The Uncle And The Bike
I have been meaning to write this up and send it to you for some time, in the hope that you might post it on your site. I am not sure if it is too long for your weekly. I have tried to keep it concise. If you would like me to expand on anything or clarify, if you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know.
What happens when when there is a road accident and someone else is injured?
Saturday November 22nd 2008 is a date that will stick in my mind due to a car accident I had, in which a motorcyclist was seriously injured. I was up-country for the weekend staying at our country house with my family. I had just been to the local plant nursery and was driving back along a dead straight stretch of two line road with my young daughter in the SUV, along with 12 x 20 kg bags of potting soil.
There was a motorcyclist on the far left side, so far over he was not on the road. I could see straight ahead for about one mile and there was nothing coming from the opposite direction, so I changed into the right hand lane and started to pass the motorcyclist. The bike veered right onto the road and across one lane, so I braked hard and held the horn down. The elderly motorcyclist did not look or signal before his maneuver and acted as if he was deaf or did not know what was going on, as he kept coming further across the lanes and into my path. With tyres squealing I steered as far right as I could without leaving the road as there was a drop and two concrete posts on the right hand side of the road.
The motorbike impacted with the steel bull bars on the left hand front corner of my vehicle and then both the bike and uncle bounced along the left side, whereupon Uncle broke my wing mirror off with his head. My vehicle stopped and in my rear view mirror I was horrified to see Uncle motionless in the middle of the road. The bike had rebounded across the road on to the verge on the left side. <At this point some Thais would have put it in reverse, finished the old boy off and sped off – Stick>
There was no one behind or near us and therefore no witnesses to the accident. However, upon hearing the noise of the collision, several motorbikes that were about 150 yards ahead, made a U-turn and came towards us. Quite quickly people appeared out of the fields and the police were called. Meanwhile, to my relief, uncle was sitting up and holding his right ear, with which he had removed my wing mirror.
An ambulance came quite quickly and left with the casualty. The police arrived some time later, took photographs and measured the length of my skid marks on the far right hand side of the road. There was a dirt track off to the right just in front of us and my guess is that this is where uncle was heading.
Meanwhile my wife, the Kamnan who we knew well (head man of the Ampur) and another relative arrived. We then went to the police station. The police told us that they did not know who was right and who was wrong, but the vehicle at the back should watch out for the vehicle in front. Also another rule of thumb seemed to be that the bigger vehicle must watch out for the smaller vehicle. Someone had been injured and things were not looking good for me, even though uncle either had made a clear suicide attempt or he did not have a clue what was going on. He was riding an ancient motorcycle without a helmet, without insurance, without a driving licence, without signal lights and he had crossed two lanes without signaling or looking. He had not reacted to the sound of my vehicle’s horn or screeching tyres. It seemed to me that this was the nightmare accident that we all dread. The insurance man told me that if I had stayed in the left hand lane then I would have had the law on my side.
One thing that was very much in my favour though, was that I acted by showing nam jai (kindness) to the victim. From the police station we went to the hospital to visit uncle. His leg was broken in two places and it had been set in a cast with a pin inserted. We dropped off several boxes of milk, gave the family 7,000 baht for emergency supplies and promised to return in two weeks on our next weekend visit from Bangkok.
Then the insurance wrangle over money and blame started. I have never had much faith in insurance and my 9 year old SUV had only “chan sam” – 3rd level insurance. My thinking was that this insurance would cover damage to any other vehicle involved and if I wrecked the SUV due to my own fault, I could afford to ditch it and buy another vehicle. If I had had 1st class insurance, the process would have been a lot simpler.
Two weekends later we returned to the hospital and paid the 22,000 baht bill for uncle, who was a poor farmer and clearly could not have paid this bill himself. Uncle’s family though, were middle class folks from Bangkok and clearly did have some money. They wanted 100,000 baht in compensation plus a new motorbike. The claim was that 64 year old uncle was supporting two young men in their 20s. The two young men did seem a bit ineffectual, but could they not work for a living like everyone else does? My insurance man offered 30,000 baht. Failure to compromise and agree would result in a court case. One of Uncle’s close relatives was a middle aged officer in the armed forces and he threatened to have the insurance man killed and also threatened to cause big trouble for the Kamnan. As a result, the insurance company was not willing to offer any more and we appeared to be deadlocked.
At this point we engaged the services of a good lawyer and I had my vehicle repaired, which cost 40,000 baht. The case had to be settled between us within 6 months in order to escape going to court and after 5 months or so, the claim from Uncle’s family had been reduced firstly to 80,000 and finally to 60,000 baht, which I agreed to pay. The police informed the family that they would not be getting the motorbike back as it was not registered and the claim for a new bike was dropped.
As I had acted responsibly and responded by showing nam jai, the police closed the case without any charges. The police explained that although they felt that both parties were to blame, it was better to assign the blame to me because someone had been injured and the insurance company would then have to pay. The bill for the lawyer was 7,500 baht, plus another 7,500 baht which will be due when the insurance company reimburses me for the 60,000 baht that I paid out. According to my lawyer, although they may be slow to do so, the insurance company must reimburse me and if they do not they will lose if we go to court.
So there you have it. I am out a total of 104,000 baht of which I should see 60,000 baht back eventually. No charges were laid and Uncle had his hospital fees paid and received compensation.
The incident has made me even more cautious around motorcyclists who often do not look out for themselves, especially up-country. I am also much more liberal in using the horn, for what it is worth.
This is the scenario that every foreigner driving in Thailand dreads. It really is crazy that you were not at fault but yet you had to pay – and perhaps worse still, suffer much worry and anxiety that things might escalate and that it might go to court. If that situation had happened in the West as you described it, I am sure that the old boy would have faced charges for being an unlicensed driver, driving an unregistered vehicle etc.
I guess if there is a moral from this story it is the importance of first-class insurance. I maintain such insurance specifically to avoid situations like this. But even then, first-class insurance does not mean you can drive any way you want and it does not prevent you from facing prosecution.