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Auto accident in Poland--what to do?

My wife and one of three toddlers are currently touring in Poland. My wife just texted me she had an auto accident today. She hit a pedestrian who died. I don't have any other info at this point other that she is not in jail, but is due in court in about nine hours.

I have many questions about what to do and not to do. Am looking for advice from anyone who has had similar experience.

She was driving a rental car. Obviously she must contact that company. I don't know if she took insurance on rental. Do we contact our US Auto insurance company?

Obviously she needs a lawyer in Poland. Is there any role for a US lawyer to play? My wife is traveling on a US passport but is fluent in Polish and has a Polish law degree (though no expertise in this kind of law). She has an expired Polish passport and one task this trip was to move forward toward renewing it. Passport situation is complicated, so I am certain that has not been done.

Does she contact the US consulate?

I have no idea what her culpability is for this accident. Without knowing that, I can't guess whether she will be permitted to leave. So I am uncertain whether my son is stuck there with her for the duration.

Any guidance is appreciated.

Posted by
3625 posts

Your wife probably needs you there for support and to take care of toddler. Can you go? If not, can you send another relative asap?

Definitely contact consulate.

Posted by
293 posts

Here are my thoughts.

If your wife is travelling on a US passport, and is a US citizen, she should contact the US Consulate immediately. They can help her by putting her into contact with some trusted legal resources. US Lawyer in Poland will probably be of no help - (US lawyer knows US laws). I would go there immediately and pick up your toddler son, he doesn't have to stay there with her - doesn't she have Polish relatives still there? Maybe they can hold him until you get there. Those deeper questions (going forward) can be answered by the Polish attorney.

Good luck with this.

Posted by
7785 posts

Unless you have some truly special auto policy, your US carrier will not provide coverage.

If the rental car came with some insurance, they should be responsible for hiring a lawyer to defend her from civil claims, but not for any charges made by the police.

Posted by
16877 posts

The car rental should automatically include the legally required liability insurance that covers damage to people and property outside the car. That's not related to whether or not she purchased a Collision Damage Waiver for damage to the car itself. For instance Europcar (a major rental agent) offers this description.

The credit card that she used to pay for the car may also offer some collision coverage. Many people decline CDW and count on credit card coverage. The car rental company may require damage payment up front from you and then you'd be reimbursed by the credit card company under the limits of their policy.

Your home auto insurance probably doesn't cover you internationally and you might not want to alert the US company unless you're fairly sure it does.

Each insurance policy will have a large amount of fine print and there's a pecking order as to which one pays first (primary, secondary, etc.).

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you very much for the first five responses I've read.

Posted by
31318 posts

Danny,

I'm truly sorry to hear about the situation your family is now in. Which city in Poland is your wife now in? I agree with the others that she should contact the U.S. Embassy right away as they should be able to guide and support her through the legal process. They may also be able to suggest a local Attorney. I doubt that a U.S.-based Lawyer would be able to do much, as h/she wouldn't be familiar with Polish law, conversant with the language nor able to practice there.

Do you or your wife have any family in Poland, especially family in the city where she's presently located? If she is incarcerated at some point, the obvious question is what becomes of your son? Are you able to head over to Poland in the near future?

This information may be helpful - https://www.justlanded.com/english/Poland/Poland-Guide/Travel-Leisure/Driving-rules-and-regulations

Do let us know how this is progressing, as someone in the group here may still be able to offer further suggestions.

Good luck!

Posted by
6 posts

Vernon and all, thank you.

She is near Krakow now. She has exteded family there that she is staying with, and they are contacting a lawyer. We spoke briefly by phone and she said she is going to be charged with involuntary manslaughter (or something like that). She has a Polish law degree and has close friends there who are lawyers--but I agree bringing the Consulate into this makes sense. Am not sure she will agree--and she gets to take lead on this.

Advice here has been very helpful and, yes, it may be that I will have to travel there to bring home son. I don't think she and he will take well to a separation. In the short term, her mother and her cousins can look after him if need be.

Posted by
3625 posts

Danny, I wanted to let you know I have been praying for you, your wife, and the family of the victim since reading your post. I will continue to do so.

