Host Mom Ginger sent us a request for advice, that I’ll share with you in two pieces. The first piece has to do with a disagreement over how to pay for damage to the car the au pair uses:
A host family has accused their au pair of having an accident with the car. She says it wasn’t her. The parents themselves have had two other accidents recently. They are very stressed out about it and, it appears, life in general. They wanted her to pay $500.
The au pair is getting conflicting information. Some have advised her that, t if she really didn’t do it (even unintentionally, like having the car parked) that she should very calmly stand her ground.
The au pair talked with her counselor, who doesn’t seem interested in stepping in to help to solve the problem. The counselor didn’t give the au pair any advice about whether or what she should pay, but has advised the au pair to fix things and stay with the family.
The family offered to ask her for half ($250).
The au pair is asking me what she should do. What do you recommend?
For the sake of simplicity, let’s clarify that the au pair and the host parents both drive the car in question, and that the damage was noticed when the car was at home (so there was no specific accident that anyone knows about that would explain the damage.
This is a tough situation for both the au pair and the host parents. If neither one thinks that they were responsible for damage to the car, then each one thinks the other is trying to take advantage of them. So no matter who ends up paying for the repair, this incident is costing both the host parents and the au pair a good deal of trust and goodwill.
The first issue is how to figure out who ought to pay what for the insurance deductible when the car is repaired. o.. here’s my unofficial opinion…
Car Damage from Unknown Causes (aka Random Damage) and Stationary Damage
Host parents are responsible for Random Damage. In the absence of proof that the damage occurred because of the au pair, the host parents are responsible.
If the damage occurred while the car was parked by the au pair legally and correctly while she was on personal business, it’s up to the host family to pay.
Why? Anonymous, random, damage that ‘nobody’ caused intentionally is accidental. Thus, it’s the owner’s responsibility. The host parents are generously providing the car for the au pair to use, the au pair is doing her best to drive responsibly and treat the car with respect, and something happened. Consider that random damage could just as likely have occurred while you were using it. It isn’t your au pair’s fault, it isn’t your fault, it’s just the cost of doing business.
Consider that, if the fuel pump broke while your au pair was driving the car, you wouldn’t make her pay for that repair, would you? No, it happened due to wear and tear, not carelessness.
Another way to think of it? If you wouldn’t make your mother-in-law pay the deductible in similar situations, you shouldn’t expect your au pair to pay.
Car Damage When the Car is In Motion
If the car is damaged during an accident ‘in motion’ where no one was clearly at fault or where fault was contested, and the au pair was driving, I’d still think it was up to the host family to pay.
However, if I were the au pair this is where I’d offer to chip in for some of the deductible. In many cases where ‘no one’ was at fault, there is a chance that both parties contributed to the damage. As a manner of good faith, if I were an au pair I’d offer to contribution something to the repair.
Keep in mind, though that what seems like a reasonable amount of money for a deductible is quite a lot for an au pair. For an au pair, the deductible is 2.5 times an entire week’s pocket money– to him or her the deductible is quite expensive. Punitive even. So paying half is a big contribution.
Known, Caused Damage, moving or stationary
On the other hand, for known and caused damage, the au pair is fully responsible for up to the full deductible. (Note, some agencies limit the au pair’s expectation to $250 dollars. Check your agency guidelines.)
Au pairs are responsible to pay for damage to the car when the au pair has caused that damage. If she was driving and hit someone, or parked illegally or improperly and was sideswiped by someone else, the deductible would be her fault.
Now, given that in this situation it is not clear whether the au pair was responsible or not—
If we were able to advise the host parents themselves, I’d tell them to pay the deductible, get the car repaired, and not hold it against the au pair.
If we can only advise the au pair, I’d tell her or him to invite the counselor into the conversation, and to sit down with the family to talk.
S/he should be prepared not only to talk about the questions of responsibility for damage and payment, but also about how the trust issues that have been raised by this disagreement should be resolved.
The real issue here is not damage to the car, but damage to the host parent-au pair relationship.
I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll hold them for now while we open this up for comments from our wise community…
What would you advise this au pair to do?