Last year, broker Karen Stokes was involved in a horrific car accident. But when she made her claim she saw the insurance industry as an unsympathetic beast

Ayear ago this week, I left the office at 5.40 pm, laden with my briefcase, laptop, and files under my arm. The next 20 minutes would set in train events that would put me on the brink of death, claim a life and open my eyes to an unhealthier side of the insurance industry.

I took the route through the Leicestershire villages to avoid the heavy traffic for the majority of my route, as two years before my car had been hit in the rear by a lorry. That night an impatient driver behind me wanted to push me along faster than I was prepared to go.

Suddenly, the world around me went into slow motion. I barely saw the car as it ploughed into me. I'd just rounded a left hand bend. The car was right in front of me. I had no time to react.

The next thing I remember was a lady asking if there was anyone they could get in touch with. I somehow summoned up the strength to provide my home telephone number. I couldn't see anything, as my airbag (which was later credited with saving my life) had knocked my glasses off my face. It was then I realised I'd been hit.

I felt I was dying. I slipped into unconsciousness again. I remember a paramedic telling me not to worry, that everything would be all right, and that my husband was coming. The noise around me was deafening, but I couldn't stay awake. I remember my husband talking to me through the broken driver's window telling me to "hang on".

I recall muffled voices, and a cacophony of machinery. It took the fire brigade nearly two hours to cut me free me from my car. As they lifted me from it I experienced unbelievable pain. I don't remember the journey onwards by ambulance to the Leicester Royal Infirmary. I was breathalysed on arrival - it hurt like hell. They got a reading on the third attempt of me trying to blow into the machine on one lung.

I had two broken ribs, a punctured lung, four broken back teeth, and many cuts and bruises to my face, chest, abdomen and legs. My right femur had broken half way up and come right through the side of my thigh. It was 'touch and go' during my first night in hospital. I had problems with my kidneys.

I came off the critical list three days later. I spent almost three weeks initially in hospital undergoing two operations on my leg. I had a steel rod inserted from my hip to my knee down the inside of my femur. The young lady (Miss C) who hit me died at the scene.

There was some difficulty in finding out whether she was insured or not. The police were not able to provide us with her insurance details.

The constable who had interviewed me rang me in hospital during the third week to explain that it looked like Miss C had insurance, but had defaulted on her premium instalments. Therefore at the time of the accident, he said, she was not insured. But he couldn't say all this for certain as they were still checking. That was the last time I heard from the police. My insurer had checked the motor insurance database and had found no record of Miss C's car.

Insider knowledge
Since the accident, the whole position regarding whether Miss C was insured or not has remained vague. No one seems to be able to tell me for certain. So, I have not felt it appropriate or sensitive to approach Miss C's family myself to verify this. It's very frustrating, and as time passes I feel it gets more difficult to determine.

In the months that have followed the accident, I have had to deal with claims for my written off car, a cancelled holiday and compensation for my injuries.

Throughout this process, I have been grateful for my 'insider knowledge' and lamented for the ordinary man in the street. I have been ashamed of the way my industry deals with claimants, particularly those like myself who are recovering from serious physical injuries.

I am still off work as the repair of my thigh and my femur has proved less than straightforward. It's been a tough physical and emotional journey. I crave my old life without pain. My life is on hold and in particular my professional life is slipping away from me.

Extra tax
Having endured all that I have endured these past months, my opinion on uninsured driving has been sharpened. I advocate charging for third party insurance either as part of the road tax system or as an extra tax on petrol. You would then buy top up cover from the market as at present. If the current system is not altered, then I think no-one should be allowed to pay for third party motor insurance on a monthly basis.

We can't pay for our road tax in this way, therefore why should we pay for the equally important road traffic act insurance cover any differently? The problem is even further exacerbated by the new rules on cancellation.

Now, any clever individual can play the system, arrange his motor insurance, get his policy and certificate and then cancel before 14 days are up. He can then merrily drive around in possession of his certificate until he gets caught - all the time putting honest drivers like you and me at risk. And I've been lucky enough to survive the consequences. IT

' Karen M Stokes ACII is divisional director with James Hampden Insurance Brokers

The insurer
It took the Halifax over three weeks to inspect my car. Even though my husband had explained where it was being stored the day after the accident, the insurer said it didn't know where it was. The Halifax initially said it would repair my car and offered my husband a courtesy car, when it was clear the car was beyond economic repair.

