A collision with an automobile is the greatest fear most people have about cycling; in fact, the fear of a collision with an automobile is the single greatest impediment to getting more people on bikes– many people want to ride, but don’t feel safe when bicycle infrastructure is inadequate or nonexistent.
Although a collision with an automobile is the greatest hazard cyclists face, there’s one reassuring bit of news: the fact is, it’s a relatively uncommon occurrence. Most bicycle accidents are in fact solo accidents involving a defect or some other hazard in the road or trail. Additionally, in most accidents, whether involving a road hazard or an automobile, the rider is a child. In short, collisions between adult cyclists and automobiles are relatively rare occurrences.
Nevertheless, occasionally a cyclist and an automobile will collide. Regardless of whether a bicycle accident is a solo accident, or involves a collision with an automobile, the accident is usually the result of somebody’s negligence– the driver’s negligence, the cyclist’s negligence, both the driver and the cyclist, or the local government responsible for the condition of the roads and trails. Because somebody is usually at fault in an accident, many cyclists prefer to call accidents “crashes” or “collisions,” instead of “accidents,” because they believe that the word “accident” means that nobody is to blame. In fact, “accident” simply means that the crash wasn’t the result of an intentional act– it wasn’t done “on purpose.” Even so, although it is “an accident,” the crash is almost always the result of somebody’s negligence. If the negligent party is the driver, the cyclist has a legal right to be compensated for his or her injuries.
Negotiations with the driver’s insurance company will always focus on which party was negligent, and to what degree. If the cyclist and the insurance company can agree on the question of negligence and the amount of damages, the case will be settled. If they cannot reach agreement, it will be necessary for the cyclist to prove that the driver was negligent in a court of law in order to recover compensation for the injuries received.
Despite the threat of a lawsuit, or rather, because of it, the vast majority of injury cases are settled out of court. However, because the legal and accident forensics issues can be complex, cyclists who have suffered anything more than very minor injuries should always discuss their case with an attorney experienced at handling bicycle accident cases before talking with the driver or the driver’s insurance company.
What to do if you are involved in a car-on-bike accident
Many drivers who cause accidents will initially apologize and accept blame for the accident, but later, after they have had time to consider the ramifications of their negligence, will deny that they were negligent. They may even deny that they were present at the accident scene!
Always wait for the police to respond to the accident scene so that an official report will be filed. Some cyclists do not realize that they have been injured until several hours after the accident. Seemingly minor injuries may develop into serious and permanent injuries. By then, it may be too late to identify the at-fault driver.
You should not attempt to negotiate with the at-fault driver. The driver may not give you accurate information about his or her identity, insurance coverage, or vehicle ownership. Many drivers who cause accidents will initially apologize and accept blame for the accident, but later, after they have had time to consider the ramifications of their negligence, will deny that they were negligent. They may even deny that they were present at the accident scene!
If an accident report is written, make sure that it’s accurate. The accident report will include the driver’s statement as well as all other witness statements. The responding officer may decide to ticket the driver, and this can be useful when trying to settle the case with the insurance company. The accident report should also include the cyclist’s statement; unfortunately, law enforcement officers don’t always take a statement from the cyclist before completing their report. In these instances, the officer may have already decided that the cyclist is at fault, without even talking to the cyclist. If you are able following the accident, make sure you give your statement to the officer. Regardless of whether an accident report is written, make sure that you have the driver’s name and contact info, as well as the names and contact info of any witnesses. If you are physically unable to gather this information, ask a witness to do it for you.
The accident scene should be investigated for information about how the accident occurred. The investigation should include obtaining skid mark measurements, photographing the accident scene, speaking with additional witnesses, and measuring and diagramming the accident scene.
Seek prompt medical treatment for your injuries. This is proof that you were in fact injured, and the medical records generated by the medical provider will help establish the extent of your injuries. Have several photos taken, from different angles and under different lighting, as soon as possible after your accident. Keep a journal (injury diary) of your physical symptoms, starting immediately after the accident, and make entries every couple of days.
Leave your bike and other damaged property in the same state it was after the accident. Take photos of all your damaged equipment and accessories.
Do not communicate with the insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Most cyclists want to be fair and reasonable with the insurance company. Unfortunately, when you communicate with the insurance company, they are gathering information to be used against you later. What you see as an effort on your part to communicate a fair and honest account of the accident will be seen by the insurance company as an opportunity to gather evidence in support of their argument that your negligence caused the accident.
Contact bicyclelaw.com or another personal injury attorney who understands bicycling. While many attorneys are competent to handle general injury cases, make sure your attorney has experience and is familiar with:
- Bicycle traffic laws
- Negotiating bicycle accident cases with insurance companies
- Trying bicycle accident cases in court
- The prevailing prejudice against cyclists by motorists and juries
- The names and functions of all bicycle components
- The speed bikes travel as well as braking and cornering
- Bicycle handling skills, techniques, and customs
- How to get the full replacement value property damage estimates for your bicycle
- Establishing the value of lost riding time
- Leading bicycle accident reconstruction experts
- Licensed forensic bicycle engineers
- Establishing the value of permanent diminished riding ability
For more information
For information about protecting yourself with insurance, see Insurance Advice.
For more in-depth information about accidents and insurance, see Bicycling & the Law.
For information on avoiding accidents before they occur, see How to Avoid Car-On-Bike Accidents .
Related Article: Why We Say “Bicycle Accidents” Are Not Accidents
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