Life has its compensations

Manoeuvring the Majesty out of the small front garden in Finsbury Park was easy peasy – even with a mangled leg.

As I reversed the lightweight, ultra-low c of g scooter out of the gate, the smiling woman I’d been so eager to impress on that Saturday (and vice versa) in June 2003, was in bed a couple of floors above noisily pushing zeds. I bumped down the pavement and although I was heading for the same part of south London as I was on that fateful day, I rode off in completely the opposite direction.

On that first occasion I’d taken the Newington Green route and – as specifically directed by Hannah – the New North Road, where a very nice man in a white van made an ill-considered manoeuvre, which resulted in the destruction of my right knee and over three and a half years of surgery. However, I wasn’t going via the Angel because I thought the other way was jinxed or anything, I simply needed to call in at Chancery Lane to drop off a cheque.

As I’ve always been able to earn just about enough to feed my four kids and still afford to keep some sort of motorcycle on the road, money’s never really been the most important thing in my life. The last time I made a special journey to drop off a cheque, would’ve been when I was a courier and I was being paid to do so; but this was one I’d been waiting some time for. It was from Allianz Cornhill, the aforementioned van driver’s insurance company, and it was made out to the sum of £148,957.75, which was the net amount I’d agreed to accept in full and final settlement of my claim against their policyholder.

Ironically for at least a week after I arrived in hospital, I was unequivocally opposed to suing anybody. It was a matter of principle and I was determined that I wouldn’t be tempted just because I’d be a fool not to cash in once the opportunity had presented itself. It reached the stage where my stubbornness on the subject was the main topic of conversation whenever someone phoned or visited me in hospital. But I’d gone on record in The Rider’s Digest a few years earlier, when I stated how much I despised the litigious society we had inherited from the States. Nope, there was no way I was even going to consider it. Besides, the nice man in the van felt so awful about what he had done and he apologised so profusely, that I wouldn’t hear of setting lawyers on him – particularly as I subscribe to the view that the problem with the legal profession is that 99% of its members give the rest a bad name.

At the same time I was aware that my habitual response to the kind of pressure I’d been receiving, was to behave like an eight year old and stick my fingers in my ears and go, “La, la la la, la, la la…” So I rang my old friend and social work mentor John Burton so he could reassure me that I was indeed correct to resist the lure of the lucre. I’ve known John since the late 80’s, and he’s a man of great integrity. We’ve discussed an enormous range of thorny social, political, and philosophical quandaries over the years, and I have an enormous respect for his opinion. Moreover, as a lifetime motorcyclist (who used a Norton combo to transport his family when his girls were little) I knew he was the ideal person to reinforce my stand.

Consequently “Don’t be so bloody stupid!” wasn’t entirely what I expected; but that was John’s measured advice. He asked how much I reckoned I’d paid in insurance premiums over the previous 28 years, and suggested that legitimately reclaiming some of it at a time of need was hardly profiteering.

Obviously given my attitude to the legal profession, I didn’t know any good lawyers (unless you counted the ones in cemeteries) but there’d been Rider Support (RSS) ads in the Digest as long as I’d been writing for it, so I called them and a very nice chap turned up at my place as arranged, the day I came out of hospital. Having spent over 20 years working in an increasingly bureaucratic world, I’d developed an almost pathological aversion to paperwork, so when he sat in my living room and filled everything in for me, I warmed to RSS instantly.

Readers got a full report of my accident in issue 75 at the end of 2003 – complete with nasty details and excessive use of the F word – so, if only for their sake, I won’t revisit all that again (but if you enjoy a bit of gruesome detail presented in an entertaining manner, you can read it here). Suffice to say that having dislocated my knee and shattered my tibia, it was always going to be a while before I got back to work. Fortunately with all the years I’d put in, I was good for 6 months full pay and another 6 months on half pay; and if I’m entirely honest, after 32 year of work, I thought I was overdue for a sabbatical. However, when the money was about to stop, my employers carried out a risk assessment on my knee, and decided I couldn’t return to previous post – working with adolescents – so they asked if I’d be interested in a nice office job.

