Because of the weather, Florida has many cyclists on the roadways. Unfortunately, Florida is also the deadliest state in the country for cyclists, probably in large part because cycling is a year round reality. What should you do if you are in an accident on your bicycle?
- Call the Police
Always call law enforcement after an accident. Report the crash, even if you don’t think you are hurt or that your bike has been damaged. Many bicyclists think they were not injured immediately following a crash, but then pain sets in later that day, or even further in the future. Sometimes damage to a bicycle is not obvious to the naked eye, and will not be apparent until it is inspected by the bike shop. This is why you should report all accidents to the police, even those that involve road conditions (like potholes), or dogs, or inanimate objects. If you are in a crash with a motor vehicle where the personal injuries or property damage are likely to exceed $500, you are legally obligated to report the crash, but even when not required by law, it is an important step to take to preserve your rights.
It is important that you document all of the important facts related to your accident. This includes the road conditions, eyewitnesses, the weather, and a diagram of the crash scene. If you have a smartphone, you should photograph the accident scene from all possible angles, and include any traffic signs or lights or other conditions relevant to the accident. Make sure to get the names and contact information for all of the eyewitnesses, and if possible, their accounts of the accident right at the scene, when it is fresh in people’s’ minds. Do not assume the police will take the names of all of the eyewitnesses, as that is not always the case. Once a witness leaves the scene, you may never see them again, so it is very important that you get contact information for each witness.
- Listen and Memorialize
You must not only listen carefully to what the other party says to you about their understanding of how the accident happened, but do what is possible to memorialize it. You can ask if you can record it on your smartphone, or you can take notes, but it is important that you memorialize what you are told, in case the story changes down the road.
As a general rule, it is best for anyone in an accident to keep your own commentary about the accident to an internal dialogue at this point. Anything you say can and will be used against you in later negotiations, or at a trial, so be careful what you say at the scene of an accident. Apologizing for the accident or orally accepting blame can seriously compromise your recovery. It is not possible for an assessment of fault to be made right after an accident, before the scene and sequence of events have been thoroughly analyzed and reviewed.
- Preserve Evidence
Whatever the condition of your bike, helmet, clothing, lighting, skin, and other property affected by the accident should be preserved. If you have not been hurt, you may be tempted to head straight to the bike shop to have your bike fixed. If you do that before discussing your case with an attorney, you might compromise your ability to fully recover for your damages. For example, damage to your handlebars or some other part of your bike or helmet might be proof of how the crash took place or illustrate how the other party was at fault, but if you fix it before it is thoroughly analyzed, this might not become known.
In some cases, the insurance carrier for the at-fault party may require the bike to be inspected before paying for repair or replacement parts. If the insurer did not have a chance to see the damage, they are not just going to take your word for it. Instead of running out to have your bike fixed, take careful photographs of the damage to the bike in its post-accident condition. You can also have the bike shop technician document the nature and extent of the damages. Make sure to keep the bike inside the bike shop or in a garage, so that the condition does not deteriorate. Your clothes, helmet, shoes, and everything else should be kept unwashed, as is, preserved from the time of the crash.
- Report the Crash to Your Car Insurer
Although it sounds strange, if you are in a bicycle accident, you should report it to your own car insurance company as soon as possible. You do not need to call the at-fault party’s insurance carrier; your insurer or your attorney will do that. However, if your bicycle accident was with a truck or a car, you may be entitled to some benefits under your own car insurance policy.
Even though you were not driving your car, Florida law requires your car insurance pay benefits under your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, of which you are required to carry at least $10,000. This means that 80 percent of your medical bills and 60 percent of any lost wages can come from your own policy. If you carry uninsured motorist coverage, you may also be able to collect benefits under that coverage, if your accident was with an uninsured driver. It is important to review an entire copy of your insurance policy to understand all of the potential benefits available to you. If you have any concerns that you are not being provided with access to coverage which you are entitled to, you should call an accident attorney for a consultation.
- Submit All Medical Bills to Your Own Auto Insurance First
Before submitting bills for hospital or doctor care to your health insurance provider for payment, you should ask them to first submit the bills to your auto insurance. Florida law makes car insurance primary, which means that it must pay all medical bills first, until coverage is exhausted, before your private health insurance must pay. Your auto insurance is on the hook for your medical bills even before the at-fault party, given Florida no fault law. However, your auto insurance provider cannot raise your rates because you were in an accident that was not your fault. Your insurance company is required to pay benefits under your PIP coverage in exchange for the premiums you pay, and it is first in line.
- Safeguard all of the Accident Documentation
Any documentation about the accident provided to you by law enforcement, such as a police report, copy of a citation issued to the at-fault party, or any other information, you should collect and give it to your attorney if you have one. If you do not have an attorney, safeguard the documents for later use. The information will usually contain important data, including the name of the other party’s insurance company. If the accident involved a dog, you should try to learn who the dog owner is before leaving the scene, and get information about the homeowner insurance policy carried by the dog owner. If the crash was the result of a dangerous road condition, like a pothole or a loose manhole cover, you should attempt to find out who is responsible for the condition, and the proper insurance policy which covers that risk.
- Make Sure Your Physical Injuries are Well Documented
It is important to create and safeguard documentation at the scene of the accident regarding your physical condition and injuries. Makes sure there are plenty of photographs of your physical condition, bruises, road rash, cuts, and any other physical injuries. If you are required to use crutches, wear a cast, or use some other assistive technology, have yourself photographed using them and keep the photographs as evidence. At the time when your injuries are acute, you should keep a diary of all of the aches and pains you are experiencing and activities you are limited from, as you will not remember these details a year from now, or even six months from now.
- Extensively Photograph the Crash Location
Take numerous photographs and video footage, if you are able, at the location where the crash occurred, even if the road does not look as if an accident has just occurred. By the time your case reaches trial, if that is necessary, new signs may be in place, the road may have been resurfaced, and other conditions that might have been related to your accident may no longer exist. It is important to document the scene of the accident before it changes. Any debris or skid marks left as a result of the accident should be heavily photographed, and if possible, place a coin in the picture or some other small item to provide a sense of scale.
- Do Not Ignore a Traffic Citation Issued to You
If you receive a citation at the scene of your accident, you should not ignore it. That does not mean that you have to go ahead and pay it, and if fault is an issue in your accident, you probably should contest the ticket. If you pay a ticket under Florida law without contesting it, your record will show you were “guilty” of the offense you were ticketed for. You do have the option to contest the ticket, or to try to work out a plea agreement of “without adjudication” which means you pay it, but without any admission or presumption of liability on your part. If you contest a ticket and you prevail, you will not be assessed any fines or costs. If you reach a plea agreement, you will be required to pay court costs, but you will not have a guilty plea on your record. If you are issued a ticket after being in an accident, you should consult an attorney quickly, as there is a deadline within which to respond, which can be less than 30 days.
- Consult an Attorney
Bicycle crashes can be serious, with ramifications in criminal court, traffic court, and civil court. There are compressed deadlines within which tickets must be addressed, or your rights might be compromised. You should at a minimum have a consultation with an attorney who handles bicycle accident claims regularly. Most initial consultations for matters like this can be had free of charge, and after that consultation you will be in a better position to determine whether or not you need an attorney to represent you. Like in accidents between two vehicles, the more complex and more severe the injuries are, the more likely it is you should retain an attorney.