Posted by
1908 posts

You say she has an expired Polish passport which indicates that she has dual Polish-US citizenship. If that's the case then the US consulate may not be able to get involved. Within Poland her Polish citizenship may well be solely applicable. Best get a Polish lawyer ASAP.

Posted by
1808 posts

Your situation sounds tragic, and awful! I'm so sorry! I hope everything turns out ok. Your family will be in my prayers.

Posted by
31318 posts

I prefer to take the OP at face value, and not rush to judgement. None of us here know the big picture or all the circumstances involving this family. Based on what I've seen so far, the OP has children at home and may not be able to travel on short notice for a variety of reasons. The Wife has family and a support network in Poland and has a Polish law degree, so probably best to work though this process one step at a time, and determine what charges will be laid and when court dates can be scheduled.

This information from the U.S. State Department.....

"Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately - particularly if you are a dual U.S.-Polish national. While a person holding Polish and U.S. citizenship is deemed by Poland to be a Polish citizen, you still may ask to see a U.S. consular officer."

This also may be relevant - https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/emergencies/arrest.html

The OP may have been simply reaching out to other travellers in the hope that someone could provide some useful advice.

Posted by
6 posts

Well, this discussion is taking an interesting turn. As I said before, the early responses [and just above] are very helpful to me.

If this were a 419 scheme, I'm doing a very bad job of it as I haven't asked anyone for anything other than advice :-)

But, as I know a bit more now, allow me to share that information with you. And explain how we have three toddlers.

First, the toddlers are four year old triplets (all boys). My wife, who was raised in Poland and goes back each summer to see her parents, refuses to make the trip with more than one kid. So, two get left with me (and our au pair). Frankly, I like this arrangement as the house is much quieter, but it is tough on the kids being separated.

I finally spoke with my wife today (Thursday) about the situation. She emailed me about 4pm (my time) Wednesday with a two sentence description of what happened and asked me to call her. I assumed the accident happened on Wednesday. I called, and we spoke very briefly, but she was already in bed, the connection was bad, I was on a city bus--we didn't stay on the phone long. She told me she was due back at the police station 11am Thursday. I told her I would phone her when I woke.

So, it was just after this brief call--while on the commuter train home Wednesday evening I posted to this Forum. Someone suggested here it was strange that I post my question to Rick Steve's forum. I have to admit it has been several years since I've been on the forum--I used to travel to Europe a lot, but stopped traveling after my kids were born--so perhaps I've misjudged the purpose of the forum. If so, I apologize--but do appreciate the response I've received. Anyway, I posted while still in a bit of shock about the news--and riffing on ideas of where I might turn for help to pass along to my wife.

Anyway, I FaceTimed Thursday morning my time and she took the call, but said she couldn't talk and hung up. My sense from the background was that she was in an interview or interrogation room. The au pair (who is Polish) and I each tried several more times and we finally got through at a point she could talk in the early afternoon (my time). So at that point I learned much more about my wife's situation.

The auto accident happened Monday at 6pm local time. For whomever decided she was going to check my story: I don't know the location, but doubt it was in Krakow proper. My wife's cousins where she is staying this week are in a small town/outer suburb of Krakow--she told me the name, but I don't recall it. My wife was driving west into a glaring sun and didn't see an 88 year old women step in front of the car. My wife insists she was not at fault, but told me the officer on the scene is convinced she was at fault.

So, why am I not on a plane to Poland already? Well, the accident happened Monday and my wife didn't email me about it until 55 hours later (I now know). While I'm mildly pissed about that, I've experienced the opposite: in January 2015 I was at a professional conference in Hawaii (my first long trip since kids were born) and my wife discovered pipes had frozen/cracked in our house and water was spewing into our basement. So, instead of calling a plumber, she called me in Hawaii! I was mildly pissed at that too.

Anyway, as I wrote earlier, my wife is from Poland. She went to law school in Krakow. She has friends and relatives there who are lawyers. She is well equipped to handle things locally. And I now know she energized her local network of people on Tuesday, and didn't require my help (and frankly I wouldn't be much help on the ground there.) She was scheduled to meet with an attorney later today who she says is well known and well regarded, and recommended by multiple people in her network.

