This year, I've written about goofy court decisions, odd crashes, the odd concept of "conspicuity" and motorcycle accident reconstruction. But, what should you do if you are actually involved in a crash? What kinds of things, which MANY people do, can actually HURT you in any claim arising out of the crash? This month, we'll take a look at the scene of your crash and the time immediately afterward. What should you do, if possible, before you leave the scene? What should you do SOON after any crash? A separate article will discuss the care and feeding of personal injury claims - just what ARE your rights under the law? What can you recover? I'll give you my take on the age-old question: Do You Really Need a Lawyer? For now, though, let's just look at the legal stuff that pops up when you crash!
Let's start with some assumptions. You are riding along and another motorist screws up - they don't see you, they turn left in front of you, they cut you off, they rear-end you, sideswipe you or otherwise negligently enter your right of way causing a crash. One minute you're riding, the next you're sliding!! What do you do?
In my experience, a rider's first words after a crash are often "How's my bike?" However, first, and foremost, understand that in ANY crash you are likely to get an "adrenaline rush." This can cause you to underestimate your injuries and jump up to confront the idiot who just clobbered you. please do try to AVOID this approach. Understand that you may be hurt, hurt badly in fact. Stay still and do a quick self-assessment - can you feel pain? Are you bleeding? Can you feel your extremities - move your fingers/toes - speak? Are you seeing double? Do you have a headache? You may be dazed, confused, scared. You should remember that even if you can move your head, you may have suffered a serious neck or back injury. Traumatic brain injuries, even slight or "mild" ones, can be extremely serious. You may not even realize that you lost consciousness. EMT's are told to NOT remover your helmet until a neck injury is ruled out, unless they need to start an airway. The reason? The risk of a making a neck or back injury worse.
So, what should do FIRST AND FOREMOST after you find yourself in a crash? Go back to Kindergarten and do a "Stop & Think!" Get Your Emotions Under Control. Assuming you are not lying on the interstate with cars zooming by, you should just sit there/lie there and make sure you are SAFE!
Is your cell phone on you? Pull it out and CALL 911 right away. Get the police to the scene. Get an ambulance to the scene. Do NOT let ANYONE convince you that the police don't need to be called!
If at all possible, do NOT move your bike until police arrive. An accident scene should be treated as a crime scene. Objects should be left where they ended up after a crash. Object thrown from the bike may provide clues to how the crash happened. Think "CSI: Your Town" and preserve the integrity of the scene. The "debris pattern" is one of many factors which accident reconstructionists look at when trying to figure out what happened and who was at fault. Once the bike or other vehicle is moved or the debris is picked or swept up, the "crime scene" becomes tainted and useless. As you know from "CSI" critical evidence is lost when the crime scene is messed up, so keep yours pristine as long as possible. If things ARE moved, try to make note of where things were so you can accurately report this later.
If you are able to move around and talk, check on the other individuals involved in the crash. Are they OK? Do they need help? Again, make sure the police and EMT's are on their way.
Did the other motorist stay or flee? In England recently, a group of school children foiled a bank robbery by chanting the license number a witness noted until one of their mates ran into the school for a paper and pencil! If the motorist who clobbered you tries to leave the scene, get all possible information - car year/make/model, license number or any part of it, descriptions of the driver and passengers. Leaving the scene of a crash, even a "minor" one is a crime in every state in the union. Further, it tends to be evidence of liability or, at worst, criminal intent and a total lack of respect for the safety of others!
Get the following information at the scene - WRITE IT DOWN:
IDENTIFY DRIVER/OWNER of VEHICLE & WITNESSES
· Driver Name, address, phone -home/cell/work. Driver's License number. SS# if on the license. All possible contact information.
· Owner Name, address, phone - home/cell/work, if it is different from the driver.
· Vehicle Year, make, model, VIN#, color, registration paperwork
· Driver's Insurance information Name of insurer, policy number & limits. Name of insurance agent [many people think their "agent" is their "insurer". The "agent" sells insurance. Independent agents sell for many different insurance companies. "Captive" agents, such as those for State Farm, only sell one company's insurance.
· Owner's Insurance Information [may be in the glove compartment if the driver does not have it. Call the owner from the scene otherwise]
· Driver's Employer Find out if the driver was "working" at the time of the crash and get the name, address, phone of the employer.
· Passengers Name, address & phone numbers of all
· Witnesses Get the Name, address, phone of all witnesses. If they do not want to get involved, write down car make/model & license number as well as a good description.
NOTE THE CONDITIONS
· Note the time and place of the crash, including the road and nearest address or intersection [or GPS if you got it!]
· Note the topography of the roadway, sketch or photograph if it is important.
· Road conditions - wet, slick, icy, snowy, gravel, condition of pavement
· Visibility - Sunny, cloudy, fog, snow/sleet -- Remember conditions change quickly - get it written down right away. Was the sun in the other driver's face? How hard was it raining? [I tried a case for several days based solely on a "factual dispute" between the two drivers over the amount of rain and level of visibility! ]
· Note any traffic controls - Lane lines, center lines, stop/yield signs, lights, school zone, warning signs, etc.
· Prepare a sketch of the location of the crash, the endpoint of the vehicles, gravel, slick spots, etc.
· Note anything about the other vehicle which may have contributed to the crash as well as crash-related damage
· Photographs are critical to virtually every case. In today's digital world, with 5.0 megapixel cameras available for $100.00 or so, it is ludicrous for people with a claim for property damage or injuries to NOT have excellent photographs as soon as possible!
· Take scene photos from many angles - the rider's perspective, the other guy's perspective. Show skid marks, signs, lights, etc. Take photos at the same time of day.
· Photograph your bike carefully. Again, take a lot of photographs from many angles.
· You can NOT take too many photos!
SOME DO NOTS:
· Do NOT discuss what happened - the facts - with anyone before the police arrive.
· Do NOT exchange anything other than personal and insurance information with the other motorist.
· Do NOT apologize or acknowledge fault in ANY way.
· Do NOT argue with anyone about what happened.
· Do NOT say "I'm OK" or words to that effect. [DO make note of any statement the other motorist makes relative fault, apologizing for causing the crash and the like.]
· Do NOT sign anything from anyone other than the police officer.
· Do NOT talk to ANYONE about your view or recollection of the crash except the police officer - this especially includes EMT's, witnesses, passers by, and the other driver.
· Do NOT discuss your insurance, prior claims, your ongoing worker's comp. claim, your prior back injury, your divorce, your money problems or the fact that this is the third time some idiot has hit you or any other similar "historical" events with anyone.
· If you have a "look" that screams "bad ass biker" [and you KNOW who you are] DO NOT act in a way that corroborates that image - be nice, sweet even, caring and empathic. The perceptions others get of you will effect what they say and "remember" later. Believe me, if their only image of you is of a big, mean-looking, leather clad "biker" screaming at witnesses who disagreed with his/her version of the facts, you can bet they will be influenced against you!
· Do NOT try to ride home if you are hurt, dazed, confused, or looking at a bike with cracked parts and bent wheels!
This is the beginning, and most critical part of preparing for a claim. To get good information at this stage is critical. "GIGO" - or "Garbage In/Garbage Out" is very true when it comes to reconstructing what happened and who was at fault from a police report. Next month I'll discuss what to do with this information, how personal injury claims "typically" work and steps to take to maximize the value of your case!
GOOD LUCK AND GOOD RIDING!