Think About It: Crash! You’re it!

Following the second or was it the third time my relative’s car was slammed into by an uninsured driver, I started calling my relative’s car an official magnet for crashes of that sort. Apparently, so did my relative because he went out and bought a humongous car which I fondly refer to as “the monster.”

My relative endured the cost in time, convenience and money to recover from the crashes, none of which were his fault. He saw it as a lesson, perhaps a warning of what could happen the next time. We were all grateful no one was hurt in the crashes but he was no longer willing to take a chance with his family which includes small grandchildren. He bought “the monster” at considerable expense for safety reasons.

My relative lived in the Seattle area where the chances of being in a crash are greater than having a crash in greater Sequim. Less opportunity is meaningless if you are the one in a crash — which is what happened to one of my friends.

My friend was driving east on a through street with stops signs at every intersection to stop traffic going north and south. It was mid-day on a sunny day when a driver going south failed to stop at the stop sign and crashed into the car frame and door immediately behind her seat as driver.

The crashing car hit my friend’s car with enough velocity to lift the car in the air, spin it around it and land on the sidewalk facing the opposite direction in which she was traveling. Witnesses came to her aid.

My friend was stunned and bleeding from her mouth. Emergency medical services were called and she was assessed carefully because of pain she was experiencing before she was allowed out of the car.

She was breathing, on her feet and following directions. She said she was OK. Was she?

She wasn’t sure and it was only later that she realized she wasn’t doing well. It was only later that it sank in that if the crash had occurred a second earlier, she would be dead.

It was only later that it sank in she was not prepared for what happened next.

Unintended, yet real, consequences

Anyone of us who have been in a significant car crash knows the costly toll it takes on our time, money and sense of safety whether our fault or the fault of the other driver. My friend experienced all the above and more.

Her car was totaled. It was a 1998 car that she kept well maintained because she planned that car to be her last car. She was comfortable in it and knew it well like an old friend. So what! says car insurance people and she was only allowed $2,800 value of her old car by the other driver’s insurance.

Bought a car lately?

Buying a car was the furthest thing from my friend’s mind when she left her home that morning. Now she was faced with the prospect of car shopping and putting out a great deal of money, an unplanned expense.

Not only that, she didn’t feel well. Her head hurt, her neck hurt, she felt weak and confused.

She was later diagnosed as having whiplash and a concussion — not too surprising, in that is what usually happens when your brain is bounced around in your skull and your body bounced around against steering wheels and seat belts.

Possibly the worst consequence for her, she tells me, is the anxiety she experiences now three months post-crash driving her new $30,000 used car, particularly when she approaches an intersection. That’s even with the car’s advanced safety features. She finds herself slowing until she is certain there are no cars leaving the intersection that could hit her.

Report that fails to report

The police came to the scene and spoke to witnesses. My friend needed the police report for insurance purposes and was shocked to discover the collision report did not report the crash as it occurred and was described by witnesses. She shared the report with me, that stated she was sitting at a stop sign when the crash occurred. It did not note any injuries or that witnesses were present. No citations were issued.

Her post-crash life became much more complicated.

My friend was without the documentation to receive appropriate financial settlement. She must have an accurate report to file an accurate claim. She asked the police department to investigate the report which they are doing. She tells me how much she feels the burden of trying to make this right, to make it just.

My friend is 75 years old, capable and independent. She must rely on herself in most instances. She readily admits the crash has taken a toll on her and shaken her sense of long-term security. She struggles to fit her experience into the cold realities of car insurance policies and inaccurate police reports with the consequences on her life in the short and long-term.

And, three months later, she has no resolution except that she received a relatively tiny amount to purchase a new car and the words that her insurance rate might go up.

She has yet to learn whether her medical expenses now uncovered by Medicare due to that question asked on every visit – is the cause of your visit an accident – will be paid.

After a struggle, she did get an extension on car rental to give her longer than seven days to find a new car. She wasn’t thinking clear enough due to the concussion to begin the car purchasing process for the first month post-crash.

My friend knows little of the driver of the crashing vehicle related to factors involved in the crash. She hopes the driver is taking steps to prevent future crashes.

What struck me about my friend’s story and the reason I write is I believe it is all too common. People’s lives are upended or at least temporarily in chaos during which time they must navigate a system of insurance companies whose goal seems to be to pay as little as possible and systems that seem to treat time, health and money of innocent crash victims as a tough break or “accidents will happen.”

Something’s wrong with systems that are so cavalier that innocent victims are isolated and on their own. Solid policies and responsive systems should exist to ease their pain and life disruption as efficiently as possible.

And finally, all crashes should be evaluated for prevention in the future. Accidents and tough breaks don’t need to happen.

All that said, I am grateful my friend was at least a second ahead of the crash.

Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper’s book “Women, We’re Only Old Once” is due out this summer. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim over 20 years. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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