pulling our fifth wheel. We posted about the accident back when it happened but we haven’t really said much else about it here on the blog.
As we run across people from time to time, they’ll ask how everything ended up coming out. So, we figured this would be a good time to post about the whole incident from start to finish. We hope there is some good takeaway information here that you can use. Looking back over the whole incident, there are a few issues we possibly could have handled differently armed with what we know now.
We were heading south on US 41 just north of Evansville, Indiana on a clear, sunny Monday afternoon. We had been driving from Odessa, Missouri with our destination for the night at Diamond Lake Resort near Owensboro, Kentucky. We were about an hour away from there.
US 41 is a four-lane divided highway north of Evansville, with a 60 MPH speed limit. We were approaching an intersection that had dedicated turn lanes both north and south. The traffic signals for both turn lanes were red arrows. Our southbound lanes had a green signal. We were in the passing lane as Malcolm had just recently passed a slower moving vehicle. Because the intersection was in a construction zone, we had slowed to around 50 MPH.
As we neared the intersection, we both noticed the lead vehicle in the northbound turn lane had started moving slowly straight forward into the center portion of the intersection. Malcolm slowed some as we watched that vehicle move slowly forward. We thought maybe they had decided not to turn and were possibly wanting to merge back into the northbound (opposite to us) straight through lanes and continue north.
When we were probably about 100 feet from the intersection, the minivan we had seen moving forward suddenly turned left, directly into our path. We were still traveling probably 40-45 mph and had nowhere to go. Malcolm did try to swerve to the right, but with the van moving left to right there was no way to avoid hitting them. We braced for impact.
We t-boned the minivan squarely on the two side doors. All of the glass on the passenger side of the minivan shattered and rained over the top of the cab of our pickup, landing mostly in the bed behind us. Our momentum pushed the van sideways and with our steering wheel turned to the right, the whole assembly of minivan, truck and trailer slowly slid to a stop in the grass to our right, just past the intersection. The tail end of the trailer was just out of the main traffic lanes.
During the crash, the minivan cushioned our collision enough that the airbags in the truck did not deploy. The seat belt tensioners did their job, though. Val couldn’t get her door open and ended up crawling out the driver’s door. Upon later inspection, we realized that the trailer hitch had broken loose from the bed of the truck and the trailer slammed into the back of the truck when the collision occurred. This pushed the whole bed of the truck forward just enough to tweak the cab so that the passenger door couldn’t be opened all the way.
Malcolm was not injured. His elbows were sore for a few days afterwards since he locked both arms and braced for the impact of the accident. The top half of the steering wheel was slightly bent forward. Val got some seat belt rash from the belt tensioner doing its job. Our cat, Callie, was riding in her carrier in the back seat of the truck and seemed to fare just fine. Two of the minivan occupants, both of whom were riding on the passenger side of the van where the impact occurred, were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The front seat passenger, we later found out, had surgery because he was bleeding around his brain.
The minivan and the truck were both towed away. As fate would have it, our friends Lou and Bette Dick were staying in a campground a mere ¼ mile away from the accident scene. After we called 911, we called them and they came right over with their car and their truck. We loaded all we could out of the truck into their car and Lou hooked up our trailer to his truck and pulled it up to the campground where they were staying. Malcolm called the truck (State Farm) and trailer (Good Sam/National General) insurance companies and started the claims processes.
The Next Few Days
It was pretty obvious to us that our truck was a total. The front part of the frame was pushed over to the side and the rear bed was tilted forward into the back of the cab. Even if it wasn’t totaled, it wasn’t something we would want to drive after it was repaired, so we set about finding a new truck. Malcolm found one at a great price a few hours away in Nicholasville, Kentucky. We ended up driving our rental car over to buy the truck on Wednesday, dropping the rental off at the airport on the way back to Evansville.
Looking at the front of our trailer in the daylight, it was pretty obvious that the front drop-frame rails were bent inward as the landing gear was toed in. The front compartment metal floor was bent upward in an inverted “V” and the first crossmember back was bent, as well. Our MorRyde pinbox was mangled up, but serviceable enough to pull the trailer short distances. We thought to ourselves that maybe the trailer would be totaled, but weren’t sure. Also, if they fixed it, would we trust it traveling long distances on the road? Things to ponder.
We were ultimately heading to a family get-together in Durham, North Carolina when we were sidelined by the wreck, so Malcolm talked to the trailer insurance agent and asked if we could defer having it looked at until we returned in a week or so. They were fine with that. We drove on to North Carolina in the truck after making hotel reservations, leaving the trailer behind. Callie stayed in the trailer and Lou and Bette were given a key. They took care of feeding Callie while we were away.
On the way back to Indiana from North Carolina, we stopped at a few RV dealers and looked at various trailers, figuring we might end up having to buy one to replace the current one. We ended up choosing one at Derby City RV in Clarksville, Indiana. We called the next day and put a small refundable deposit on it pending what insurance worked out with the existing trailer.
