An IU student is looking to sue a prominent Bloomington rental equipment company for $10,000 in damages he said he faced when the driver of a flatbed towing truck allegedly hit his car.
Junior Hao Zhan Ding, an international student from China studying marketing and journalism, said he was driving in the Jacobs School of Music parking lot April 12 to drop off his friend, Zhisheng Wang, when Clayton Fox, a driver from MacAllister Rentals, attempted to back up and turn around without using proper signals.
Ding said the truck was going straight ahead, so he had to follow behind it. When he saw Fox’s truck backing in his direction, he stopped, waiting for him to complete the turn. However, Fox proceeded to back into his car, a Porsche Panamera, causing damage to Ding’s front right headlight and bumper.
“I didn’t have time to have a reaction at that point,” Ding said. “He just right, like, hit me.”
Neither Ding nor Fox sustained physical injuries in the collision.
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Immediately after the incident, Ding said, Fox admitted fault and called the IU Police Department. IUPD Sgt. James Snyder responded to the scene at 4:40 p.m.
Snyder wrote in the police report Fox did not see Ding when he collided with him, and listed the primary cause of the accident to be unsafe backing.
Fox called his manager at MacAllister’s, who came to the scene and offered to cover damages, Ding said.. Ding towed his car with Chandler’s Automotive and Towing, expecting MacAllister's insurance company, Zurich Insurance Group, to foot the bill.
Ding left his car at Chandler’s until May 8, while he attempted to communicate with Zurich. But Ding said MacAllister backtracked soon after, denying fault and refusing to pay for the repairs to his car.
In an email sent to Ding on April 18, a resolution manager at Gallagher Bassett Services, the company handling claims on behalf of Zurich, said MacAllister was not responsible for the storage charges Ding’s car collected or for the collision itself. She advised Ding to file the matter with his insurance carrier, Progressive.
“Per my client, all strobe lights were activated and warning siren when you pulled into the path of my client who was already backing,” Wade wrote in the email. “I have a statement from our driver which clearly states this was a dead end street back up alarm, all lights and strobes were activated when he was backing. He states you drove into him.”
Fox did not respond to requests for a statement. A representative from MacAllister said the company had no comment when contacted by the Indiana Daily Student.
IU senior Giancarlo Smith, listed as a witness in the police report, said he was walking to class when he saw Ding’s car stopped and waiting to enter the Jacobs parking lot. He said Fox’s truck backed into Ding’s car, damaging the front.
“He was reversing into oncoming traffic,” Smith said. “Hao was stopped, so the truck could’ve stopped or went forward.”
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IU senior Zhisheng Wang, who was in the passenger seat of Ding’s car during the collision, said in an email to the IDS Fox began reversing without caution lights or a rear signal. Ding honked the horn, Wang said, but the truck continued to back up.
“The truck hit our car, initially breaking the right headlight, but it kept moving backward, causing a loud noise,” he said. “I am sure I heard the driver said his insurance will cover this, and confirmed this is his mistake.”
Ding checked his car out of Chandler’s on May 8 after it collected $3,350 in storage fees. Since the car was not driveable after the accident, Ding towed the car to Tony Kinser’s Body Shop for repairs. A copy of Ding’s final bill showed he paid $11,550 in fees for repairs and replacements to the front bumper and grille, front lamps, hood, fender, windshield, wheels and door.
In total, repair costs, Uber expenses and other fees equaled about $20,000, Ding said. He said MacAllister continues to deny liability in the months since the accident.
“What [Fox’s] insurance told me is ‘according to my client, you drove through him when he’s backing up, so we are not responsible for any damage and you have to pay for all the cleaning fee and towing fee, all those other fees yourself,’” Ding said.
He said he has reached out to Fox personally multiple times through text and phone call, but always gets no response or is hung up on. In text messages to Fox on Sept. 13, Ding expressed disbelief at how he could deny fault.
“I am just a college student you have no idea how much pain and suffering I have experienced past months,” Ding wrote. “The accident totally changed my life with all the follow up problems. I don’t understand why you want lie. Your company have insurance. Why can’t u just tell them the truth?”
As a result of what he called a lack of proper communication and accountability, Ding decided over the summer to sue MacAllister.
He originally wanted to file a civil court case, he said, but could not find a local attorney that would take his case despite contacting more than 20.
“They said no, nobody got injured, only property damage,” he said. “They’re not going to make a lot of money from it. All they tell me is ‘sorry, we can’t take your case. Give me a phone number, I’ll call you back later.’ But they just never call.”
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Ding said he also considered small claims court, but decided against it at first upon discovering the maximum amount that can be sought in Indiana is $10,000 per claim. However, after exhausting other options, Ding turned to IU’s Student Legal Services to help him file a small claims case. Student Legal Services is a nonprofit law office that provides confidential legal advice to IU students and can represent them in court for civil, non-criminal cases.
The lawsuit has not yet been filed and is still being finalized, Ding said.
Although he can only receive up to $10,000, the difficulty and cost of finding an attorney to take his case meant SLS seemed like the best option. However, it still is not guaranteed he will win the case, and driving an expensive car makes him worried a judge will not take him seriously, he said.
An IU law professor who declined to be named for this story said in an email it is not unusual for lawyers to turn down small cases and for those cases to then be handled in small claims court.
The professor said insurance companies could deny claims for a number of business reasons such as a need for proof. Even if one party feels wronged, the outcome of the case depends on the facts, witnesses and police report, all of which must be found, gathered and presented to claims adjusters, who process and respond to claims against a company.
“The stronger the claims and clearer the evidence, the easier it is for them,” the professor said. “If it’s disputed, it’s routine to deny liability. Without knowing more, too, it’s unlikely to expect an insurance company to admit liability (even if they are liable in the first place).”
Since the incident, Ding said he’s been under high levels of stress mentally and financially. The accident happened close to finals season in May, and he said his grades dropped due to the time he spent dealing with the aftermath rather than studying.
Being without a car for two months also took a toll, Ding said. Ding lives off campus in The Fields, an apartment complex around a 10-minute drive to campus. However, after the accident he had to ride the bus or take an Uber to get to campus and around the city, a change in his daily routine he said was difficult.
He also lost nearly all the money in his bank account after paying towing, repair, storage and attorney fees. This has made it difficult to pay rent, which is almost $2,000 per month, he said. It is also difficult to find a job, he said, because as an international student he is only permitted to work on campus. International students must apply for special permission from IU for off-campus internships.
“I feel so bad — I don’t want to ask my parents to give me any more money,” Ding said. “I don’t have work, I don’t have a job, so I can’t make money on my own. It’s just really hard for me.”
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Ding said he gets upset when thinking about how MacAllister's insurance company is not helping him. It is especially frustrating, he said, because he expressed compassion for Fox when the accident happened.
“I was being really nice to the driver because he seemed kind of shocked,” Ding said. “I grabbed a drink and handed it to him, and said, like, ‘don’t worry, I understand, you’re driving such a long car, it’s understandable.’”
He said he wishes there were more resources for cases like his.
“I just want to express my disappointment about the legal system, to be honest, because I think they definitely have a problem with it,” Ding said. “In my case, you cannot find an attorney to speak for you.”