Tim, age seventy-seven, felt small and embarrassed sitting in the wood-paneled, high-ceiling chamber of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He was there because he did not see a STOP sign. Thankfully Tim and his wife Irene were not hurt. But the three people in the car he hit all had hospital stays of two to five weeks. He never dreamed that hospital bills could cost so much. Tim visited each of them in the hospital and apologized for the harm he caused.
Irene had been after Tim for a year to get his eyes checked. He thought she was just nagging as she always did. But he grimly remembered her telling him a month before the accident that he had driven through a red light. He had put her off, reminding her that he never had a ticket and used to teach high school kids how to drive. In hindsight, maybe she was right.
Just that small mistake, driving through the STOP sign, took away the financial security Tim and Irene had set aside to help pay their expenses after they retired. Tim had worked as a mechanic and Irene was a school cafeteria worker during most of their marriage. They were so proud to have saved $500,000 for their retirement. Their two-bedroom house was paid off. Their only income was social security and Irene’s small pension from the state.
The people he hit sued Tim asking for their medical and other expenses. When it was all over, the judge ordered Tim to pay $1,200,000 in damages. His car insurance company only paid $300,000.
He was in court this morning to protect the few assets he and Irene had left. They lost all their savings and would be lucky to keep their home. He felt he failed Irene by losing their retirement security. Tomorrow he will look for a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart.
• Certified Elder Law National Attorney Directory: National Elder Law Foundation (nelf.org)
Susan M. Graham just published a book entitled “Can Lawyers Always Save the Day for Seniors? – True Retirement Stories”. She wrote this to share stories of common problems for elders that can be avoided or minimized if they just took time to plan and seek help.
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