Know what to do in case of an accident, how the legal system works for bicycling accidents and collisions, how to best recover medical and other expenses. The information presented below is some practical advice on what to do if involved in an accident.

WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF AN ACCIDENT

AT THE SCENE

1. Get the names and number of any and all witnesses. Sometimes police do not get the names and numbers of all witnesses.
2.  Get the license plate number, name, address, phone number, driver's license number and insurance information.
3.  Accept medical treatment at the scene. If it turns out that you are injured and you refuse treatment at the scene, the insurance company can use that against you.

FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENT

1.Take photos of any visible injuries and of bicycle/vehicle damage RIGHT AWAY.

Take photos of the damage to your bicycle/vehicle before it is repaired.  These photos should show ALL damage.  If you have been injured, take photos of your visible injuries and any medical equipment you must wear/use as you recuperate.  If you happen to have a camera at the scene, take photos of the other vehicles involved.

2. See a healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY.  Do not delay treatment.

Insurance companies are often times unwilling to pay claims when someone does not get medical treatment right away.  If you don't have medical insurance, ask a medical provider to bill you.  Often, a lawyer can get medical providers to agree to a set payment at the end of the case.  Also, you may have medical payments coverage under an automobile policy that could cover your treatment.  If you have medical payments coverage, you should have your provider bill that coverage first.

3. Get an estimate of your vehicle/bicycle damage.

Be sure to get an estimate for the vehicle/bicycle involved in the accident.  Attorneys use these estimates in evaluating your claim and in negotiating the settlement of your claim.  If you have any other receipts such as towing and storage, you will also need to provide these documents.

4. Do not talk to the other party's insurance company or the other party involved.

What may appear to be an innocent remark on your part as to how the accident occurred or how you were injured may be distorted or changed by others-especially the other party's insurance company!  If anyone does attempt to contact you or talk to you about your case, simply refer that party to your attorney or consult with an attorney before you answer any questions.

5. Do not sign any papers without having an attorney review them first.

Sometimes the forms you are asked to sign seek information about you that is protected by privacy laws and you are not required to produce it.  Insurance companies notoriously send out forms that go well beyond the scope of your claim and seek to have you sign it so they can get other information about you and use it against you when it comes time to settle your claim.

6. Consult an attorney immediately.

An attorney can help you navigate this process much more easily than you could do it on your own.  Furthermore, if you have a claim against a city or state entity, the claim must be filed within 6 months of the date of the accident.  It is imperative that an attorney be involved as soon as possible to protect your rights to recover.  Additionally, an attorney will often be able to help you recover several times what you would be offered by an insurance company without representation.

IF YOU WITNESS AN ACCIDENT

Often times, insurance companies deny an injured person's claim because no witnesses came forward to help give an accurate description of how the accident occurred.  It is YOUR CIVIC DUTY to come forward if you witness an accident.  It is critical that independent witnesses come forward so that the injured party can attain justice.  Without independent witnesses, cases are often left to self-serving statements given by the parties involved, making it difficult for the aggrieved party to attain justice.  Police officers are very busy and sometimes don't get information from the witnesses involved.  It is important that you make sure the police get your information, or at the very least, you provide contact information to the party who was not at fault.  Remember this, if it were you that were injured by someone's negligence, you would want witnesses to come forward so that you could have justice.  Please be there for others in need as well.  

Here are some things you can do if you witness an accident:

1.Give a statement to the police at the scene, and leave them your name and phone number.
2. If there are no police at the scene, you should leave your name and phone number with the party you believe was not at fault.
3.If a person is attempting to flee the scene, get a license plate number and/or a description of the perpetrator and give that information to the police.
4.If a person is injured remain at the scene and call paramedics.






APPLICATION OF THE CALIFORNIA VEHICLE CODE TO BICYCLES

I.     Laws Applicable to Bicycle Use

Under the California Vehicle Code, bicyclists have all the same rights as drivers of motor vehicles, and are also subject to all provisions applicable to drivers of motor vehicles.  (See CVC Section 21200(a).  This includes riding a bicycle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  "It is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug..."  (See CVC Section 21200.5 (emphasis added)).  

