Some of the most serious injuries occur in collisions between cars and cyclists (both motorcyclists and bicyclists). Since bike riders are obviously a lot more exposed and have nothing around them to protect them (except a good helmet, which is always a necessity), even a low-speed impact can cause devastating injuries. As a serious rider myself, I see firsthand how outright dangerous some motor vehicle operators can be near two-wheeled vehicles. Problems range from drivers not looking carefully enough, to sometimes going as far as their being downright hostile and angry at riders for no good reason.
The purpose of this blog entry is to give people injured in these collisions some helpful advice on what to do both immediately after a collision, as well as later on.
First, Things To Do At The Scene Of the Crash:
1. Check on everyone involved to see if they need immediate assistance or medical attention. This includes not only everyone in your car, but everyone in the other vehicle or vehicles involved. Don’t lose your temper, or start blaming anyone else for causing the crash, even if they did cause it. Emotions are high, and you can worry about those things later. Don’t discuss the cause of the crash with them; just see if they’re okay.
2. Call 911, to get both the police and medical personnel on their way to you if anyone is in pain or in other need of medical assistance.
3. Don’t move anyone, or try to provide medical assistance yourself unless you’re qualified and it can’t wait 30 seconds to call 911. Moving an injured person should only be done by professionals, in part because that can sometimes sever their spinal cord, causing paralysis.
4. Take some pictures with your cell phone of every vehicle involved. Of course, you should wait until after everyone’s safe, but try to do this before any of the vehicles are moved (making sure to get the tag or license plate number), skid marks, street signs, vehicle damages or anything else that’s relevant. Backup the pictures to a secure place, such as e-mailing them to a home computer.
5. Respectfully insist that the other people involved wait until the police arrive and complete a written report. Some drivers try to simply get you to agree to take their name, address and insurance information, but do not agree to this. There are many reasons for this, including that the police will need to see the positions of the vehicles, inspect the vehicles to note where and how much damage there is, and take statements from each driver and witness. If they start to leave, politely tell them that they’re required by law to stay in that it’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident. If they leave anyway, make note of the vehicle’s license plate number and description, as well as the person’s description.
6. Write down the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any eyewitnesses to the crash. I have had numerous cases where the police officer, for whatever reason, failed to interview eyewitnesses to the crash. More than once, those witnesses turned out to be the difference between winning and losing. Don’t rely on the police officer to get that information, because you may be disappointed — get it yourself.
7. When the police arrive, tell them exactly what happened.
8. Always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Don’t lie or exaggerate in any way. This is, of course, required, both morally and legally. But so there’s no misunderstandings, we want to very clearly state that Curran Law Firm will not represent anyone if we think they’re not being honest.
9. Do not refuse medical treatment, unless the impact was insignificant and you’re absolutely sure that you’re not injured or even “shaken up.” It’s just common sense that you should always get immediately examined by medical personnel after a crash, just as a precaution. Even if you have just a very minor amount of pain, report it. It may be nothing, but it could be a sign of a serious physical problem. Like an office worker who plays football on Sunday but doesn’t get sore until he wakes up Monday morning, you usually won’t get the full impact of your injuries until the next day, at the earliest. Unfortunately, if someone assumes the pain will go away and refuses to be examined, the insurance company and their lawyers will frequently try to twist the facts later to paint an honest victim who didn’t complain at the scene as someone who is now faking an injury. Again, just tell the truth.
10. Be sure to get the police officer’s name and incident number for future reference. Most police departments will also give you a slip of paper showing the incident or report number so that you can request a copy of the report when it’s finished.
Second, Things To Do Shortly After The Emergency Is Over:
1. Contact an experienced attorney, such as Robert Curran. We know that it sounds self-serving, but the sooner you get an experienced attorney involved, the better the odds of getting a fair settlement. The attorney will almost certainly be able to better locate, preserve and protect the relevant evidence and hire experts who can visit the scene before skid marks and other physical evidence disappears. If you do hire an attorney, tell everyone who contacts you about this crash that you can’t discuss it with them, and that they should speak to your attorney. Tell them, “I’m looking forward to cooperating with you, but my attorney said not to speak to anyone about this matter unless he’s present.” Then give them the attorney’s name and telephone number, and politely and apologetically hang up the phone.
2. Promptly take many high quality photographs of all of the physical evidence. A disposable camera is okay if there is no alternative, but, if possible, use a good digital camera set on the highest number of pixels it can take. The physical evidence to be photographed includes, at a minimum: (i) your vehicle, (ii) every other vehicle involved in the crash, (iii) the crash scene, showing skid marks, damaged physical objects such as telephone or streetlight poles, etc. and (iv) photographs of visible injury to you (such as bruises, scars, road rash, etc.) When taking photographs of a vehicle involved in the crash, imagine the vehicle at the center of a clock, facing 12 o’clock. Take pictures showing the whole vehicle while you’re standing a 12 o’clock, then 1 o’clock, then 2 o’clock, etc., all the way around the entire clock. Then go back and take many close-ups of each and every damaged part of the vehicle, as well as the entire interior, again from many different angles. Take at least two or three times as many pictures as you think you will need. Look at the photographs immediately afterwards, on a full-size computer monitor, to make sure that they’re not blurry and that the lighting is adequate. (Blurry pictures sometimes seem clear when viewed on the small monitor on the digital camera.) Immediately take more pictures if these did not turn out well. If you’re using a camera with film, get the pictures developed immediately and also have them put on CD, to give to your lawyer as a backup.
