It is summer 2010. I am driving into London along the motorway. The traffic is flowing, not quick, but flowing. Suddenly some speed merchant passes me up the inside on the emergency lane. I am just pondering the marital status of his parents when he cuts back into my lane.
I came around as a coach driver was helping me from my car. He made sure I was okay then gave me his card.
“Get in touch. It wasn’t your fault.”
He quickly hopped back into his coach, tooled it around the carnage and got his passengers away before the Police closed the road.
Still a bit dazed, I went around the other cars to check the people were okay. By and large they were: one woman had an egg sized bruise on her forehead, but was already calling a friend to let her know they’d be late. There were five of us in total: me, two in the car I had hit and one each in the other two cars which made up the Newton’s Cradle of cars I’d set off. One chap got on his way after swapping his details with the driver of the car he was in collision with. Otherwise, nothing was happening. Traffic was forcing its way through on the hard shoulder as we stood or sat about, dejectedly looking on. I asked the woman with bruised head if she’d called the police, we all looked at each other and laughed: no one had, so I did. When I asked for an ambulance, a precaution as there was head injury, it was as if they were all struck – at the same time – by neck pain.
There are reasons for such a simultaneous reaction. The adrenalin surge while the crash is ongoing prepares the body for trauma and numbs it to certain extent. Then, incident over, the relief and euphoria of survival kick in. Both of these effects were probably wearing off, or at least those are good clinical reasons for the phenomenon, but the most likely reason is best explained by any Injury Lawyers 4 U advertisement: Where there’s pain and blame there’s a claim.
My pain kicked in; the back of my head was hurting and I didn’t know why, so I sat down. When the police came I stood up and fell over.
Next I recall I was in the ambulance, with a collar round my neck, lying down on what I knew from my training as an Army medic to be a spine board, a device designed to limit further spinal damage while a casualty is moved to hospital. The ambulance wasn’t moving, we were still at the scene of the pile up. I heard the medic up front requesting more ambulances.
The cause of this mayhem, speed merchant who cut out of the bus lane and caused a whole load of emergency stops that I ploughed into the back of, probably knew nothing of it. Two cars written-off, two others damaged and a motorway closed for a hour were just the start of the cost of his hurry.
A traffic cop appeared in the still static ambulance and asked if I could tell him what happened. I said I’d give it a go. He cautioned me then said that the questions he was about to ask would start of very easy and then get very difficult.
“What’s your name? See, I said it’d start easy.”
And so it went…
“This is a straight road, it’s a beautiful day,” he popped his head out, “looking back I can see well over a mile. How did you not see the vehicle in front of you? I did say that they’d get harder,” he smiled.
“So you were aware of the car in front, you were distracted by a speeding vehicle in the bus lane, when you returned your eyes to your lane, the car in front was stopped and you saw it just before you collided, so is it fair to say that whilst driving, you were distracted and that you were too close to the vehicle in front to avoid collision should it suddenly stop?”
“So who, in your opinion is to blame for the collision?” the friendly copper asked.
“That would be … me …” I heard myself saying.
“Thank you sir, now would you like me to fetch you anything from your car?” You have to love the British Copper.
At the hospital I met the woman with the bruised head. We spoke and she was very nice. When I was discharged about two hours later, as I was waiting for my friend to collect me, I chatted to her brother. He was very nice too. These conversations I recall well and they bore no resemblance to what the lawyers were either told or made up later.
Those legal letters made me feel awful. I was already depressed. I couldn’t afford another car, nor, after the loss of no claims bonuses, to insure one. I was in real pain too, probably the most seriously injured of all from the collision with an unspotted whip fracture to the right clavicle, missed on the x-ray and only discovered two weeks later, yet the lawyers attacked me personally, suggesting I was drunk or seriously hung over and assuring me that the ambulatory and fit victims of the crash I had chatted to at the hospital were now struggling with life changing injuries and continual pain that was all my fault. Any confidence I had left evaporated; it was a cynical and purely greed driven ploy for money, a con, a victimless crime because it’s insurance right?
WRONG! I’m the victim and as a result I did not drive for five years.
Read part two…