When I told them I’d rather someone tore my other leg off and beat me to death with it, than suffocate slowly in their bureaucratic morass, they seemed to sense my reluctance, and suggested that I might prefer early retirement on the grounds of ill health. Obviously, because I had frozen my pension about 7 years earlier (yeah, I know – D’oh), I wouldn’t receive the tiny payments until I was 60… I signed the paper.

And that’s how I came to be retired a month or so short of my 50th birthday, with an annuity that wouldn’t kick in for another 10 years and benefit payments that barely covered my rent, let alone providing money to support my children. If I’d had to deal with the insurance company myself, I’d have been in deep do do. Even though they’d accepted liability, I know I would have ended up with nothing because all the correspondence they sent me would have ended up in my “to do” pile – and that included a couple of items that had been there since 1993! Whereas, even I could manage to read sign and return the few things that RSS required of me.

In issue 86 I said: “Right I’m off to hospital now (1.30pm, 25th November 2004) where I’ll be having my knee replaced tomorrow morning. So if it all goes according to plan, with a fair wind, a bit of luck and a shitload of exercise/physio, I hope I’ll be writing in these pages about my comeback trip in these pages sometime next spring.”

Unfortunately it didn’t turn go according to plan, and the only bit of luck I had was that I didn’t lose my leg below the knee. You really don’t want the details, let’s just say I spent 5 weeks in a side room, stuffed with tubes, and I ended up on chatting terms with all the theatre staff. I only got out (the day before New Year’s Eve) because The Injury Care Clinic (TICCS – an organisation paid for by the insurance company to support my recovery) employed a local agency to supply a constant supply of (largely attractive) young Polish women to cook, clean, and care for me on a daily basis.

So, given my experience and the dire circumstances I would undoubtedly have faced if I hadn’t enlisted the support and expertise of RSS, have I rethought my anachronistic position vis-à-vis our “litigious society”? No, not in the slightest. I’m acutely aware that if I hadn’t received this payout, I would have been thoroughly screwed; and that above and beyond my injuries, my quality of life and that of my children, would have been affected enormously. But personally I see that as a bitter indictment of the way our society is structured, rather than an endorsement of the system I was reluctantly obliged to collude with.

Sure £150k sounds like a lot money, but it’s only the equivalent of around six years wages in my old job; and having cleared the debt I’d accumulated since the accident, I’m not even left with enough to buy a small flat near my kids. As for the private enterprise that made it possible for me to get out of hospital… That’s where a proper system of home help come in. If I lived in the kind of society I grew up aspiring to, the wider community (and yes by that I mean the government) would support all of its members at a time of need or crisis, irrespective of their ability to pay.

I realise there will be many readers for whom this is anathema (but I hope it doesn’t mean you’ll now dismiss anything sensible I’ve said in the past, or might say in the future about motorcycling) but I believe National Insurance should be just that. If we have to pay a bit more to cover all eventualities, so be it, what do you think your other insurance premiums do? The only difference with NI, is you wouldn’t need to pay a large chunk of that premium to pay the massive dividends of big financial institutions; and best of all it would remove the whole adversarial element, which, because it is conducted by incredibly expensive legal types, adds massively to everybody’s overall insurance costs.

Fortunately the ambulance service is one of the few areas in modern society that still delivers something akin to true equality. Even if when I found myself prostrate on the New North Road, I’d had a Supa Dupa Platinum Amex card, triple-extra BUPA Plus, fifty mill in offshore bank accounts, and a (bought) seat in the House of Lords, the ambulance crew couldn’t possibly have reached me any faster, treated me any better, or got to me to the hospital any quicker.

Special thanks to Michael Wheatley at RSS for all his support, good counsel, and all the little ways he went above and beyond. A good, honest and decent lawyer – and a top man to boot (must be because he’s a motorcyclist).

So, in a nutshell, this is the story of a decent white van driver, a reasonable insurance company, and a good honest lawyer. Tune in next month when I’ll be relating an incredible tale featuring the tooth fairy, Father Christmas, and an intelligent racist.

Dave Gurman


PS thanks to the Nat West bank for all their support (not) when things got really tight in mid-December. I told the account manager person who refused to extend my overdraft for a few weeks – after 26 years banking there – that the cheque would go into a new bank account and it did. Thanks to Pat Coyle and Abel Magwitch for saving me from having to cancel Christmas.

This first appeared in the first online issue of The Rider’s Digest – 164 – in March 2012. 


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