While we were traveling back from North Carolina, State Farm officially declared the truck a total loss and started working on cutting checks – paying off our truck loan and sending us a check for the remainder of the claim minus our $500 deductible. We got a very good payoff on the truck, only a few thousand less than we paid for it when we bought it two years and 70,000 miles earlier.
Malcolm also obtained the accident report via the internet. We were pleased to see that no less than four witnesses on our behalf were listed on the report, complete with phone numbers and addresses. They all verified our story details, that the other vehicle ran a red arrow. We knew that at least two witnesses walked over to talk to us, with one personally giving us his information in case the police didn’t get to them.
When Malcolm called our claims agent to get the ball rolling once we were back in Indiana, the agent told him that they didn’t have any adjusters in the area. The agent checked her list of contract agents and found that the nearest one was three hours away (probably in Indianapolis). At that point, the agent asked Malcolm if he knew of any RV repair places nearby that might have an adjuster that could come out and look at the trailer.
This was the biggest red flag of the whole process. If your insurance company can’t get someone they know and work with to come out and look at your wrecked vehicle, then you may be in for a long ride. Looking back, we wished we could have pushed for them to send someone out. Instead, we called the RV dealer about two miles up the road and they agreed to do the adjusting and would send someone down in a couple days to look over the damage, take pictures, fill out insurance forms and send it all in to the insurance company.
After they came and went, we drove over to the RV dealer to see what they had heard, if anything. It had been a few days and no word from anyone. One of the employees that had been out looking at the trailer indicated that they were writing the whole thing up as a total loss. They supposedly had talked to both Heartland RVs (the trailer manufacturer) and Lippert Components (the frame manufacturer) and neither wanted to work on it. The RV dealer was not set up to work on frames, so they decided to write up a really high repair estimate and submit that.
Based on that information (let’s call this a yellow flag), we went ahead and moved forward with buying the other trailer that we had put a deposit down on. Malcolm also set up an appointment with the RV dealer that did the damage estimate to put a hitch in the truck. That was about a week away since they were fairly booked up.
Moving To a New Trailer
On Tuesday, October 13, two weeks after the accident, we rented a small U-Haul truck and bought a bunch of boxes to pack things in. We started the process of moving everything out to the U-Haul from the trailer.
On Wednesday, October 14, we finished loading all our belongings into the U-Haul. We took our new truck and the U-Haul and drove the two hours east to Clarksville, Indiana to check into the hotel across the street from our RV dealer. Our walk-through of the new trailer was set for Friday, the 16th.
On Thursday, October 15, Malcolm drove the truck back over to Evansville to get the hitch put in at the RV dealer. Once they were done, he drove over to the campground and hitched the trailer up to the truck and pulled it back to the RV dealer. They agreed to store it for us while we waited on insurance. With the hitch put in and the trailer safely in storage, Malcolm headed back to Clarksville to the hotel.
On Friday morning, October 16th, we did our walk-through on the trailer. Once that was done, they pulled it outside and we brought the U-Haul over and unloaded everything into the trailer. We took the U-Haul back and headed back to the dealer, hooked up the trailer and headed out towards Nashville to meet up with friends at a rally there.
The Trailer Insurance Process
Over the next month or so, Malcolm would check on the trailer insurance only to be told that they were still working on processing the estimate. This drug on for about six weeks before Malcolm posted something expressing his dissatisfaction with the process on the RV.Net forums which are run by Good Sam, which is where our trailer insurance was sourced (it was underwritten initially by GMAC, but moved to National General Insurance after GMAC got out of the insurance business). A Good Sam representative followed up to get more information from Malcolm and indicated that someone would get with him to escalate the process.
A couple days later, Malcolm received a call from the head of the trailer insurance division at National General who gave Malcolm his personal phone number and vowed to move things forward. This was during Thanksgiving week. Though this gentleman was good at getting back with Malcolm to keep him up to date on what was going on, he was having a difficult time getting call-backs from places that could work on RV frames (i.e. Lippert Components).
It wasn’t until mid-January of 2016 (almost 4 months after the wreck), that insurance informed us that Lippert Components in Goshen, Indiana would look at the trailer, give a quote and, if fixable, would do the repair work. Insurance paid for a transporter to take the trailer to Goshen.
Insurance called us in early February to let us know that the estimate from Lippert was around $6,000 and that they could repair the trailer. We gave a verbal go-ahead. The insurance company sent a check directly to Lippert for the repair. (Usually, the check goes to the insured who then brings it the repair shop and pays for the repair with the check if satisfied with the results – another yellow flag).
Malcolm was given a contact at Lippert to check on progress. That contact called him to let him know that they were starting to work on it right away (early- to mid-February) and that they expected the repairs to take a couple weeks since they needed parts from Heartland (bodywork, etc.) to finish the repairs.
The “couple weeks” slowly turned into months. The initial contact phone number eventually ended up going to a “this number is no longer in service” recording. Malcolm finally found someone else at Lippert that could keep him updated on progress. That person indicated that the frame and pinbox were finished and that they were just waiting on a few parts from Heartland to finish up. This was probably in mid-March.
