Readers' Submissions

Phuket Tuktuk Crash Diet





Being a farang from the US of A, I have become complacent from the American safety net of legal protection from culpable negligence. My recent experience was a rude awakening regarding Thailand's lack of these protections.

In Phuket in late January 2003 my Thai lady, her friend and I went to visit a mutual friend at Tesco Lotus. We hired a tuk-tuk in Patong but didn't realize our driver was thoroughly marinated until it was too late. He took a wrong turn, then managed to put his tuk-tuk in the way of a large delivery truck, which struck us broadside, dumped us over and threw me out of the vehicle. I recall nothing of this between seeing the truck and seeing the hospital ceiling from flat on my back on a gurney. My lady and her friend emerged relatively unscathed. Apparently I escaped death by a very slim margin. I know this because I was asked to make out a Last Will and Testament. I spent three agonizing months in two hospital Intensive Care Units and another month in a private room. My damages consisted of a ruptured spleen which was removed, a damaged lung, pancreas and gall bladder which were drained of fluids and infection through inserted tubes and treated with strong antibiotics, six rib fractures and three fractures of my right fibula – the thinner lower leg bone. The leg fractures were never set properly so the bone is healing bent and twisted. I also received more than my share of lacerations and abrasions. I had a tracheotomy and was on a respirator for the first three months. My out of pocket expenses exceeded 400,000 baht. Needless to say my finances have been severely drained, but Thailand health care is quite good and substantially less costly than in America. I still have some money for survival in paradise.

I am convalescing at an intolerably slow rate, but I am alive and grateful for good medical treatment here in Thailand. I can walk, but like a drunk and my stamina is that of an 80-year-old man. The benefit is that I lost over 16 kilograms / 35 pounds of weight I have been carrying for over 25 years and had been unable to lose before the accident. I now refer to this benefit as the "Phuket Tuk-tuk Crash Diet".

I received a small settlement from the local Tuk-tuk Association and a paltry contribution from the driver's insurance settlement. In America there would have been a host of eager lawyers ready to champion my case and recover plenty of compensation for my expenses, pain and suffering, and a tidy sum for their efforts as well. In Thailand I was told that, though the tuk-tuk driver was completely at fault and in violation of vehicle operation laws, my chances of legal financial recovery for medical bills and physical impairment were virtually non-existent. My legal fees would have to be paid up front. My case would take months to come to trial and, even if I prevailed, I would have to recover the compensation myself. In America, the tuk-tuk driver would have his driver licence revoked, be jailed for drunk driving, be required to attend alcoholic rehabilitation treatment and receive a severe increase in insurance premium payments. Here in Phuket, the driver was back in his repaired tuk-tuk while I was still in hospital, driving more tourists around, quite probably drunk most of the time.

After talking to several seasoned expats I have learned that had I, a farang, been at fault for a vehicle accident with a Thai victim, I would have been required to pay all medical bills when due and compensate the victim for lost income. If I were unable to pay, I would be either imprisoned or deported and never allowed to return to Thailand.

Expats regularly relate to me tales of the bureaucratic corruption, disparity of treatment of farangs versus Thais and the inconsistencies of law enforcement, yet here they remain in expat paradise. Well… Eden had at least ONE serpent.

Lessons learned:

1. Have adequate medical insurance coverage in Thailand.
2. Don't drive in Thailand!
3. Bring enough money to cover the unforeseen and unimaginable disaster.
4. Always remember: Nothing is certain, except that nothing is certain.

Stickman says:

Nasty. Unfortunately, we all know of the potential ramifications of a tuktuk accident. They were never designed wit protection in mind. You do raise a god point about liability. This is another of those issues that is just not fair in Thailand. Had you caused such an accident, you would have been required to pay. Hmmm, not fair at all. It is not right, but as long term foreigners in this country, we simply have to accept that things are like this, and do as much as possible to protect ourselves.