Stickman Readers' Submissions April 8th, 2010

When The Inevitable Struck Part 2

There has been a longer than intended hiatus between the conclusion to the story of my accident and its beginning
for which I apologise to those who might have been curious…pressure of work.

He Clinic Bangkok

My first day back at school from hospital was a long one. The school has a reputation for innovation and periodically teachers and education authorities come to see what we are up to. I had been asked to do a presentation on the intensive English program and I like to do things well. By the time I had thought through and completed my Powerpoint and laid out books, student work etc in the library it was past 1 AM. Not the rest and recovery needed.

Meanwhile Noy had returned from the hospital after protracted discussions and arguments with my antibiotics and painkillers plus a cash refund of the bulk, but not all, of my American Express deposit. I was out of pocket a few thousand baht, and since the hospital had not simply put through an electronic credit back to my American Express I was going to have to telegraphic transfer the money back to my NZ account to pay it off. 1,300 baht for the TT plus two way exchange losses and fees. Unfinished business. The disbursements were actually quite complicated. My basic medical insurance cover paid for by the school met the large proportion of my operation and hospital stay costs. The compulsory third party cover I had on the bike in order for it to be registered also included some accidental injury cover and paid out. The balance was to be reimbursed by the insurer of the woman who had caused the accident, but only on a claim by claim basis which was to prove a little tedious.

The school had arranged for me to stay in one of a few teacher rooms we have there for visiting teachers – it had been nicely cleaned and the bed made up with crisp white sheets but the mattress was one of those typically Thai constructions of wood and iron bars, devoid of springs or noticeable padding. My shoulder was already very sore from shifting books and I had an uncomfortable night. There was also no hot water. I am one of those wimps who when faced with a cold splash need to run furiously on the spot to distract myself from the sensation but with a bung shoulder this wasn’t an option and with the return of some chilly nights bathing was not a pleasant affair – except of course for the necessary ministrations of my wife who had to do quite a few things more for me and was only too glad to provide some of her own unique distractions. I couldn’t help but respond but paid the price in ramped up shoulder pain later.

CBD bangkok

It was very odd waking up to the sound of the school band doing their warm-up scales outside my window. But oh, it was so convenient to stroll a hundred metres down the playground to begin work. A big day was ahead. The local teacher and dignitary visit was to be followed by a visit to the police station to record the accident events for posterity, and hopefully settle my anticipated out of pocket expenses. The former went well and was all over by lunchtime. Noy and I arrived for the latter on time and waited for 20 minutes or so for the other parties to show: the woman who had turned in front of me and her insurance agent, and the representative of her insurance company. We went into an interview room to be interviewed by not less than a full police captain – apparently this is normal. My position was very simple and quite modest. The bike needed to be taken by truck to Udon Thani for repair as that was the nearest Kawasaki agent. I expected the woman or her insurance company to meet the actual cost of both repair and transport to the repair shop. The cost of TTs and exchange losses since I would need to continue using my Amex card to pay ensuing medical expenses such as the operation to remove the screw from my shoulder. The cost of local transport and expenses arising from having to stay in town for up to a month as I was unable to ride a motorbike or travel on the soong teeo.

The discussions did not begin well. The insurance company insisted they would only reimburse my medical expenses on a claim by claim basis for each separate hospital visit. I could not see why they could not give the hospital a payment authority but they wouldn’t do it and the police captain also insisted this was the only method. Secondly, they insisted that the bike be repaired by their own repairer in Khon Kaen. I was not accepting this: there is no Kawasaki dealer in KK and I wanted the bike repaired by someone familiar with it and able to provide original parts. Again, when I pushed my case the policeman lined up with the insurer. I was starting to get a very unpleasant feeling.

I pulled out my trump card. The hospital doctor had advised I not return to work for a month and provided me with a letter. I pulled that out together with a pay slip and pointed out that the usual practice in such circumstances was for the guilty party or their insurer to pay the salary for the period given off work by the doctor. Noy wanted me to insist on that, but I wasn’t interested in playing games: I just wanted enough to cover my actual expenses. I named the figure that I thought was adequate and listed the items it was required to cover. Noy translated. The policeman typed away on his laptop while reminding Noy and I that everything must be done “according to the law”. It was all bullshit of course, the insurance could pay out whatever they wanted to. Noy asked the woman responsible whether she was prepared to personally contribute anything towards my costs: her answer was no, she didn’t have any money and anyway she had to repair her car. Not willing to accept one baht of responsibility. Of course the woman was lying about her financial status: we later discovered she owned the very large animal feed supplies shop that we had been purchasing our hen food from!

