A car accident was the last thing on my mind.
We were mere months from our overseas PCS when an impaired driver rear-ended me. One second I was sitting at a stoplight, one mile away from my home. The next, I was facing months of pain and coping.
An accident isn't something for which you can plan. Even more unexpected was that because we PCSed overseas a few months after my accident, my need for justice and fair retribution would be dismissed.
And while my pain is ongoing, you can learn from my situation.
At the time of my accident, we were four months out from overseas PCS, and my spouse was deployed, leaving me at home with our two children. My injuries brought preparations to a halt. The accident had sprained my hip and strained the muscles in my back. Though doctors told me to stay on bedrest for a week to heal my hip, my spouse was denied emergency leave. So I purchased crutches at the nearest drug store, borrowed a friend's car, and did my best to keep things normal for my kids.
Car accidents are traumatic events, and mine triggered a resurgence of my service-connected PTSD. I was often in a state of dissociation, focusing only on being okay for my daughters. Mommy was okay because Mommy had to be okay. Needing someone to guide me through the legal side and fight for me, I retained a lawyer.
The next two years overseas saw me in and out of physical therapy, and I still have pain in my hip that is likely arthritis. My certification as a personal trainer became worthless. I couldn't work because of my injuries and had to find alternative employment. That's not unusual for a military spouse, but it was especially devastating because it was the result of an accident that wasn't my fault.
The accident also forced us into a short sale because I wasn't able to properly prepare our home for sale. And when we tried to sell our vehicle, it turned out the body shop had "missed" the frame damage, so we couldn't sell it. As a result, we struggled financially even after the PCS because we were still paying stateside bills.
I hoped for a positive outcome. After all, I had watched the other driver fail a field sobriety test. The police had mentioned smelling alcohol on him. Surely, justice would prevail.
But just when I thought we were headed to trial, my video deposition was canceled. A week later, my lawyer recommended I accept the settlement he had previously stated was not enough. After everyone takes their piece and bills are paid, I'll be left with $2,000 in my pocket.
My lawyer explained that even though my case is worth more than the settlement, it is not worth enough to justify the cost and disruption of flights and time spent stateside for a trial. If I weren't a military spouse living overseas under military orders, it would have been worthwhile.
I was confused and furious. My losses total well over $2,000. The driver was impaired. Where was the disconnect? I requested a copy of the crash report and began digging into court records for answers and found that, instead of a drunk driving charge and despite the field sobriety test I witnessed, police charged him with reckless driving. The reason? Fatigue, the side effect of a drug he was taking to treat alcoholism.
I suffered physical, mental, and financial losses. The driver was able to walk away after paying a $200 fine and $91 in court costs. He has since had an actual Driving While Impaired (DWI) charge after driving with a blood alcohol of between .15 and .2%.
I don't know if there is still a chance for justice and fair retribution for me. On days when my hip hurts so much walking is difficult, considering a $2,000 settlement feels like salt in the wound. I worry the driver will seriously hurt or kill someone in the future. I am disappointed with the authorities.
And I wonder if I could've avoided this situation entirely by making better decisions for myself in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Here's what I wish I had known, and what you should do if you ever find yourself in a similar accident situation.
If you get into a car accident or another incident, call a trusted person to be a clear-headed advocate for you. Have them photograph, record and note everything. License plates, badge numbers, names, even things that seem insignificant. You never know when you will be dealing with a system that will fail you.
Say yes to the ambulance. Always have professionals assess you immediately, and follow up with your doctor. I don't know why they took my word that I didn't need an ambulance - the advocate mentioned above would have helped.
When seeking legal representation, look for a lawyer who is experienced in representing military families. I think a lot of the struggle I and my lawyer experienced was due to a lack of their understanding of the military.
My situation doesn't have to be the norm for another military family. Hopefully, when no one else is able to back us, we can back each other.