3. Take steps to preserve all of the physical evidence. There may be very serious consequences for you if you destroy evidence (even innocently, such as if you have photos of it, or just to avoid storage charges) or if you permit someone else to destroy evidence. For instance, there are certain types of claims, such as product liability claims, where it’s extremely difficult or impossible to win a suit against the manufacturer of a defective product if you no longer possess the product. When the evidence is something that you own, you can preserve it by keeping it safe and refusing to give anyone else permission to take it. That may be inconvenient, or interfere with your settlement with the insurance carrier for the person in fault, but if a serious injury has occurred, that’s a small price to pay for protecting your rights. When the evidence is something that someone else owns, you can do your best to preserve it by sending a certified mail, return receipt requested letter to the owner, the owner’s insurance company and anyone else involved (such as the police, towing company, storage lot, etc.), advising them that they are in possession of material evidence, and that they should not permit it to be destroyed or modified in any way. If you have not had a chance to photograph it yet, in your letter request permission to go photograph it. In an appropriate case, you may consider offering to buy the evidence for salvage value simply to preserve any potential products liability claims. For instance, if the defendant drove a defective vehicle that burst into flames and caused injury to you, keeping that vehicle available may be crucial to your suit against the vehicle manufacturer. If someone tells you that they are going to destroy important evidence in your claims, you should immediately hire an experienced attorney such as Curran Law Firm to go to court and get a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent the evidence from being destroyed.
4. When you go to your doctor, bring a written list of all your specific complaints, no matter how minor or insignificant they may seem to you, and tell the whole truth. Tell the doctor that you brought the list because you were afraid that you would forget some of your symptoms. By giving the doctor all of the pieces of the puzzle, you give the doctor the best chance of making a correct diagnosis, and maximizing your chance of recovery. (By the way, unless they ask, don’t mention to your doctor anything about getting a lawyer or filing a claim because unfortunately, many doctors will immediately write you off as a gold-digger or faker, regardless of how serious or significant your injury may be or the fact that you’re only trying to obtain just compensation.)
5. Follow your doctor’s advice. Don’t think that you know more than they do; you don’t. For instance, if the doctor gives you restrictions on how much you can lift, don’t try to lift more.
6. Keep every medical appointment unless you have a very good reason for missing it. If you must miss one, be sure to contact the doctor’s office in advance as a courtesy to let them know that you’ll be unable to keep your appointment, and explain why you can’t be there.
7. Get a bound notebook and use it to keep a written journal of notes to your lawyer, keeping track of everything that happens, including:
a list of all your physical complaints and problems;
a list of all medical appointments you had, all tests that were done, etc.
a description of all the telephone conversations you have (showing the name and phone number of the person you spoke to, which insurance company they were with, who they insured, the date and time of the call, what was said, etc.);
the dates of each time you missed work because you were physically unable to work, had to go to the doctor, or earned lower wages due to being on “light duty”, etc.
the cost of things you had to pay for that you would not otherwise have had to buy (such as medicines, babysitters, cab fares, etc.)
8. Get a calendar and use it to keep track of important events, such as your doctor’s appointments, days missed from work, plans you had that had to be canceled because of physical problems or doctor’s appointments, etc.
9. Get a copy of the police report from the police department. Read it carefully, and if anything is incorrect, promptly bring it to the attention of the reporting officer. If the officer will not fix it, file a supplemental report describing how the report is inaccurate.
10. DO NOT give a recorded statement to anyone. People are sometimes confused by this advice, thinking, “If I’m only going to tell the truth, why shouldn’t I give the insurance company a recorded statement?” The truth is that insurance companies don’t want a recorded statement from you to honestly figure out who is at fault; they can do that from a conversation with you without recording it. The only reason they want to record your statement is so they can use it in court against you later. They know that no one’s memory is perfect and can change somewhat. If I interviewed you today about a crash that happened yesterday, and then interviewed you again a week from today, asking the same questions, you would probably have minor changes in your story, even though you did your best to tell the truth both times. The insurance company is trying to create evidence that your story has changed, solely for the purpose of making you look like a liar. And here’s how I prove it to my clients: Instead of refusing to allow them to take a recorded statement from my client, I frequently send the insurance company a letter saying that I will allow them to take a recorded statement from my client, as long as they simultaneously allow me to take a recorded statement from their insured. In all the years I have been doing this, I have never once had an insurance company take me up on that offer. They’re not trying to get at the truth. They’re just trying to get as much ammunition as they can to use against you and minimize the value of your claim.
We have the knowledge, experience and medical resources to thoroughly evaluate your potential case. If you have been injured but are unsure if you have a case, please contact us as soon as you can. We are committed to hearing your story and providing the experienced counsel you need to make sound decisions.
Be Safe Out There!