WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE IN A BIKE/CAR CRASH
By Steven M. Magas, Ohio’s Bike Lawyer
Is Cycling “Safe?”
Statistically, we know that riding a bike on the roadway is a VERY safe thing. While there are 30-40,000 motorists who die on our roadways each year, the number of cyclist fatalities has dropped considerably from a high of 1000 or so in the mid-1970s to below 700 in 2008. While motorcycle and pedestrian deaths are UP, cycling deaths are DOWN despite millions of new riders in this latest “Bike Boom!”
One reason for this decrease in cyclist deaths nationwide, I’m sure, is that the demographics of the “typical” cyclist involved in a fatal crash have totally flip-flopped since 1975. Back in the 1970′s, MOST cycling fatalities involved kids – people under the age of 16 – which meant that riders were somewhat unpredictable. There were a lot of “Dart Out” cases where children on bikes would suddenly appear on the roadway after darting out from a driveway.
Today, virtually all cycling deaths involved adults – indeed, adult men. In 2009, almost 90%, 9 out of 10, of all cycling fatalities nationwide involved people OVER the age of 16, and 87% of those were men. The average age of a rider killed on the road today if over 40.Today’s adult riders are more likely to treat operating a bicycle on the roadway the same as driving a car. They stay in their lane, know the rules of the road and don’t act in stupid or unpredictable ways – most of the time, anyway.
Think about it – how many kids do you see riding their bikes all over town today? When I was a kid in the early 1970′s that’s what we did. We left the house in the morning on our bikes and maybe came home for lunch. We rode our bikes everywhere – all over town. Today, there are many more people in the world and many, MANY more cars. However, there aren’t all that many new roads. So, all those new people and new cars are sharing pretty much the same road space that was available to us 30+ years ago. Traffic DENSITY is way up – there are simply more cars packed in per mile than ever before. Today, safety concerns, increased traffic and the busy schedules of today’s youth demand that mom and dad DRIVE them around to their appointments.
In addition to this phenomenon, there is an increased interest in fitness in adults today. In the mid-1970′s the only “older” [i.e., adult] folks you saw riding bikes on a regular basis were the hard-core cyclists. Today, more and more adults are re-discovering the joy and fun of cycling and adding a fast ride to their fitness regimen. Bike Trails are well-used throughout the country. Many adult cyclists are also taking it to the streets to go fast and stay fit. You almost NEVER see a bike trail die from lack of use!
So, What Should You Do If You Are In A Crash??
Here are a few tips that can help BEFORE you’ve been in accident.
- Carry a cell phone. The cell phone can easily be a life-saver. All cell phones will make 911 calls even if it doesn’t have active service. You can also use today’s cell phones to document the scene by taking a LOT of pictures of the scene, the dog or car/bus/truck that got you, your injuries, the address, the dog’s owner, witnesses, etc. It can also record the GPS data from the crash site. [See my discussion below of The World’s First Bike Law App]. Also, save your GPS data, which can provide incredibly helpful information about your crash!
- Carry Identification & Insurance Information. It’s a good idea to copy your driver’s license and then write or type your emergency contact information, health, auto and homeowner’s insurance information, blood type and any medical conditions or allergies that you have on the back. Laminate the copy and keep it on your person when you ride. Also, remember to keep it up to date if there are any changes. Carrying your health insurance information may seem obvious, but why do you need your auto and homeowner’s info? Well, your AUTO policy may pay some of your medical bills or even your entire claim if the motorist that hit you is underinsured or you have a lot of out of pocket medical expenses. Your HOMEOWNER’s policy will protect you if someone says that YOU did something wrong, or negligent, and damaged their person or property!
- Carry a pen and paper. You may need to exchange information with other people at the accident. Get names and numbers of as many witnesses as possible in case they leave the area before the police arrive.
IF YOU ARE IN A BIKE CRASH…
- Don’t Move. MOST of my clients are hard-core cyclists who want to jump up and check on their bikes right away. Don’t do it. Just lie there and do a self-assessment. Have you lost consciousness? Can you feel/move your arms and legs? Are you bleeding? Do you have pain? Sharp pain? Shooting pain? Be able to describe how you are feeling to paramedics and EMT’s who will arrive.
