An expat living and having an accident in Boquete, Panama. Don’t call the police first!

By Terry Richmeier

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It was another beautiful day here in Boquete, Panama: sunny, warm and not a cloud in the sky. I was driving in Alto Boquete (located just before the road descends into downtown proper) investigating potential gym memberships. Suddenly, while turning left into the entrance of a parking lot, the Casa de Montaña van was hit from behind. It was then pushed into another car, sustaining damage on both sides. The bumper was torn off and all the air bags deployed, including those along entire right side interior, as well as in front of the passage seat.

As one might imagine, this was a bit of a shock. The first thing to happen was all three drivers involved exited our respective vehicles to make sure no one was injured. That established (gracias, a dios) the next thing to happen, to my surprise, was the other two drivers started snapping pictures with their cell phones.

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Confused, I made a call back to Casa de Montaña to let Manzar know what happened, and that I would be needing an interpreter.   I then followed suit and started taking pictures of my own. Within moments of the call to Casa de Montaña, my insurance agent showed, as did the insurance personnel of the other vehicles. My agent, fluent in both Spanish and English, also began snapping pictures of everyone’s vehicles. She was able to speak with the others involved and started making phone calls, one of which was for a tow truck.

At this point, I was completely bewildered… Where is the police? Has someone called them? Why are we taking pictures with our cameras? Why are we calling the insurance adjuster? Why are we calling the tow truck driver? Shouldn’t the police be coming?

Once the insurance adjuster came for each of the vehicles, the other two drivers began to move their vehicles out of the way of the other traffic, but I wasn’t inclined to move my van until the police came.   Which, subsequently, they did!

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First, the police officer told me to move my vehicle and directed where I should park. Shortly after, I was to fill out a police report. Thankfully there were just a few lines to complete and I was able to write in English. With the report soon finished, all parties where then asked by the police officer if they take responsibility for the accident. No one did and so what happens next?

So here is how it goes:   The insurance companies all work together to see, via the pictures taken, who is at fault. If they cannot make that determination, then there is a court date set up. It was arranged through my insurance company for a lawyer to attend court on my behalf.  The whole accident is basically handled by the insurance companies, which is the reason they are called first. No tickets are given by the police and the police report is only for the court to review.

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The experience this accident provoked was really quite a learning experience. The most important thing for you to remember, should you have an accident, is to call the insurance people first. Following this, be sure to take pictures – both close-up and from far away to capture the exact positioning of all vehicles involved.

As an expat involved in this accident, I believe what transpired was the best-case scenario I could have hoped for. During the course of the event, many people — expats and local Boquetenians alike — stopped to make sure we all were ok. Concern extended as the convenient store gave bottled water to us without charge, and many people in the shopping center offered to be of service. I felt taken care of and not taken advantage of. I felt that there was no “blame game” from any of the involved parties and that they were calm and tried to ease my own nervousness. I’m not sure the same could have been said if this accident happened in the US.

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Just as a side note, Magda Crespo Insurance is the local insurance agent and they have been our insurance company since we have arrived. Give them a call if you are interested in relocation to Boquete, Panama.

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