A Boy and a Car Crash
Posted on behalf of RizkLaw on Feb 13, 2019 in Auto Accident
Alexander W. Pletch, Attorney at Law
But please call me Alex. I’m a lawyer at Rizk Law. I’ve worked here since I was a law student with hundreds of everyday people who have sought Rizk Law’s help with injury, insurance, and civil rights claims. My name Alexander, or “Alexos Andros” in ancient Greek, literally translates to “Defender of Man.” That’s who I am (Though I prefer “Defender of People,” man or woman).
My personal experiences absorbing the wrath of the “powers that be” have sparked my passion for helping the underdog. But so has my own brush with death when I rolled a car as a teenager. The struggle I faced overcoming that emotional trauma significantly deepened my empathy toward crash victims. In three words: I get it.
The Immortality of Youth: Boy Gets Car
When I was a kid, my high school was ten miles from “civilization,” I used to say. It took 45 minutes on the bus to get to school. Needing to bum rides to get anywhere, I felt trapped. A driver’s license meant “freedom at last.” Shortly after, I got my first car: a posh black 2005 Contour SVT. I was free. And freedom was beautiful!
I learned upon purchase/licensing, I had the only registered SVT the county (it’s a rare race car model of the ordinary Contour): the engine roared, the stereo cranked, and I had 200 horsepower underfoot. I would race down Washougal River Road, excited for the future.
Washougal River Road is a winding 45-mile-per-hour road hugging – you guessed it – the Washougal River. People died on it each year. But not me. As I hugged corners at 45, 55, 65 miles per hour, stories of death were just that: stories. Until one sunny April morning.
A Normal, Beautiful Morning: Boy Drives Car
I wasn’t speeding that morning. I’ve never been a morning person, so on my drives to school, I tended to stick to the speed limit. It rained the night before, and the sunshine pulled oil up from the road, making the surface slick. But the most absurd part of my memory of that morning is how normal everything felt. Like normal, I reached Big Eddy, a rather wide curve in the road. Like normal, I dropped into second gear. Like normal, I came around the bend at 35 miles per hour. I can’t blame the man for hugging corners. I always did. But as I came around the bend, some guy in his Toyota pickup was straddling the line opposite me. He entered my lane. I panicked. I tugged the wheel. My low-profile tires, designed for street racing, slid on the oily surface. And slid. And skidded. And slid. Looking back, I know exactly what I needed to do: ride it out. But I was 16. I spun the wheel back and forth as the tires mercilessly ignored me. And then they caught. Headed straight for a curved dirt wall off road.
Dancing With Death: Boy Rolls Cars
Adrenaline is a funny thing: how everything happens so fast and slow all at once. My heart pounds even now as I remember the wall coming toward me. Up I went. My car continued upwards. I was sideways. Air-bound. Then air-bound upside down. I remember my morning beverage pouring out in slow motion. Then gravity kicked in. The roof caved in toward me; the windshield crunched all-through. I couldn’t see anything. Except the smoke. I unbuckled my seatbelt. I fell to the ceiling. My door would not open. Panic-stricken, I tried the automatic window. It worked, but you would not believe how slowly a window opens upside down. I crawled out the window. I was alive. But the rest of that day is a blur, with slight fragments of memory. My mom chanced upon the scene – the horror on her face. When I realized I had walked around with only one shoe for an hour. A rather impolite police officer threatened reckless-driving citations without even knowing what happened. But I was alive.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Attorney Understands Fear
People who have never lived through trauma like a serious car accident do not understand how fear works in the brain. Our brains are hardwired for survival, which is amazing, but susceptible to breaking. Miraculously, the crash did not physically injure me. But I’ve taken the emotional toll with me everywhere since.
My friends used to jokingly refer to it as Alex’s “Car Tourettes.” In the passenger seat, I pound on imaginary breaks. I grip handles for dear life. For years, I would inadvertently blurt out in fear. In hindsight, I should have sought psychological help. I didn’t know what I was dealing with. So, I’ve suffered through it. That suffering, which too many of my clients understand, sums up like this: once you see own mortality – once you have tasted death – you never really are the same.
I take this lesson with me to the practice of law, nearly 15 years later. When clients ashamedly admit to serious anxiety following a crash, I listen. Not just because it’s my job to listen, but because I get it. I empathize. And when it comes time to listen to insurance adjusters who have clearly never suffered the same thing, I fight for them. Because, when I get back into my own car at the end of the day, I’m always on alert. I’m always on guard. And I’m afraid. Because I know that death is a possibility lying around every corner.