[More in next post]

Posted by
6 posts

[Continued]

The conflicting advice you all provided me here I've passed along to my wife. She said she had thought about contacting the US consulate, but had not done so. But as someone later wrote here that given her dual citizenship, the Polish government will likely consider her Polish. So I later passed that thought on to her and suggested she discuss with her lawyer merits of contacting the consulate.

I also know now that while she carried both passports to Poland, she left the US passport at her parents house (five hours from Krakow) for the week with cousins--so only has her Polish passport on her at the moment. I wrote earlier that the Polish passport has expired; apparently I was wrong about that. The issue with the Polish passport is that her name is listed with her first husband's last name :-) So she is traveling with two passports with two different names. And our son has my last name..

Oh... I asked my wife today if she wanted me to come to Poland right now, and she said no. Thank you (many people) for suggesting it--in all honesty I probably wouldn't have asked her without those suggestions.

Anyway, that's the basic story as I know it at this point. She doesn't think she is looking at any prison time (if convicted of anything). But I don't know if she will be able to return to the US in two weeks as planned. I haven't broached hypotheticals yet about the status of our son if she is forced to stay longer in Poland (as I'm quite sure she would insist at the moment he stay there with her). A further complicating travel factor is that when she left on this trip, she said she didn't think her father would live through to the end of it. And she told me today that he had another stroke this week. [How is THAT, for whomever suggested this is like a plot to a movie.]

I am helping as best I can right now digging up information about credit card auto damage coverage, our auto insurance coverage, and making sure there is money in appropriate accounts she can draw from. And we will move forward from here.

Whatever our outcome, I feel terrible for the family of the woman who died--and my wife indicated the same to me today as well.

Danny

Posted by
31318 posts

Danny,

Thanks for posting more details about the circumstances. This is indeed a tragic situation for all involved, including the family of the deceased woman. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you work through this difficult time.

Posted by
362 posts

I am so sorry to hear of what happened to you and your family. I hope that you will be able to find good information about how to proceed.

Posted by
7785 posts

Danny

Thanks for the additional info--- hopefully the cynical are satisfied.

While your wife may not want to discuss the 'what if', at this point, you might want to start researching/lining up things in case things go seriously sideways and you need to go retrieve your son on short notice. Hopefully the plan will just sit and collect dust, but would be handy to have something ready.

Had to research '419 Scheme'. I will have to learn the rest of the Nigerian Penal Code in my next lifetime.

Posted by
4399 posts

Best wishes from the dark side...I hope that this has a positive outcome for you and your family.

Posted by
713 posts

I still think you ought to contact the US consulate, even if she is treated as a Polish citizen. They may have some useful resources for her and for you. You can plan for contingencies that she doesn't have time to think about now, like if your son needs to come home and she is not able to come with him.

Posted by
1352 posts

I agree with Eef! I can't really think of any downsides of contacting the consulate..... I can't imagine they would contact your insurance company, or treat her as a criminal.... just thinking.

Praying for you and your family through this tough time! Hang in there!

Posted by
11275 posts

I third the idea of contacting the US consulate as soon as possible.

1) If they say they can't get involved because they consider her a Polish citizen, then that's the end of it, but at least you know right away.

2) If they can get involved in any way, they will appreciate knowing what happened sooner rather than later. It would be a shame to be told "if you had called us earlier we could have helped with xxxx, but now it's too late."

3) As someone else said, even if they can't do anything for your wife, they can probably do something for your child should that be necessary; and again, they'll want to know about the situation as soon as possible if they might have to get involved later.

Good luck in this unfortunate situation; I hope it turns out all right.

Posted by
1092 posts

This is a tragedy for the pedestrian and her family and a nightmare for your wife and yours.
And it could happen to any of us ... on either side of the situation.
I am sending my best wishes for the best possible outcome.
Please keep us all in the loop as to what transpires.

Posted by
31318 posts

Danny,

I hope everything is getting sorted with your legal situation in Poland. Once again, good luck!