We kept getting the same “we’re waiting on parts from Heartland” story over and over through March, April and May. Finally, about mid-June, Lippert called and indicated that the trailer would be ready in a couple days. Malcolm called insurance to find out how to proceed. That’s when he found out that they had already paid for the repairs back in February.
Malcolm drove up to Goshen, arriving at Lippert mid-afternoon to pick up the trailer. They knew he was coming but indicated when he got there that they couldn’t find the check from the insurance company. Lippert decided that they would contact insurance and have another check sent and the other one voided so that Malcolm could hit the road with the trailer. The trailer batteries were dead, so they jump-started the trailer enough to get the landing gear retracted.
We were camped at Fort Toulouse in Wetumpka, Alabama, so Malcolm brought the old trailer there and set it up on the site next to the new trailer. We cleaned the old trailer up really well, made sure everything was working and swapped some items from the old trailer to the new trailer and vice-versa. Mainly modifications we had made that we wanted to move forward, but also the Flex-Air pinbox that Lippert put on the old trailer during the repairs. Our son, David, was in town during that time (July 4th holiday) and helped Malcolm with the heavy work of swapping pinboxes.
After the 4th of July holiday was over, Malcolm hitched up the old trailer and pulled it down to PPL Motorhomes in Houston, Texas to sell the trailer via consignment. The trailer finally sold in late September for what we considered a fair offer. After all consignment fees were paid, we owed a couple thousand dollars to pay off the trailer loan. We decided not to pursue any diminished value claims on the trailer since it had been a year after the wreck and we were just glad to get the last piece of the puzzle put behind us.
A couple months after the accident, in November, a lawsuit was started on behalf of the front seat passenger of the minivan (the one that had surgery after the wreck) primarily to recoup his medical costs. As is typical with a lawsuit, everyone that is potentially at fault is named as a defendant, so the defendants included the driver of the van, the owner of the van (who was riding in the van at the time) and Malcolm.
Malcolm found the lawsuit details online (since such things are open records) and bookmarked it so he could follow the progress. A lawyer representing State Farm Insurance (our insurance and the other two defendants, as well) contacted Malcolm to let him know what to expect and that they were confident we were zero percent at fault. We basically had to wait until we were served with our summons and then contact the lawyer once that occurred.
The issue with serving us papers arose since we are full-time RV’ers with (at the time) an address in Texas that was only a mailbox at an Escapees mail facility. Since we weren’t physically there, we couldn’t be served our summons. Our State Farm lawyer indicated that it was contingent on the plaintiff’s lawyer to determine where we were and where to serve papers.
Ultimately, in August, 2016, the suit was released “with prejudice”. We were never served any summons. The attorney indicated that the “with prejudice” part indicated that State Farm settled with the plaintiff out of court and that we were officially released from the suit. He sent us a copy of the final settlement document and told us to keep it indefinitely to prevent being named in any future suits.
Essentially, with the suit released in August, 2016 and the trailer sold in September, 2016, we were pretty much done with the accident. The only follow-up after that is that we did receive our $500 deductible back from State Farm for the truck this summer, about 22 months after the accident.
Since the accident, we’ve switched insurance carriers for the trailer. Even before we found out how long it was going to take to get something done via our Good Sam/National General insurance policy on the old trailer, we insured the new trailer through Blue Sky Insurance (since then, we’ve switched to Progressive for better rates).
Another thing to note if you decide to put your trailer out on a consignment lot is that you should have it insured while there. The consignment lot should make that clear. Check your insurance to see if they have a consignment rider available. Good Sam/National General did not, but Blue Sky did, so we ended up switching the old trailer to Blue Sky insurance after picking it up from Lippert and before dropping it off at PPL Motorhomes.
If we didn’t buy a new trailer but instead decided to ride out the old one through the repair process, how would that have gone? The trailer was towable, so we probably could have traveled in it while waiting for them to sent it to Goshen to have it repaired, though we weren’t sure if there was any unseen frame damage. Given the length of time it was in the shop for repairs, though, we would have been living somewhere else for five months (i.e. an apartment or other accommodations).
Wouldn’t insurance have reimbursed that, though? Not for the entire time. The insurance policy provided for up to $100 a day for alternate housing and other expenses but for only a maximum of five days. Something to consider if something like this happens to you. If we were not full-timers, it would have been a simple matter of packing up necessities and driving home to wait out the repairs. The $100 a day would have worked for paying hotel and restaurant costs on the way home and back to pick up the trailer in that situation, but as a full-timer with nowhere else to go, you’re essentially stuck.
We hope this long post helps you understand what happened and how things were handled. The biggest takeaway we hope this provides is that you consider your options ahead of time in case this happens to you. Where would you go if you had to wait for your home to be repaired? How would you pay for it? Do you have the ability to purchase a new trailer even though you still own the old one while it is being repaired?
Feel free to post any additional questions in the comments. If we left out some details, we’ll add it into the post over time.