Finally the policeman said that the insurance rep would take our proposal back to his company for consideration and suggested we met in another month when he returned from a trip to Bangkok. I wasn’t going to wait a month to hear the insurance company give us its opening gambit refusal and said so quite bluntly. Some of the impact was undoubtedly lost in Noy’s translation but I think the message came across and he then suggested we could meet in one week with a colleague. The policeman printed off his report, which we all signed and then it was taken to the desk sergeant(?) to be manually transcribed into a report book, which we all had to sign again and from which we then had to get our own photocopies. What should have been a 30 minute discussion and documentation had taken two and a half hours!

wonderland clinic

The week passed. We met again with a different policeman. The insurance company came in hard. They would only repair my bike at a local repair shop. If I wanted to take it to Udon they would only met the portion of the repair they considered equivalent to their local backyard repairer and would not meet the cost of transport. I was prepared. Kawasaki Thailand had advised they would only provide Kawasaki parts to an authorized Kawasaki dealer. I told them that the bike was going to Udon for repair the next day. The dealer would prepare an itemized quote for the work and provide it to the insurance company – who would have one week to send their own assessor to make a proper evaluation of the necessary repairs and cost of parts. If they did not accept this I was going to court.

The insurer then advised they would not settle my out of pocket expense claim without a letter from my doctor stating the total cost for my treatment. I could see where that was going: no responsibility accepted for any problems with my shoulder down the track. I pointed out that the doctor could not reasonably decide in advance whether I needed four or ten physiotherapy sessions for example. We argued in circles for ages and when we finally left it was looking doubtful whether we could get anywhere without going to court. A further meeting was scheduled in one week’s time. I obtained from the doctor a statement that did not quantify costs but specified the required future treatment: an operation to remove the screw two months from the original surgery, followed by removal of sutures two weeks after that and some physiotherapy. I asked Noy to call the insurer, deliver the letter and state our expectation that we would have a response to our expenses claim at the next meeting. A day before the meeting Noy called him. They had no response…they wanted to see how the treatment progressed. By now I was thoroughly pissed off. I hadn’t had a comfortable night since the accident. I told Noy to call him back, cancel the meeting and tell him we would take both the woman and the insurance company to court.

A few days later the original policeman arrived back from Bangkok and Noy called him. She was angry at the woman’s unwillingness to accept any responsibility and she let the policeman know in no uncertain terms that she expected the woman to bear some accountability. My Thai was inadequate to follow what was said other than that, but another meeting was scheduled.

One week later we met again. Small progress. The insurance company had sent their assessor who had negotiated directly with the dealer for a small discount in the repair bill. So now the bike repair could finally begin. But nothing else had changed except…the policeman’s attitude! He stated directly to the woman and the insurer that they needed to settle or the matter would go to court. He was happy to send his report to the court and to attend the hearing since he would be paid regardless. But the insurance company and the woman would have to pay much more. When the insurance company tried to counter with his previous argument that we would have to wait a very long time for it to go to court, the policeman said, no, he could make sure it goes quickly. The agent caved in and offered the sum we had originally asked for. Then Noy addressed the woman “you must pay something personally to my husband for his injury to show that you are sorry”. The policeman weighed in to support her. She wilted and offered 5,000 baht. “Not enough” said Noy. “Not enough”, said the policeman…can you pay 10,000. She offered 7,000. Deal done. All typed up printed off, signed, then down to the desk again for the manual transcription.

I walked out of the police station feeling happy and relieved but also a little puzzled at the policeman’s apparent change of sympathies. All became clear in one more week when we met again to receive the cheques from the insurance company and the woman. After we deposited them in the bank Noy returned to the police station with a gift for the policeman. I can’t say that I was pleased about her initiative, but I had to accept that she had protected my interests in possibly the only way open to her.

It is now two months since the accident. Last weekend Noy and I were married and the following day the screw was removed from my shoulder. The movement is already much freer but I still can’t lift my arm past shoulder height, and I can’t bear any weight on the shoulder even for a few seconds. I guess at my age healing just takes a lot longer and I have to accept that. I have been able to do little of the manual work around our little farm but the demands of a huge change program at our school have eaten up so much time it may not have made that much of a difference.

I’m not happy it happened and I enjoyed little of any of the associated experiences but bottom line: I was either lucky or blessed – not to have been injured more severely. To have had basic insurance cover with my employment. To have access to a decent hospital with good doctors and nurses, even if the administration side sucked a little. To have Noy and faithful friends who helped me in so many ways. To have not been stitched up at fault which in so many Thai-farang encounters seems inevitable and of which I was very afraid. And finally to have had most of my direct financial costs met in the end, even if the process of getting there was frustrating. To all those expat motorbike riders in Thailand I strongly advise:

  • Always wear a properly fitted full-face helmet, no matter how hot it is.

  • Make sure you have basic medical insurance cover or, if you prefer to self insure, a decent wad of cash in the bank.

  • Make sure you have a credit card in good standing, as you are unlikely to have enough cash in your pocket at the time an accident might happen.

  • Finally make sure you have one or two people fluent in Thai you could call on as your advocate and arranger if the inevitable happens to you.

  • Buy a car (only half-kidding!)

Stickman's thoughts:

Great follow up story.

I have to admit that the thought of being involved in an accident in Thailand has always perturbed me. The sorts of shenanigans you went through here really piss me off and I don't have anything like your patience.

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