Being involved in a bicycle accident can be frightening and traumatic, and what you do in the minutes and hours after the accident can make a big difference in terms of your recovery and your insurance claim. Know your rights, and should you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, follow these eight steps to protect yourself.
Stay put. Get immediate medical attention. If you’ve gone down hard on your bike, don’t make a move until help arrives. Feeling numbness in any of your extremities? If you’ve injured your spine or sustained internal injuries, any significant movement could put you at serious risk. Wait for professional help whenever you can do so safely.
Ask witnesses for their names and numbers right away. If you are in no condition to collect that information, ask someone to do it for you, and don’t be shy about it. You’d be amazed at how quickly caring accident witnesses can appear, and then fade away once they see that medical attention and/or the police have arrived. I believe in the goodness of my fellow humans, but in the end, lots of people who will eagerly tell you they “saw everything” often decide within a few minutes that it's easier not to get involved. Get their names and numbers right away so that they can be found again if their testimony is needed. If you’ve been injured, it will be!
Take pictures of the bicycle accident scene: the vehicles involved, your bike, and you. Take as many as you can. Too many is not enough. I’ve handled many cases where one single photograph, taken at the scene or later at the hospital, made all the difference later on in establishing liability – an essential element of an injured person’s claim for compensation. Once the vehicles are moved and the scene is cleaned up, you’ve lost an important opportunity to document what happened. If you can’t do it, ask someone else for help, and be sure to get their contact info so they can email you the pictures. Again, don’t be shy about this. Your case may depend on it, and once the opportunity is gone, it’s gone.
Don’t volunteer a lot of detail about how the accident happened. Once medical help arrives, or if you find yourself in a hospital emergency room, cooperate fully with your doctors and attending nurses, but only answer questions that they ask you specifically for the purpose of understanding your injuries. Quite often, accident victims are in shock and details can be hazy – especially if you’re on an IV with strong painkillers. If you give confusing information and someone writes it down wrong in your chart, those statements can come back to haunt you later if they differ from more accurate, subsequent statements and accounts rendered later on. Even if you are clear headed when you arrive at the hospital, I’ve seen cases where ER personnel simply misunderstood a patient’s description of the accident and put the wrong information down on the chart. Avoid this possibility by simply answering their questions related to your injuries and staying focused on your care and treatment.
If you are transported to a hospital, call a friend or loved one. Have them take photos of you and your injuries at the hospital or as soon as possible in the days thereafter (at an appropriate time, of course, so you don’t interfere with treatment and you do respect the privacy of other patients). These photos can be valuable in thoroughly documenting the nature and extent of your injuries sustained.
Follow up with all recommended medical treatment in the weeks and months following the accident. I cannot emphasize this enough. Unexplained gaps in treatment may have a significant, adverse effect upon your case.
File an immediate report with the local police if another vehicle caused your accident and took off. If you are physically unable to go to the appropriate police station to file a report, call the police to report it – from the hospital, if necessary. If you have uninsured motorist insurance coverage, your policy may cover your injuries regardless, but if you fail to file a timely police report, the odds are that your carrier will deny the claim. If that happens, you may have to file a “John Doe” suit against your own insurance carrier to secure your recovery – an uncertain recovery that could take much longer than might otherwise be necessary.
Don’t give statements to insurance adjusters - especially adjusters representing the other person’s insurance company - unless you have spoken with an attorney. Typically, you will receive a phone call from an adjuster within a day or two (sometimes within hours) of the accident. The adjusters will be caring and kind, and will attempt to establish a rapport with you before asking you “a few questions for the file,” and if it’s “okay to record a short statement from you.” Don’t do it. If they ask you to sign and fax over forms to begin the claims process, don’t do it. To ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you don’t compromise your claim, speak with an attorney before providing any information to an insurance company.
Have more questions? Please feel free to contact me to discuss your case or any of these critical first steps that you should follow if you’ve been involved in a cycling accident.