Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Washington Area Bicyclist Association Holds Crashing Seminar

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association had a seminar, "What to Do after a Crash"; they invited three attorneys, Peter Baskin and Bruce Deming, both of Virginia, and myself. The executive director of WABA, Shane Farthing, moderated. It was an informal roundtable presentation. The discussion included nuts and bolts real world advice as to what to do before and after a crash. It also included larger policy making plans such as reducing crashing through improving the infrastructure, street-level police education as to dealing with cyclists involved in accidents, increasing data flow through 911 involvement for better statistical analysis.

I prepared a summary of advice for post crash which I include below. Please call me at 301-294-3434 or if you have questions.

What to do in a crash as it applies to bicyclists in Maryland

You've just been struck by a car. It is a sudden, frightening and disorienting experience. Assuming you are not dead, unconscious or heavily disabled, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself those immediately and down the road should there ever need to be a criminal prosecution against the driver that hit you or a civil lawsuit.

Gen./common sense

Before the Accident
1. Wear a Helmet
2. Have Identification
3. Have a Will and Advanced Directives
4. Obey the Traffic Laws
5. Use Lights
6. Pretend That You Are the Invisible Man.

Immediately after the Accident
1. Remain at the scene
2. Be of assistance to others and yourself
3. Provide contact information to others involved in the accident
4. Get witness information
5. Call 911 for medical assistance and/or police assistance
6. Try to obtain and preserve evidence-identify the driver, identify the vehicle, get the tag number.
7. Try to get a statement from the defendant driver.

More specific to the above rules:

1. Maryland law requires a driver involved in an accident involving property damage or personal injury to remain at the scene and give identifying information. Such this applies whether or not you are at fault. If you are significantly injured get prompt medical help. Witnesses tend to be sympathetic if you are on the ground bleeding. People tend to be helpful but do not want to be involved down the road. Try to get their business card so you can contact them later. Find out if they can identify the vehicle that struck you.

2. Obviously if you are hurt remain down. In motorcycle racing after you crash they recommend that you wait a few seconds to get up because you might still be sliding. Bicycling slower but you do not want to compound your injury by popping up. Obviously if you are on a busy street do what you need to do to avoid being hit a second time. Do what you can to help yourself. In terms of helping yourself, do not curse at the other driver. That sort of thing as a way of affecting what happens at the scene and what happens in court. Recently I had a trial and my client admitted that he said to the other driver "look what you did to my flocking car". The other driver amplified on that and claimed that my client said "look what you did to my flocking car you stupid bitch".

3. Provide your contact information. Address, telephone number. Given get insurance information. Try to see the other person's insurance card. Probably at least 10% of drivers are uninsured.

4. Get witness information. This is critical. I think that people are generally good natured and will help somebody when they're down. They are often less willing down the road to health and litigation. Get their names, address, phone number, e-mail, find out what they have to say. It is critical because there is a general bias against bicyclists. The Metropolitan Police Department and Montgomery County Police Department have a prejudice against us. Insurance companies absolutely have a prejudice against us. If it is the word of the bicyclists against the word of the motorist, the bicyclists usually loses. An independent witness is key for establishing your case.

5. Call 911. That is what they are there for. Often it helps preserve evidence at the scene. It preserves the status quo. When they come do your best to present your side of the story in a pleasant manner. We are wild eyed crazies. Disabuse them of that notion. I understand that you may be bleeding and in shock but try to present your story in a pleasant manner. It can help with your credibility.

6. It hurts your case if you cannot identify the driver. Normally we go after the car and the license plate. Those are hard to see. So was the driver of course. Nonetheless, knowing that the driver is Caucasian, 200 pounds, approximately 50 years old with dark hair, male, clean-shaven is a helpful description. I believe that it was a person that hit me was not so helpful.

7. Anything that the driver says to you is evidence. Do not argue with the driver. Don't tell the other driver that she is a liar. Just get her statement. It is best if you have a witness listening to the statement. In Maryland it is illegal to tape record somebody else's statement without their permission. If you can get their permission and can tape them, go ahead and do it. Likewise, anything that you say is evidence that can be used against you.

Not Long after the Accident

1. If you receive a traffic citation, signed for it. That is not an admission of guilt. I have never seen an officer avoid a ticket after he has written it. After you receive the citation, affirmatively request a trial date. Do not argue with the officer about it. Again anything you say can be used against you.

2. Receive prompt medical attention if you need it. Do not try to make something out of nothing. But if you have an injury take steps to get treatment quickly. It is important for you medically. Doctors have the ability to diagnose and treat and make you feel better and avoid further problems. From a legal standpoint it develops a record that you had a real injury.

From Here on out

1. In Maryland there are several insurance companies that may relate to your accident. If you have a vehicle you have vehicle insurance that covers you including personal injury protection and uninsured motorist coverage. You may have renters or homeowners insurance. You may have health insurance. The other driver has vehicle insurance which will likely have personal injury protection coverage as well as liability coverage.

2. Do not give a recorded statement to the other insurance company. This can only go badly for you.

3. Keep your receipts and your medical records. Keep your lost wages. Take photographs of your injuries and property damage.
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