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When you have a car accident in Costa Rica – time consuming

When you have a car accident in Costa RicaA car accident is never fun nor is it ever convenient.  One Saturday a couple of months ago my husband was driving through Barrio Mexico, going to a Little Theatre Group rehearsal.

He stopped at a stop sign as required and was thinking about whether he should go straight or turn right (he wasn’t familiar with the area and had only been there once before).

When he made his decision and advanced a few meters, out of nowhere it seemed, a white, small car hit him. The car accident happened in seconds because the other car appeared to him at Mach speed. The other driver crumpled up his hood and did some significant damage to our car as well.  Ours is a Hyundai Terracan, which is equipped with a chasse, big front, and rear bumpers – a sturdy car (more like a tank).

Now bear in mind that Costa Rican law is Napoleonic law, that is, you are guilty of the car accident until proven innocent. In this case, my husband could not prove his innocence because there were no witnesses. There also were no skid marks nor did my husband hear a warning horn.

When you have a car accident in Costa Rica

Aside from a couple of very small fender-benders, this was my husband’s first car accident in 30 years of driving, in which he had to make a claim.  He was quite shaken and fortunately, the fellow he was meeting saw the commotion from his apartment and came out to help.

The Police

The police were called, as were our respective insurance agents.   Our insurance agent happens to be a personal friend and was glad to help.  He was basically there for moral support and to make sure that my husband did all the right things.

The police arrived and wrote up the ticket that goes with every car accident. He gave both my husband and the other driver a copy.  Then after what seemed to be a long wait, came the tow truck.  My husband went with him and took him to the body shop in Santa Ana.  A couple of hours later we received a call that this repair shop was not insurance “approved”. So my husband went back and drove with the tow truck to an “approved garage” near the Guacamaya circumvalacíon.  The mechanic was a really nice fellow and he drove my husband home as part of his service.

Declare in Court

So, there we were, without a car and many commitments due to the fact that it was a week or two before Christmas.  The police officer had told my husband that we had to make a declaration about the car accident in the court of that jurisdiction within 10 days.  Our Insurance agent suggested we leave it until about the 8th day, which we did.

A Deal?

The other driver for some reason phoned us three times to see if we wanted to make a deal.  I have no idea what sort of deal he had in mind. Because basically, our policy was such that we had to pay the deductible and that was it.   I do think that those calls had to do with the fact that he didn’t want anyone digging around too deeply.

San Jose Court

It’s actually quite orderly in its own way at the San Jose court.  You walk up the steps from the street, go through a metal detector and the guard tells you to sit down.  He then calls you when there is a clerk available to take your case.

I had to show my cédula because I’m the registered owner of the car. They keep it until I was done. I made sure not to forget to pick up y very valuable cédula when finished.  You are then told to go to the 2nd floor and wait.  Fortunately, they had a cooking program on the T.V., which kept me amused.

At some point you see a lady go into an office with your papers and cédula.  You wait some more.  Your name is called and you make your version of the car accident in front of a clerk. She types all the information into her computer, after which you get your cédula back.

The Stop Sign

Because my husband had the stop sign and the other fellow didn’t, my husband was automatically guilty by Costa Rican law.  There is no forensic way to prove it one way or the other. So our insurance company was required to pay for the whole shot. This made me wonder again why the other driver called so many times to make a deal.

Pay Deductible

Our insurance company called and gave us instructions as to how to pay our deductible.  Repair would not start until payment was received.  We deposited the payment as soon as we could. Within a couple of days, the mechanic called and told us what his estimate of the damage was.

When you have a car accident in Costa Rica

Spare Parts

They would start fixing the car as soon as he received some parts.  This sounded a bit worrying because where were these parts coming from, Costa Rica, Panama or Korea?  It seems most parts were readily available here and the car was ready in about two weeks. A new wheel is still on order but the old one is fine to drive on for a while.

The Deal Again

The other driver again called to make a deal on the car accident. We told him that if he wanted to make a deal, please call our insurance people.  We wanted to get all this stuff behind us. But the other driver wasn’t happy with the settlement our insurance company was offering. So we waited some more.

Finally, after a week we got a call from our insurance people. The other driver had settled and we were good to go.  We understood that this was the last stop. Since the other driver finally accepted the insurance company’s offer, we were done.  We called the other driver and arranged to meet up with him at the court.  Fortunately, he arrived on time.


We go again through the same routine as before.  We go through the metal detector, sit, and wait for an available clerk. Then we are sent to the 2nd floor, and wait until our name is called.

Again they type out a legal document with the details of the accident, as well as the fact that everything has been paid by the insurance company.

Compact Disc

This time we were asked if we had a flash drive with us and we don’t own one so said no.  We were sent downstairs to buy a compact disc from the copy center. Then we went back upstairs to have the information was transferred to the cd, then went downstairs again to the copy center.

The copy center lady copied the information for us on paper from the disc, which we took inside again. Then the clerk stamped every page (to ensure it was all legal).  It seems that the clerk’s office upstairs has no printer, no copier, and no internet! (Editor: yes they do, but they want you to pay for it)

That was it for this trip. The other driver was done. We found out we still have to go back because our insurance company was footing the bill, we still had one or two things to do.

When you have a car accident in Costa Rica

The Letter

We sent an e-mail to our insurance agent. We needed a document, showing that all payments had been made. The insurance agent said that the insurance company would be issuing a letter. The letter would say that the money has been paid out to have both cars fixed and that would finalize the process.  We were told to pick up that letter a.s.a.p. and take it to the court.

So we drove out to the insurance company and sure enough, the receptionist had the papers all ready.  We picked them up, drove to the court and one of the clerks scanned the insurance letter into the accident file.

And that’s basically it.  This was fairly easy if not time-consuming.  Fortunately, there were no injuries and no complications, else it might have been a whole different story.

The Author

Paula Kat-Friedman and her husband Steve started Genesis II Cloud Forest Preserve and Wildlife Refuge, south of San José in the 90s. After selling the business, they have retired. Paula writes a blog for us once in a while, where she offers her experiences as an expat in Costa Rica.

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