It’s not a good day when your mechanic calls and says, “Uh, I’m not sure how to say this, but I had a little accident with your car.” It’s even worse when your car is a 2006 Ford GT Heritage that had been modified to a “Twin Turbo.” (On the Internet, some claim the value of cars like this can exceed $250,000.) This Ford GT had some running problems that were threatening the owner’s participation in an upcoming Ford GT rally. The owner turned to a tuner who was a mainstay on the Ford GT Forum and goes by the Internet alias “Shadowman.” According to Shadowman’s own post on the Ford GT Forum (fordgt.forum.com), he secured the owner’s registration, insurance information and a written authorization to test drive the car for diagnosis. Shadowman went on to write that he drove it down the highway in the slow lane in 3rd gear at 65 mph, accelerating in and out of the turbo boost while he monitored the boost to see what was happening. All of a sudden—and without any warning—he was “tossed off the highway and proceeded to fly backwards through several tree tops, as the drop off the highway was 60-plus feet” After crawling out of the wrecked car and up the embankment, Shadowman was rescued by a witness and a semi truck accident attorney was contacted right away. Shadowman attributed the crash to a tire letting loose or a mechanical failure, and he claimed that this was supported by the right rear tire being off the wheel when the truck struck him. Shadowman’s post was followed by several posts expressing relief that he escaped serious injury, praising him for his integrity, and extolling his virtues as one of the most respected members of the forum’s community. Another set of posts The owner posted his own version of events on the Bimmerboost Internet forum (www.bimmerboost.com). The owner claimed that Shadowman had described the damage to the GT as minor and that “he would be more worried about the possible damage done by the tow company pulling it up the embankment than the actual damage done by the accident.” The owner got a little worried about details and statements that he perceived as shady and evasive. Then he got very worried when Shadowman explained that he didn’t carry insurance and the claim would have to be submitted to the owner’s insurance carrier. So the owner immediately flew the 2,000 miles to see the car for himself. When he arrived at the tow company lot, he was shocked that the “minor” damage was a totally wrecked car. Each body panel was damaged, every frame support at the rear had been ripped apart, the transaxle was missing— it had exploded on impact into a tree—bark and sticks had punched holes through the exhaust and the one remaining turbo housing. The toll didn’t end there. All the engine mounts were sheared and the engine had been pushed into the firewall. There did not appear to be any driveline issues, the tires all looked good (in contrast to what Shadowman had told him) and the airbag did not deploy. The owner was concerned about a vacuum line that was taped to the outside of the car and went from the engine bay to a boost gauge on the front seat, which indicated that this was Shadowman’s test method. More discoveries At the crash site, the owner found skid marks (contrary to Shadowman’s account) indicating that the GT’s back end came around and led it off the road backwards. He saw that the GT had sheared branches off trees 30 feet off the ground before hitting another tree and cutting it in half. The GT then dug into the ground and came to a stop. The finishing touches came when the cut-off half of the tree landed on top of the car and then came to rest against its side. There was blue and orange paint all over the trees, transmission parts 100 feet away, and engine parts scattered everywhere. The owner couldn’t believe that Shadowman expected the owner’s insurance policy to cover the damage. Shadowman had also filed a claim against the insurance company for his medical expenses. The owner felt that this violated the “unwritten code between exotic car owners that if you ever step behind the wheel of someone else’s car, that you would be responsible for the car....” If there are any disputes like this regarding who the at-fault party is, a professional auto and truck accidents lawyer who can provide expert auto accident attorney services are recommended to ensure your rights are protected. The owner’s post was followed by an extensive number of posts expressing total support for his position, generally disparaging Shadowman’s skills and character, swearing they never liked him, and expressing disgust for his lack of integrity. Legal Files’ favorite post was one from a writer who said he “would have in no way been able to hold composure like the owner did. Twelve years in construction, six years in the military, and two combat tours, I would have probably went to jail for beating the guy