January 20 2014
It was a typical pre-dawn drive to work; driving the same road I had driven countless times before.Running a few minutes late as usual to my menial job, I hit the exit from the freeway and was cruising down the three-lane access road when I spotted the 18-wheeler rumbling along slowly in the left-hand lane. Since it was going flat-tire slow I started to pass it.
Didn’t really give it much thought; where I work is in an industrial area and 18-wheelers are pretty much a normal part of the scenery. This one got my attention however when I noticed it taking a very sudden right-turn from the outside left-hand lane and turning right across all three lanes in front of me. There was a split-second moment of disconnect; why was this guy making such a sudden turn? I hit the brake pedal with both feet and cut the steering wheel to the right but there was water running across the road (still uncertain to this day what the source of that was) and my car slid helplessly into what looked like an auxiliary gas tank about mid way back of the 18-wheeler.
All at once the windshield shattered, the front end of my car crumpled like paper, the air bag on the steering wheel deployed, the car horn came on and wouldn’t shut off. Oh great...And as if this wasn’t all dramatic enough, flames erupted between me and the 18-wheeler with a quiet “foom!”
I scrambled to find my glasses which had flown across the car upon impact and fumbled with my safety belt; it was time to get out of the car and fast. The door on my side wouldn’t budge, so I crawled across the passenger seat and let myself out of the other side of the car. Gas was pouring out of the auxiliary tank on the truck and feeding the flames. The driver of the now-stopped truck suddenly appeared from around the other side of the truck and was warning me to get away from the two vehicles.
What a fucked-up way to start the day; action-movie shit at five-thirty in the morning. The sound of sirens approaching added to the early morning chaos. As if they were parked around the corner waiting for their cue, the police, fire department and an ambulance all rolled up at the same time.
“Are you alright?” the two guys hopping out of the ambulance asked me. I felt my face and held up my hand covered in blood. “Yeah just swell” I told them. They made me lie down in some nearby grass and told me to be still. As I laid there looking up at the black sky, a police officer appeared over me: “You got any ID?” I handed him my wallet, he opened it up and promptly spilled the contents at his feet. He found my drivers license, copied the info and handed me back my wallet as the ambulance guys loaded me onto a stretcher despite my protests.
At this point I had no real idea how badly I was really injured; I just thought the blood on my face was a scratch from some flying glass and that I was just going to walk the rest of the way to my job and go to work. I was loaded into the ambulance and it wasn’t until the ambulance began rolling that the intense pain began. It felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat in the left side of my chest; any time I tried to move my legs it just seemed to intensify. This couldn’t be good.
At the hospital they subjected me to a “CAT scan” (that’s Computerized Axial Tomography to us non-physician rubes) and informed me that I had a fractured rib. They also tested me for everything from K2 to opiates even though I told them I was “clean” and they were wasting their time. Nice try but no cigar guys; I turned up negative on all counts.
They kept me in the hospital about four or five hours, then discharged me with a bottle of pain pills and telling me to “Take it easy for a month or so” . I was forced to call my wife and Mom and have them come get me. My car was totaled; it was twelve years old and there was no salvaging it.
My father bought that car in 2002 when he retired and hardly drove it; when I got it from him in 2012 it only had about 60,000 miles on the odometer. Other than the paint being slightly faded from ten years of exposure to the Texas sun, it looked like it had just rolled off the showroom floor. Everything on it worked except for the CD player.
By the time I got home I hurt so bad I couldn’t even bend my legs without an intense pain shooting through my entire body. Former routine activities such as changing my socks or just getting in and out of bed became an excruciating ordeal; I had to have my wife help me do these things.
And if all of this wasn’t mortifying enough, our one-car family now had no vehicle. I got out the phone book and began looking up attorneys; I decided then and there I was going to sue the trucking company that owned that rig that pulled out in front of me and put me in this situation.
I picked an attorney who specialized in auto accident injuries who sent someone over that same day to talk to me. They sent me to a accident injury clinic staffed by a chiropractor who took X-rays of me and would later subject me to various treatments.
I called work and told them why I wasn’t there that day as well as requesting a couple of weeks of vacation time (which they granted) to recoup. For the next two weeks I laid around in agonizing pain and watched the bills roll in and felt useless and In The Way.
Our little chihuahua Sophie would lay on top of me and lick my face; even she seemed to know Something Was Wrong. I had to resort to using a cane to get in and out of bed by myself, and even sleeping under the influence of pain killers was difficult at best. If I rolled over the wrong way in bed I would wake up screaming in pain. The only break in my new routine was once a day a van from the Injury Clinic would roll up to the house and they would take me to the clinic for treatments.
