What to Do if Construction Ruins Your Car

A few weeks ago, we were out for a drive during a windstorm that saw eastern Ontario buffeted by winds that tore branches from trees and shingles from housetops.

Our outing took us past a condo tower under construction (a familiar sight in cities across the country) where that wind threatened to tear off tarps protecting sections of the structure’s open sides. A thought occurred to us: What happens if you park near a construction site, and materials or equipment blow free or fall from the structure and damage your vehicle?

It turns out this sort of thing (thankfully) doesn’t happen very often, but there is some precedent for it.

In Montreal in late 2011, cement spilled from the site of a hospital being built in that city’s downtown, breaking windows in a handful of cars parked nearby. In that case, the construction company wasted no time in owning up to its error, and paid to repair the broken glass.

And a friend of ours told us the story of how his car and those of his colleagues wound up coated in particulate that escaped a faulty filtration system at a powder-coating operation next door. The material was baked onto the vehicles’ paint by the sun’s heat. Again, the business that caused the damage arranged to have all the vehicles repaired at their expense.

But things don’t always go the way they should, so if your car is damaged while parked near or driving past a construction or industrial site, it will pay to be prepared.

“That’s a pretty specific question that I’ve never been asked before,” said Ellen Roseman, a consumer advocate and author who writes a column for the Toronto Star. “(Do you go after) the construction company to pay, or do you go after the municipal government? You might have to sue, which is a real pain.”

Lawyering up is an option, but one we’d suggest exploring only after you’ve looked at a couple of other options.

Before you do anything else, document the scene. Take photos of the car that show the damage in as much detail as possible and the area where it’s parked, including some wide-angle shots that include the site you believe was the source of whatever damaged your car.

Also, make sure your photographic evidence proves you were parked legally, and that the city and/or the construction company and/or the city hadn’t put up temporary “no parking” signs in order to avoid the very situation you’ve found yourself in. If your car was in a no-go zone, you’re on your own.

But if you believe there was no indication your car shouldn’t have been parked where it was, ask to speak to the construction site manager in person so you can show them the damage, preferably while your car is still parked where that damage occurred.

If they refuse to acknowledge their work site as the source of your trouble, take Roseman’s advice and move your complaint up the line to the municipal government. In Ontario at least, city hall enforces the provincial building code and issues permits for the construction of buildings large and small; and, in theory, construction companies and contractors answer to the municipality if their work damages property or injures passersby.

We reached out to the City of Ottawa for advice on the matter but were stonewalled. According to the city clerk’s office, the city “is not in the practice of answering detailed hypothetical questions.”

If neither the construction firm nor the municipality will look after you, try reaching to out a local consumer advocate like Roseman, many of whom are highly visible local media figures. If they think you have a case, they can splash your story in the news and publicly shame the guilty party into making things right.

But if that isn’t enough, it might be time to find a lawyer and take your case to court. Sure, that’s expensive, but a good lawyer will tell you whether your case is worth pursuing, and if a judge finds in your favour, your legal bills should be taken care of.

We’ve left the option of filing an insurance claim till the end, because while it seems like an obvious solution, whether they’ll cover the repairs depends on the type of coverage you opted for when you purchased your policy, according to Pete Karageorgos, Ontario director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Every car on the road must carry liability coverage that will pay for claims levelled against you by anyone who says you injured them or damaged their property with your vehicle. But among the options on your policy is coverage for collision damage, as well as what the insurance industry calls “comprehensive” coverage that will pay to fix other kinds of damage, and it’s one of those that would look after you in our hypothetical scenario.

Karageorgos said if you carry comprehensive coverage on your car, you are protected against damage caused by an object or material that falls from a building, as well as debris that comes loose from the back of a dump truck or any other vehicle and strikes your car after flying through the air. Meanwhile, if you drive over a piece of debris that’s already on the ground and it breaks your car, you would claim that against the collision portion of your policy.

While making an insurance claim could normally cause your insurer to hike your rates, Karageorgos said in this case, the insurer can subrogate, which means they go after the responsible party or parties to recoup the money they spent to make you whole. If they’re successful, your rates would be unaffected. But given the possibility of a rate hike, we suggest trying to settle with the contractor or city before contacting your insurer.

Construction-related vehicle damage may be rare, but it might be wise to look up – way up – before choosing a parking spot in one of Canada’s fast-growing cities.

Cement dust and car dramas 5/22/2018 10:00:00 AM