II.     Equipment Requirements (See CVC Section 21201)

Must be equipped with a brake
May not have handlebars that require the bicyclist to elevate hands above his/her shoulders
Bicycles operated at night must have the following:
A lamp emitting white light visible from 300 feet in front of the bike and from the sides of the bike (may have lamp attached to the rider instead)
A red reflector on the rear of the bike visible from 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of the lawful high beams of a motor vehicle
White or yellow reflector on the pedals of the bike visible from the front and rear at a distance of 200 feet
White or yellow reflector on each side of the front of the bicycle and white or red reflector on each side of the rear of the bicycle

III.     Operation on Roadway (See CVC Sections 21202 - 21212)
When traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction, the bicyclist shall ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway
Exceptions to the rule of riding to the far right side of the lane are:
1) When passing/overtaking a bicycle moving in the same direction
2) When preparing for a left turn
When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (surface hazards, pedestrians,     
objects, etc.)
C.On a one-way street, the bicyclist may ride to the far left of the lane
A  bicyclist shall not carry any package that prevents the bicyclist from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars
When riding in bike lanes, same rules apply as when riding to the far right of the road, except that no bicyclist shall leave a bike lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety after giving a proper signal
No person may obstruct a bike lane
Persons under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets while bicycling

California Vehicle Code Website: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/vc/vc_index_b.htm


Some Things to Consider

1. Criminal Vs Civil Law
Criminal law is the state, city or federal government bringing a case against a person or entity in an effort to punish them for breaking the law. This might result in a fine or jail time, but will not usually reimburse an injured person to compensate them for medical expenses, lost wages or coverage for property damage, except where the Criminal Court orders restitution.  

Civil cases are cases or claims brought by an injured person against the person or entity causing the injury. Civil cases/ insurance claims are the path to seek reimbursement for medical costs, lost wages and coverage for property damage. The injured person must initiate a claim and/or the civil case. To seek payment for damages suffered in a collision when other methods have not succeeded, a civil lawsuit might be required.

2. Police Reports: In most cases a police officer's conclusion and opinion is not admissible in court.  If the police report concludes the bicyclist is at fault or the motorist is not at fault, this does not mean the bicyclist does not have a case. It is the jury's responsibility ultimately to determine the actual cause of the collision and assign responsibility and determine compensation, and juries do this without relying on
the police report's conclusions and opinions.    

3.If you are involved in a collision with either a motorist or injured by a dangerous road condition and you are not at fault, you are entitled to fair compensation or coverage for your injuries and properly damage.  Recovering these expenses will be up to you, and your ability to recover them increases when you have legal representation. The police and the criminal justice system may not directly help you. If will be up to you to obtain this reimbursement through the civil or insurance claims process.  Some options you have are:

Do nothing, hopefully your personal medical insurance will cover your injuries and you cover your expenses for damage to your bicycle. This is an easy option, but is not fair to you.  It does not provide you compensation for your bike damage, your pain and suffering, or for emotional distress and inconvenience.  A civil claim will compensate you for these things, in addition to medical and wage losses.  Doing nothing will not hold the careless motorist accountable.

File a claim with your automobile insurance company. Since a bicycle is considered a vehicle under most auto insurance policies, your automobile insurance policy might cover you.  If the other party was uninsured, and you had uninsured motorist coverage in place, you might be able to get a settlement from your own insurer, and then your insurance carrier can pursue the responsible motorist.


Work directly with the responsible motorist to uncover their auto insurance policy information and seek coverage under their policy by making a claim to cover your expenses. It may be difficult to achieve a fair settlement directly
through the responsible person's insurer without an attorney.

Hire a civil personal injury attorney to establish a claim and to work with the insurance companies and/or file a civil lawsuit to seek fair compensation for your injuries, lost wages and property damage. Talking to an attorney is usually free for the initial consultation.  Most attorneys will only collect their fee if they win and their fee is then paid out of the settlement they obtain for you.

If injured or involved in an accident due to a dangerous road condition, a claim or lawsuit against a public entity will be necessary to preserve your rights. This is more complex with tighter time limitations for giving notice of the claim to the public entity and then filing a lawsuit. An experienced attorney should be consulted.  Most public entity claims require a formal Notice of Claim be given to the public entity within 6 months of the accident.

This information was provided with assistance of personal injury attorney and trial lawyer Dawn Hassell, Esq. of The Hassell Law Group, a P.C., based in San Francisco CA. The Hassell Law Group can be reached at (415) 334-4111 or via email at hassell@sbcglobal.net. Their website is www.hasselllawgroup.com