The first question I ask cyclists who’ve been hit by a car is this: “Did the cops come?”
The difference between “Yes” and “No” can be huge when it comes to assigning liability for the collision. Often, riders get picked off on the way to work, or at some other inconvenient time, and they can’t be bothered to wait for the police, especially when the wait in LA can be substantial.
So the rider and the driver exchange information, the driver apologizes and says he’ll make things right, and the rider straggles home. Of course the next day the driver has hit the refresh button and somehow concocted a completely different view of events.
The most common view is this: “I’ll say anything in order to deny liability and keep my rates from going up.”
Good luck combating this new story. The driver’s insurance company denies the claim outright or only accepts 20% liability even though their insured was 100% at fault.
The police have wide discretion whether or not they come to a collision site, investigate the scene, and make a traffic collision report. Of course when they hear it’s a bicycle collision and that no one is hurt, they will often refuse to come.
What’s a fellow or fellowette to do? Answer: Make it clear when you call 911 that you are injured and need a cop to come investigate the collision, or that you are unsure whether you’re injured and need a cop to come investigate the collision. It’s important that you give as much detail as you can, because if the police don’t come and the driver later disputes liability, your lawyer can get a copy of the 911 call which will help your case.
Even without a cop on the scene, there’s a lot you can do to protect your rights. First, get the name of the driver and his insurance information. He’s required to exchange this info with you by law. Use your phone to photograph everything because—Surprise!—people sometimes lie. Photograph:
- The driver.
- His driver license.
- His car.
- His license plate.
- All damage, scratches, or contact marks.
- His insurance card.
- His registration card.
- The scene from multiple views, including skid marks.
- Injuries, torn clothing, wounds, broken bike frames, and parts.
- Surrounding buildings, businesses, signs, or people.
It’s also critical to get information from witnesses. Other than a police report, witnesses can offer the most credible evidence when it comes to proving the driver’s liability. Look for anybody who may have witnessed the accident, politely ask for their information, and whether they would be willing to provide a statement about what they saw. Photograph them and get their contact information.
Best of all, get a statement from the driver. Ask the driver to make a statement and record it on your phone. People are much likelier to tell the truth immediately after the collision than they are after they’ve left the bloodied and broken biker and witnesses who can contradict them.
Finally, after collecting all the evidence, and after you’ve sought treatment, head to the police station nearest the collision site and make your own traffic collision report. The police will take it, and although it’s weaker than having the officer on the scene, it’s much better than nothing especially when supported by your photos and other documentation.