What to do if you are in a bicycle-car collision

Related: Our list of lawyers in Missouri interested in working on cases involving bicyclists.

If you are involved in a collision with another vehicle while bicycling, a number of good online sources give advice on what to do next.

Bicycle Austin has a whole page about what to do if you are hit or harrassed--including what to do at the scene:

A Small Collision by Mr. Beattie on FlickR, flickr.com/photos/markrbeattie/5637648581/ License: CC by-nc-nd 2.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en
A Small Collision by Mr. Beattie on FlickR, flickr.com/photos/markrbeattie/5637648581/ License: CC by-nc-nd 2.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en

  • Memorize or write down the license plate number and a description of the motorist immediately. (By the way, you can look up license plates at PublicData.com.)
  • Tell a specific person to call 911. Do NOT yell, "SOMEBODY call 911."  Point to a specificperson and tell them to do it to make sure it gets done. If an ambulance is needed, tell your caller to ask for one.
  • Tell the motorist to NOT move his vehicle.  The final resting position of the vehicle is evidence, and moving it tampers with the evidence. If it's blocking traffic, too bad; the police will be there soon enough and will authorize moving the vehicle once they've seen where it stopped.
  • By the same token, don't move the bicycle, either.
  • Get the names and phone numbers of all the witnesses. If you are injured and unable to do so, try to get someone else to do this for you.
  • When the police show up, it is imperative that you not annoy them, otherwise their report may not be favorable to you. If they want to talk to the motorist first, let them, and BE QUIET even if the motorist is lying through his teeth about what happened -- don't interrupt. Wait until the police are finished with the motorist, and THEN give your statement.
  • Ask the police if the driver will be cited with any traffic violation. If they say no, ask why not. You can disagree with them and try to get them to issue a citation, but do NOT be argumentative or angry, or try to tell them how to do their job. You don't want to make an enemy out of the officer who's going to be writing the accident report.
  • If the incident was serious (driver was exceptionally reckless, someone was seriously injured or killed), ask if the driver will be arrested. If they say no, ask why not. (See previous item.)
  • Get the officers' names and badge numbers.

Bob Mionske of Bicycling Magazine has a four-part series about how to deal with the situation if you are in a bike-car accident.  Part 1 deals with what to do at the scene:

If a law enforcement officer is on the scene asking questions about the crash, make sure you give the officer your account of what happened, along with providing your name and address.

Try to remember everything the driver says; drivers will often apologize for causing the accident immediately after the crash, only to later deny that they admitted fault. Some drivers will not only deny causing the crash, they will even deny that they were there.

DO NOT let the driver leave the scene without providing you with his or her driver’s license and proof of insurance. Insist on seeing the actual driver’s license and proof of insurance. If the driver refuses to provide these, call the police immediately.

Note the color, make, model, and license plate number of the driver’s vehicle. Get this immediately, before the driver can have time to think about leaving the scene.

Collect the names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. If you are injured and cannot get the names of witnesses, and the driver’s information, ask a witness to do it for you. If police respond to the accident scene, they should collect this information, but there’s no guarantee that the responding officer will do a good job, so if you’re not too seriously injured, make sure that the police have the information before the driver leaves.

The next part deals with the the police report of the incident--and how you can set the record straight if the report has erroneous information:

In any case, a cyclist involved in a crash should check the police report for accuracy and have it amended if it’s erroneous. Doing so may strengthen your case with the driver’s insurance company, and prevent the need to go to trial. And if you were ticketed, an amended police report may convince prosecutors to drop the charges.

Try to review the report as soon as you are able. It will be more difficult to make changes after the report has been finalized.

Part 2* of the series talk about the immediate aftermath, such as whether you should seek medical care (answer--yes! even if you think you are not seriously injured) and documenting the incident:

If you want to be fairly compensated for your injuries and other losses, you must document everything, including medical care, time off of work, and property damage.

•    Take photos of your injuries and damaged property.
•    Save all of your bills, receipts, pay data, and repair estimates.
•    Preserve your damaged property as evidence.
•    Keep a written record of any impacts that the collision has had on you: missed work, pain, changes in your lifestyle, and any other effects on your life.
•    Record what you remember about the collision, road and weather conditions, and anything the driver said to the best of your ability. If you were using GPS, save your data.
•    The accident scene should be investigated for evidence about how the accident occurred, including obtaining skid-mark measurements, photographing the accident scene, taking measurements and making diagrams, and speaking with witnesses. Typically, when you hire an attorney, the attorney will conduct this investigation for you.

Part 3 of the series talks about the legal aftermath--dealing with attorneys, lawsuits, and the insurance companies.  For instance, should you handle your own case, or hire an attorney?

Handling your own case

  • Pros: Handling your own case will save you the cost of hiring an attorney.
  • Cons: You will be negotiating with professionals who know the pitfalls that put you at a disadvantage and who are very, very good at saving the insurance company money, so you may not actually end up netting more money in your pocket. Even more damaging, you may unwittingly make an error that is fatal to your claim.

Hiring an attorney

  • Pros: You will have an insured professional on your side who knows what the pitfalls are, and who will navigate through that potentially treacherous terrain for you.
  • Cons: You will be paying the attorney a percentage—usually 33%—of whatever the attorney collects from the insurance company on your behalf.

* Yes, I know, Bicycling Magazine doesn't seem to know how to count to 4.  There are four parts but they are numbered 1, nothing, 2, and 3.

Photo credit: A Small Collision by Mr. Beattie on FlickR, http://www.flickr.com/photos/markrbeattie/5637648581/ License: CC by-nc-nd 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en