Shortly before my father passed away he had purchased a new Toyota pickup which mostly sat unused in my Mom’s driveway since his passing. With Mom’s permission I borrowed it until we could figure out what to do about replacing my now-totaled Camry. We drove to the City auto pound to get the remainder of my salvageable belongings from the car. It had just rained and the auto pound property was a boggy, muddy mess; one of the employees drove us to where they had towed it. As we slowly drove past a long line of impounded vehicles, both driveable and totaled, I couldn’t help but wonder about the stories attached to each one.
The sight of my once-beautiful Camry smashed up beyond recognition almost brought me to my knees crying. As I got inside to pull out my Red Wing work shoes, a small tool box in the trunk and other items inside of it I looked in the back seat and imagined my wife’s children sitting there the previous summer before when we drove to Galveston and went on a Carnival cruise. I pictured in my mind’s eye our 9-year-old grandson hanging out the rear window with the wind whipping through his hair, hanging his tongue out and going: “Look at me! I’m a dog!” I imagined our chihuahua sitting on the transmission hump between my wife and I as we explored back roads through Texas ghost towns. I remembered us using that car to take the kids to see a movie for the first time at a drive-in theater. I recalled showing my grandson how to wash it at the car wash. We’ve still had the memories but we weren’t going to be doing any of those things in that car now. We drove away from the lot in sad silence. Goodbye old friend…
I spent a lot of time the next couple of weeks on the phone on hold trying to talk to the lawyers. We had to drive to the big courthouse downtown and get a copy of the police accident report. The process of suing someone in an injury accident I soon realized is a lot of Hurry Up and Wait. We started getting letters in the mail from agencies representing both the hospital I was taken to and the ambulance service. I spent a lot of time on the phone arguing with my auto insurance company and my health insurance company, both of whom stuck their heads in the sand when I told them I had hired an attorney. “Well we cant help you until you’ve reached a settlement, sorry.” No one seemed too interested or in a hurry to help me.
After two weeks of this I begged the chiropractor at the injury clinic to sign a release statement allowing me to go back to work; if no one was going to help me I obviously had to help myself. At work they seemed relieved I was back and there was a large back log of stuff to do. I went back immediately to working 12-hour shifts.
We finally, after a volley of phone calls, got my auto insurance company to cough up a check for about six grand for my car. Even though the car looked like new, it was still twelve years old and had little Blue Book value. I couldn’t see spending six grand on a used car with an unknown history so we bit the bullet and put that down on a new car and were now saddled with monthly car payments that were never in our budget, but at the very least we now had a dependable vehicle that got good gas mileage sitting in the driveway.
The next twenty-one months were spent it seems like going to my job, eating, sleeping, and spending my breaks at work with one ear pressed to the phone trying to get through to the attorneys while Muzak jazz played in my ear occasionally interrupted by a voice thanking me for my patience. “Your call IS important to us…”
I soon got the rhythm of it down: either call the attorneys early in the morning, before lunch and in the afternoon it was Forget it; they were always either In A Meeting or With A Client.
And even when I did get through to the attorney, there was almost never any news I wanted to hear. The attorneys for the trucking company did everything in their power to stall the process. At one point they offered us some piddly little amount that wouldn’t begin to pay my medical expenses.
In the interim my wife and I were living on almost nothing; almost every dime I made went out as fast as I could bring it in. We got good at shopping with coupons, buying stuff when it was on sale and just plain Doing Without. I picked up and sold aluminum cans like a homeless person and we sold things on Ebay I didn’t necessarily want to sell.
Almost two years later a court date was set, and when they figured out I was serious about going to court they stopped ignoring my attorney. We got around to depositions and finally one day a mediation date was set and my wife and I drove over to Dallas and met with two more attorneys in a huge steel and glass office building and a settlement was agreed upon after a nerve-racking two or three hours. We didn’t get rich off of the deal; in fact we settled for a fraction of what the attorney was originally asking. But the hospital will be paid and we got a small amount of cash “for pain and suffering” I can’t say I’m happy as much as I can say I’m relieved this miserable ordeal is finally over.
If you are ever in an injury accident, here’s a few words of advice: (1) Don’t talk to anybody from the time you enter an ambulance until you can talk to an attorney, who is the ONLY person you should talk to and on a related note (2) Hire an attorney, period! Just do it. The lawyers for the insurance companies are a species somewhere in between piranhas and sharks; they should only be dealt with by professionals. (3) Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. It won’t. Trust me on that one.