Business & Tech

Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

He was determined to get the ding fixed — without paying

Boston, MA., 01/05/18, Niko Kovacevic managed to get the $500 deductible on his auto insurance waived after his car door was dinged in Haymaker parking garage. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Niko Kovacevic managed to get the $500 deductible on his auto insurance waived after his car door was dinged in Haymarket parking garage.

Niko Kovacevic returned to the Boston parking garage where he left his car to find a huge pickup truck so tightly wedged into the space next to his that he felt like a circus contortionist squeezing his 6-foot frame inside.

He backed out, paid the parking fee, and returned home to Revere on that day just before Thanksgiving. That’s when he noticed something that really depressed him: a very obvious ding in the driver’s side door of his shiny new KIA Forte sedan. His mind immediately flashed back to that oversized pickup.

He was determined to catch the person who did it and equally determined that he would not have to pay to get his car fixed.

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“My friends told me, ‘Hey, these things happen. You pay your deductible and you move on.’ But I didn’t accept that,” he said. “I just refused to give up. . . . It wouldn’t be right.”

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But could he really pull this off? My car has been dinged plenty of times, each blemish bringing its own dose of frustration, but I never once thought I could actually persuade my insurer to pay.

Kovacevic, 37, grew up in a suburb of Belgrade as the former Yugoslavia was disintegrating amid war and ethnic animosities. As a boy, he longed to come to the city of JFK. And when the opportunity to move to Boston presented itself, Kovacevic took full advantage, eventually landing at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he earned a master’s degree in applied sociology. Kovacevic is looking for a position in his field, but in the meantime he’s driving for Uber.

Door dings are commonplace, especially as parking spaces seem to get smaller and automobiles larger. And they are not inexpensive to repair. Kovacevic’s auto body shop quoted $708 for the job.

I contacted someone in the insurance industry. Insurers, he said, are happy to waive your deductible if someone else is found to be mostly at fault for your loss. (“Happy” may be overstating it, I thought. We’re talking about insurance companies here.) The carrier is willing to waive your deductible because it will try to stick the loss on the carrier of the driver at fault. It’s call subrogation.

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Integral to subrogation is identifying the culprit.

When Kovacevic first noticed the ding, he called his insurer, Geico. An agent gave him good advice: Go back to the garage for evidence that it was someone else’s fault.

He returned to the garage immediately. The pickup, a muscular GMC Denali HD, was still there. He snapped a photo of the pickup truck’s license plate.

Although Kovacevic is not authorized under federal privacy laws to use RMV databases to match a plate number to a driver’s name, an insurance company can.

He drew a diagram showing his car and the pickup.

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He measured the distance between the driver’s side door of the Denali and the driver’s side door of his Forte. (the Denali had backed in). He found that one corner of the Denali’s driver’s side door lined up with the gouge.

And he asked to see security footage from the garage. He had photos, he had his diagram, but no video of door-to-door contact.

He naively believed that the garage operator would immediately play back footage upon request. But most garage operators simply don’t want to get drawn into such controversies or don’t have cameras everywhere or room for lots of video storage.

“I thought it was going to be easy,” Kovacevic recalled. “I thought they would just rewind the tape and we’d take a look right then and there.”

Instead, the attendant sent Kovacevic to the State Police barracks in South Boston. He managed to cajole a skeptical trooper to come out to the parking lot to look at his car and write a short report acknowledging “damage to the driver’s door consistent with a ‘door ding.’ ”

But the trooper also insisted that “no definitive footage would be obtainable.”

When Kovacevic persisted, the trooper brushed him off: “We have serious crimes to investigate.”

Kovacevic soon opened a claim with Geico and uploaded dozens of photos and documents. After many e-mails and calls, Geico informed him last week that the $500 deductible was waived. The company did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

“I was thrilled and surprised,” Kovacevic said. “Sometimes you can win.”

Kovacevic inspires me to believe it may be worth it to go the extra mile when you find a dinged door. If you feel the same way: Go for it.

.  .  .

Last month, I wrote about Penny Shaw, a disabled woman who says she can’t afford to obtain a state-issued identification card, which is now required for entry to the McCormack state office building.

Visitors have had their belongings (and themselves) scanned before being admitted to the building for many years. But only in November did the state begin demanding IDs (driver’s license, passport, or state or college identification card only) and recording the names of visitors.

Shaw is a well-known activist for the disabled, and the McCormack building is home base for much of her advocacy. The building houses many state agencies serving the disabled, the elderly, and the poor.

“It’s crucial that disabled and elderly and low-income people have access to government,” she said.

Since publication of that column, a bill was filed by state Representative Steve Ultrino, Democrat of Malden, and state Senator Barbara L’Italien, Democrat of Andover, to issue state IDs to the poor without fees.

The American Civil Liberties Union went even further. In a six-page letter to the state agency that manages the property, it challenged the constitutionality of requiring identification to enter a state building.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.