senseless, ransacking his garage and then just turning everything over to lawyers to figure out lol!” Internet landmines Legal Files wonders what is wrong with these people! Obviously, neither Shadowman nor the owner got legal advice before publishing their stories in public forums accessible to the entire planet. They are both permanently on record with a version of events that might not withstand later critical inquiry. The owner has exposed himself to a potential defamation suit in which the onus will be on him to prove that every single word is true. No lawyer would have advised either of these men to write anything. And the comments…. Where did we get this fantasy that we can form meaningful relationships with other Internet forum members identified only by an alias, especially when they can so easily misrepresent themselves and their motives at every opportunity? Can we really believe that every word of their posts is accurate and fair? And do we really believe that we can defame people without liability because it’s acceptable Internet behavior—or it’s too much trouble for their lawyers to track us down? Who Pays? Legal Files understands the owner’s concern about Shadowman’s method of testing the boost on the GT, so it consulted Jeff Gamroth, of Rothsport Racing in Tualatin, OR. Gamroth is a nationally known builder of Porsche race cars, both turbocharged and normally aspirated. Asked about the “hose through the window” test method, Gamroth said: “I’ve done the same thing. It’s an acceptable method, although not the best. It’s very distracting to try to drive a fast car at speed and simultaneously watch any sort of gauge. I’m not at all surprised about what happened.” As for other approaches, Gamroth said, “The best thing to do is put the car on a chassis dyno. There’s lots of them around, and they are totally safe as the car sits stationary. You can fully test anything you want without worry. But if you think you need to drive the car for some reason, you can put a data logger on it. That way, you can drive safely and review the data as closely as you want afterward.” Whatever Shadowman’s culpability might be, the owner is off-target thinking that his insurance should stay out of the mix. In the vast majority of situations, the owner’s policy covers the damage. Take a look at your own policy. It will probably defi ne the “insured” to include not only you and your family, but also anyone who drives your car with your permission—such as your mechanic. If the mechanic has other insurance coverage, such as a garagekeeper’s policy, it will likely provide only “secondary” coverage. That is, your auto policy provides the “primary” coverage. If the damage to the car exceeds your policy’s limit, his policy then kicks in until its limit is exhausted. But until your policy’s coverage is exhausted, the mechanic’s policy is out of the picture. That’s how the system works, said McKeel Hagerty at Hagerty Collector Car Insurance Company. Hagerty describes this as, “perhaps one of the greatest misunderstandings about car insurance, some sort of big urban myth. When you let someone else drive your car, you can’t negotiate whose insurance policy is going to be at risk.” Hagerty and Legal Files are both unaware of any “unwritten code” that the driver becomes responsible. “Even when you have relatively clear fault in a two-car crash, it’s still your insurance company that usually fixes your car,” Hagerty said. “Afterward, it then decides whether to pursue recovery of its losses from the other driver or insurance company, not you.” Further, you can’t solve the problem by refusing to fi le a claim. As an insured under your policy, the driver can fi le the claim himself. Plus, since he is an insured with the same rights under the policy as you have, his medical bills can get covered just the same as yours would have been. Protecting yourself As car enthusiasts, we sometimes form close bonds with our cars, and they can become so precious to us that we don’t want to let others drive them. But they are, after all, just cars. They break, and they need repairs. Sometimes, the mechanic can’t really fix them without driving them—either to diagnose the problem or to verify that it’s been corrected. Most mechanics are responsible, and drive their customers’ cars carefully. Be as sure as you can that yours fits into that category. In this case, the owner received a check for the full value of his Ford GT and was made whole. However, neither the owner nor Shadowman can claim the same restoration of their reputations. Legal Files’ advice is that when an Internet firestorm erupts, and it appears headed towards you, hunker down and call your attorney. Don’t type a rejoinder and hit the “send” button no matter how justified you might feel—you’re just adding unwanted fuel to the fi re.

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