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Case Closed

Kristine Hayes  |  March 15, 2018

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A METICULOUS record keeper. As a child, my 4-H record book often won top honors at the county fair. As an adult, my career as a laboratory manager requires me to keep detailed records about budgets, lab prep and equipment maintenance. All that recordkeeping has bled over into my personal life as well. I have drawers full of neatly-labeled file folders filled with receipts, tax returns and other personal documents.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that when I was involved in a serious car accident almost five year ago, I took a lot of notes. I’d been going 60 miles per hour on Interstate 5 when the car in front of me lost control. I was able to navigate my little Honda Fit over one lane, but it wasn’t enough. The other car slammed into me and pushed me across two more lanes of traffic before my car finally came to rest. Even though the entire incident probably lasted just three or four seconds, the details will forever be etched into my memory.

Thankfully, I wasn’t injured in the wreck. A week after the accident, my insurance company declared my car a total loss. A few days later, I had a check in hand and purchased a used car. Even though I assumed at the time that there was no reason to keep any of the paperwork related to the accident, I went ahead and filed it all away anyway.

Fast forward three years. Just a month before the statute of limitations would have run out, the other driver involved in the accident filed a lawsuit against me, claiming I was at fault and seeking a monetary award to cover some of the medical expenses she incurred as a result of the accident. I called my insurance company and was informed it would provide an attorney to represent me throughout the process.

The lawsuit dragged on for the next 18 months. I was grateful I had kept such detailed notes. I’d filed away the photos of my damaged car, provided by the body shop that had evaluated it for damage. I had the police report showing the other driver had been issued a citation at the time of the accident. I’d kept the check stub, from the plaintiff’s insurance company, showing it had paid the cost of my rental car. And I still had the original, hand-written notes I’d scribbled on a piece of scrap paper in the moments after the accident. All of that information proved invaluable as I gave my deposition and testified in front of an arbitrator.

In the end, the arbitrator ruled in my favor and the plaintiff didn’t receive any money. More important, though, I learned how critical it is to keep adequate records of various major life events, even long after it no longer seems necessary.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous blogs include My Younger Self, Bogleheads.org and USAFacts.org.

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