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Biking to Work? What You Need to Know After a Crash

By Thai Phi Le

May 17, 2016

cycling accident

You've memorized the hand signals for cyclists. You know the rules of the road. There are reflectors on your bike and you always wear a helmet. Despite all your safety precautions, when you pull out onto the street, there is always a chance of an accident.

What do you need to know if you get into an accident? We spoke with Peter Anderson of Grenier Law Group PLLC and John Mesirow of Mesirow & Associates PLLC, two bicycle accident legal experts, for their advice on how to ensure you recover both physically and financially after a crash.

You Are the Priority

If you are seriously injured, seek medical attention immediately. "Don't try to walk it off or brush it off," says Anderson. "That's important for a legal case." Anderson states that if a cyclist is seriously injured but delays seeking necessary treatment, insurance companies will often argue that the person was not as hurt as he or she reported.

Both Anderson and Mesirow emphasize that if you are badly hurt, go to the hospital right away.

Call the Police

If you are taken away in an ambulance, the police will typically take your statement at the hospital. If you do not need to go to the hospital, call the police. The officer will act as a neutral third party in documenting what happened and in filing a report. That report can be valuable evidence when negotiating with a defendant's insurance company, says Anderson. Also, don't forget to get the police officer's name and badge number for future reference.

Look for Witnesses

There may be bystanders who saw what happened. Get their contact information before they leave the scene. Without them "it's word on word," says Mesirow. "An independent witness will make a case."

Mesirow recalls a client who was hit by a driver in front of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. "The guy flat out lied and said the cyclist ran the light," says Mesirow. Disputing the driver's statement, the cyclist filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get footage from the camera at the convention center. "It's the most unbelievable picture. It's the exact moment he's getting drilled by this car. He's flying in the air, and his light is green in the background. That's why having a witness is so critical," Mesirow says.

Get Driver Information

Make sure to get the driver's address, phone number, insurance information, car make and model, and license plate number. This information will make it easier if you need to file a claim.

For Once, Pull Out That Phone

Snap photos of the scene. Document your injuries, from scraped knees to bloody chins. These will help to show the severity of the crash in a potential civil case, says Anderson. And don't forget the damage to your bike. If the frame is snapped in half or your front tire is completely bent, you want photos in case you have a property damage claim. The images can help you recover the cost of your bike or repairing it.

Do Not Talk to Insurance Companies

Only communicate through your lawyer, states Mesirow. "You have no interest in talking to the other driver's insurance company," he says. In D.C., you have three years to sue. "They make you feel like you have to [talk to them], but you don't. Do not call back."

Hold On to Damaged Goods

Unlike an ex's unclaimed possessions sitting in your house bringing back bad memories, Mesirow recommends keeping your busted bike and the clothes you wore the day of the accident. Those items may be useful if you go to trial.

Make a Crash Report

While optional, Anderson suggests using two crash reporting services that collect data to inform local policy and potentially fix poorly maintained streets and sidewalks that endanger cyclists.

  • Struck in DC: Tweet accident details and locations to @struckdc.
  • WABA Crash Tracker: The information collected helps the Washington Area Bicyclist Association work with local officials to create safer cycling conditions and ensure that cyclists are treated fairly when in an accident. 

Is your city the best for cycling? We're looking for D.C. Bar members around the world who want to tell us why your city reigns supreme. Submissions should be 300–500 words. E-mail Thai Phi Le at tle@dcbar.org for more information or questions.

Related Resources:

Who's at Fault?
By David O'Boyle
January 2015 Washington Lawyer feature story

Biking in the District: Is It Really Convenient?
By Andrea Ferster
D.C. Bar Voices blog post by former D.C. Bar president

The Virtue of a Two-Wheel Commute
By Thai Phi Le
May 2010 Washington Lawyer cover story