In the 2004 German movie The Edukators, part of the characters motivation revolves around a damage reparation:

"Jule is a waitress struggling to pay off a €100,000 debt she incurred a year ago when she crashed into a Mercedes-Benz S-Class belonging to a wealthy businessman named Hardenberg"

Around the world, specifically Germany, US and Brazil, I'm wondering how realistic this would be. In particular if the responsible party had car insurance with reasonable (but not infinite) coverage for third party.

In practical terms, let's say I have car insurance, which covers around 50k local monetary units in damages to third parties. Then I hit a very expensive luxury car, say a Ferrari, which for the purpose for this example is worth ten million local monetary units. Totaling 8 million in repairs costs. I readily call my insurance to reimburse the Ferrari owner. If taken to court, how much could I actually be charged in each of those countries?

My assumption is that I've made my precaution for paying any third party a reasonable amount (50k should pay the repairs for any regular car). After a certain amount, the owner of the Ferrari should be aware that he cannot reasonably expect that a regular person would or should have the means to repair his damages, hence after some amount it should be his problem.

In that case, for each of these countries, would I have to spend the rest of my life with debt? Would the insurance let me walk free of any further headache? Or would there be a reference amount I should pay on top of the insurance coverage?

Edit: For clarification, only property damage is assumed, no injured people.

  • In practice you would certainly not have to carry around an 8 million debt forever - that is why bankruptcy was invented. Are you asking: 'could the owner present you with a bill sanctioned by the courts?' (in which case the answer is yes, in principle), or ' what could he do to enforce that bill?' (in which case the answer will vary wildly with jurisdiction and your situation)? – Tim Lymington Feb 8 at 17:45
  • @TimLymington : What is bill beatrin? Also, at least in Brazil personal bankruptcy isn't really a thing. There is "civil insolvency", which occurs when a person has debts that he cannot pay even if his assets other than his house are liquidated, and that still may cause a judge to take 30% of the person's monthly income towards debt payment. But in that case, the debt would need to legally exist in the first place, this makes sense when talking about bank loans, but not for accidental damages. – Mefitico Feb 8 at 17:55

You, personally, are responsible for all of the damage. If you have insurance, then your insurance company will indemnify you up to the limit of the policy and you will remain liable for the rest. For your example, the insurance would pay 50,000 and you would owe 7,950,000.

Third party property damage insurance is not compulsory in all (any?) jurisdictions while third party personal injury insurance usually is - that means you are covered for damage to people but not necessarily to things. Any third party property damage policy would not have a limit as absurdly low as €50,000; €10,000,000 would be more realistic. It is far more likely the protagonist was uninsured rather than underinsured.

If you have debts that you cannot pay as and when they fall due you are insolvent and you either need to come to a deal with your creditors to reduce and/or delay payment (either directly or as ordered by a court) or go bankrupt. Bankruptcy is painful but in some circumstances it may be less painful then carrying a debt you can’t pay.

  • FWIW, in the US the mandatory amounts for auto insurance have what looks to me like ridiculously low coverage. Many people can barely afford what they've got and will have only the legal minimum. They're also not going to be worthwhile suing. – David Thornley Feb 8 at 21:43

The laws depend on the jurisdiction, but one defense that is generally available is "contributory negligence". A person sued for totaling an 8 million euro car could assert that driving that expensive of a car on public roads is an act likely to result in large damages, and thus an act of negligence. Whether this is in fact negligence is a question of fact, so it would be up to the jury to decide whether to accept it. The jury could find that it is unreasonable to impose on everyone the risk of incurring a debt of 8 million every time they go onto the road, and limit the damage award to what one could reasonably expect from a car accident. If the jury finds the defendant unsympathetic, however, they can reject this argument.

  • And if the defendant collided with a multi-million dollar office building that caught fire and collapsed - it would be contributory negligence for building a building near a road? This answer is just wrong. – Dale M Feb 8 at 23:58
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    @DaleM What is wrong about it? That a jury could find contributory negligence? If you think that a jury shouldn't find contributory negligence, that is a completely different issue. I don't find your situation comparable, but whether it is comparable is for a jury to decide. I could present argument why it's not, but the issue is irrelevant to my answer. But yes, anyone who builds a multi-million dollar office building that can be collapsed merely by driving a car into it is indeed guilty of negligence. – Acccumulation Feb 9 at 0:06
  • This is a German question - there is no jury (as there isn’t for civil claims in most parts of the world). Even in the US, the jury’s verdict is manifestly wrong and would be overturned on appeal. – Dale M Feb 9 at 0:11
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    @DaleM "Around the world, specifically Germany, US and Brazil, I'm wondering how realistic this would be." And while judges can reduce awards, it's extremely rare for them to increase them. – Acccumulation Feb 9 at 0:20
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    Because the defendant hasn’t contributed to the loss by choosing to own expensive property. The universal principle of contributory negligence is that the plaintiff must have done something negligent. – Dale M Feb 9 at 0:29

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