- Call 911. Always wait for the police to respond to the accident scene so that an official report will be filed. Do not let anyone talk you out of calling the police. Many times cyclists do not realize that they have been injured until several hours after the accident. By then, it may be too late to identify the at-fault driver or properly document the crash if you let him/her drive away. At every “CSI” fan knows, once you leave the “crime scene” it cannot be duplicated. Many drivers who cause accidents will initially apologize and accept blame for the accident at the scene, but later, after they have time to consider the ramifications, will deny that they were negligent [and deny that they ever accepted responsibility]. This is particularly true in bicycle crashes. The police accident report should include the statements of all involved, as well as all other witness statements.
- Seek medical attention. Cyclists tend to be very self sufficient and tough. They view accepting EMT care as a sign of weakness. Many will try to turn down offers of medical attention. DON’T DO IT. Accept help this time. Let the EMT’s treat you. 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. GO to the E/R. Follow up with your family doc or a specialist if suggested. DO what your doc says to do.
- Take Photos. Take several photos from different angles and lighting of your injuries as soon as possible after the accident. You can’t have too many photos!! Photograph the scene, the bike, the other vehicle or dog, your wounds. The grosser and yuckier the better! If there is a camera at the scene, have someone start taking photos right away, before things get moved around. Get GOOD pix – not blurry, fleshy blobs. Good photos, good lighting, in focus, detailed.
- Keep a Journal. Keep a journal (injury diary) of your physical symptoms starting immediately after the accident and make entries every day. Call if your “Lawyer Report.” This will keep the other side from trying to get it down the road if you end up in litigation as communications with your lawyer are privileged.
- Don’t fix your bike right away. Riders tend to be tinkers and self-sufficient. They want to get back to RIDING and get the bike fixed quickly. You need to keep your bike and clothing in the condition that it was in after the accident. Get the property damage assessed by an expert. Get a report of the damage AND of the “value” of the bike. Under the law of many states, your property damage recovery cannot be greater than the value of the bike. Thus, if an insurer says your “used” bike [four year old Paramount] was only “worth” $100.00, they will try to cap your property damage claim at $100.00! Have a competent professional shop make an independent assessment of your bicycle and gear. You may need to get your friendly shop owner to write a “report” which outlines the basis of his/her opinion as to the value of your bike.
- Stay Organized. Keep every single piece of paper relating to the crash, your injuries and your recovery organized. You will need them either in handling the claim or when you meet with an attorney. Keep the discharge summaries, bills, “EOB’s” from your insurer and especially any type of film, X-ray, MRI, or disk with digital images! Often, you don’t have to be a radiologist to see the problem in an X-ray, or feel the associated pain. [Can you find the fractured clavicle or the screws in the ankle in the pictures below? The ankle surgeon drew a line showing where the bone was fractured in this bike/truck crash!]
- Call an Experienced BIKE Lawyer. As an avid cyclist and a trial lawyer with almost 30 years of experience handling serious injury and death claims, I know the risks cyclists face and understand the complexity of these claims. A crash can turn your life upside down as you try to get your bike fixed, get your medical bills paid and keep the collectors at bay. Dealing with insurance adjustors who demean and minimize your claim can be incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. Once hired, a good personal injury lawyer will take care of EVERYTHING related to your claim. I handle all communications with the obnoxious insurance company, fully investigate the crash and obtain all documents needed to maximize your recovery. I know what types of arguments insurers usually make in bike crashes and I know how to deal with them.
The World’s First BIKE LAW APP
We are currently working on developing the world’s first BIKE LAW APP for your cell phone. I will be discussing this in future posts – we are in the VERY early development stages at this point, but… we hope to provide you with information about the Law of riding a bicycle on the roadway along with a series of applications to help you if you are in a crash including
– GPS location of Crash
– Place to save Crash Photos
– Instructions for gathering Data and recording it at the scene
– One button access to The Bike Lawyer which will send me an email about the crash and call my cell phone.
Once the app is developed an “in play” we will let you know how to download it! We are also developing a “cell phone friendly” version of the website, so you can access the Bike Lawyer’s page on your cell phone without using a microscope to read it!
I hope you never need to implement any of these tips, but it always helps to be prepared. Good Luck and Good Riding!
Steve Magas, The Bike Lawyer
The Magas Firm
7733 Beechmont Ave., Suite 210
Cincinnati, OH 45255
Fax – 888-797-7097