When it finally agreed to write the car off, I requested a cash settlement in lieu of a replacement car. I wanted a more robust car and asked whether we could agree on a cash indemnity basis instead.

Making a decision on this took several weeks. In the end, the figure it suggested was far too low, hence I decided to accept a replacement Fiat. I took delivery of this almost four months after my accident.

The renewal date of my policy was May 2004. I contacted the insurer when I received the renewal notice in early May to remind it I'd had an accident and that the subject matter of the insurance, my Fiat, no longer existed, and that it was supplying me with a new car.

I asked if it could suspend the policy until the new car became available. Should I return the certificate? No, it said that would not be necessary. The young lady at the end of the phone said she would get back to me if there was a problem. I heard nothing.

Policy renewed
Just before the renewal date, I was re-admitted to hospital. I rang a few days after renewal from my hospital bed. This time another young lady told me that the policy had been renewed as at 22 May and that the premium of £317.50 had been taken from my bank account.

Once I had calmed down, and explained that the car didn't even exist and that I was still unfit to drive anything anyway, she apologised. She said that she could see from the system that I'd had a claim, but that the insurer should have cancelled the policy at renewal. She said I would have to take out a new policy

But I wanted continuity. I didn't want to be classed as a new risk and, with two no-fault accidents behind me, not to be unfairly penalised. I wanted to suspend my policy. The insurer couldn't do this, so I asked it to send me proof of my no claims bonus and to cancel my policy. It said it couldn't cancel until I returned the certificate. I explained I was in hospital and would do so on my return home, which I did.

It cancelled the policy from the date it said it received my certificate and charged me a 'time on risk' for the period on risk after renewal date. It took many phone calls to a chargeable 0845 number and a letter of complaint to finally get all my money back and a small sum of compensation (£30). This was hassle I didn't need when I was so ill.

The lawyers
I was referred under the uninsured loss recovery extension I had under my motor insurance to a solicitor in Birmingham. To date, I have not met anyone from there face to face.

The whole process up to now has been difficult and frustrating. I have had to phone many times to obtain an update, again using a chargeable 0870 number. The solicitor rarely rings me.

I attended the inquest into the death of Miss C at Loughborough Coroner's Court on 24 June 2004. The barrister, whom my solicitor had appointed to represent me, was due to meet me three quarters of an hour before the start of the hearing to explain what would happen and answer any questions I might have, but he failed to turn up until five minutes before.

The inquest concluded that Miss C died an 'accidental death' and was responsible for the accident. She had crossed the white line on to my side of the road, the reason for which would never be known. I was exonerated from blame. The barrister hasn't yet filed his report with my solicitor.

Complaint to police
Up to December 2004, my solicitor kept saying that the police would not release the accident report. I wrote a letter of complaint to the Chief Constable of Leicestershire requesting that one be made available without further delay, and for final confirmation of whether Miss C was insured or not at the time of the accident.

The reply came that the police had never had such a request from my solicitor, but that if the solicitor contacted them they would deal with the request. They said that Miss C was not insured. I put the two parties in touch with one another.

The police then requested a sum of £720 from my solicitor to release the report. My solicitor had to get clearance for this sum from my legal expenses insurers - hence more delay.

Now I understand that my solicitor wants to pay only for the 'relevant' parts of the whole police report and is waiting for a breakdown of the report and its relevant costs from the police before proceeding.

On risk or not?
My solicitor to date has not submitted my claim to anyone. He says his investigations have revealed that Miss C was insured with another insurer up to 21 August 2004 although that insurer still hasn't replied regarding whether or not it was 'on risk' at the time of the accident (I assume if Miss C hadn't returned her certificate it was technically still on risk ).

So I am caught between the police saying she wasn't insured and my solicitor who thinks she was. And it's nearly a year on from the accident.

I must say I feel as though my solicitor has too many claims to deal with and that I am very low priority. He is not proactive but reactive.

Things only move forward if I kick up a fuss or I am the one doing the chasing. Thanks to my insurance background, I can do this, but what about the man in the street? I still have a fair way to go with my uninsured losses claim. I'd like to change horses, but it's too late now.

I'm told not to expect too much by way of compensation, so it's not the money I'm chasing.