If you are involved in a collision, it’s important to know the steps to follow to ensure that you receive fair response from the police and collect information you may need for future legal issues. Even if you are not injured, follow this checklist as injuries can come up later. For more detailed information, see details below.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER A CRASH
- Tell the driver to stay until the police arrive. If they refuse to stay or don’t provide ID, get their and the car’s description, vehicle’s license plate # and state of issue.
- Call (or ask someone to call) 911 and ask for the police to come to the scene.
- Get name and contact info for any witnesses. Ask them to remain on the scene until police arrive, if possible.
- Ask for the driver’s license and insurance card. Write down name, address, date of birth, and insurance information.
When the Police Arrive
- Ask them to take an incident report (req’d for all bike collisions, SFPD General Order 9.02b).
- Get reporting police officer’s name and badge number.
- If you’ve been doored, ask the officer to cite the motorist for dooring (a violation of CVC 22517).
- Ask the officers to speak to witnesses, if possible.
- While a doctor’s report of your injury is important for insurance and/or legal action, you do not need to take an ambulance. If there is any complaint of pain, police must take an incident report (SFPD General Order 9.02b).
In the Days Soon After A Crash
- Contact witnesses to ask them to email you their version of what happened while it’s fresh in their mind. Email yourself a description of what happened with relevant information and capture as much detail as you can.
- Take good photos of your injuries and any bike damage. Get an estimate from a bike shop before making repairs.
- Request a copy of the incident report from the police.
More Information on Crash Response
File a police report. Police reports are powerful evidence. Immediately after the crash, ask anyone who may have seen the crash to call the police and to give you their contact information. Wait for the police at the scene. Insist that the police take a report. General Order 9.02 requires that the SFPD take a report for any case involving injury, which includes ‘complaint of pain’ — you do not need to get into an ambulance for the police to file a report. If you have not filed a report at the scene of the crash, you can do so at any police station after the fact.
If you suspect that the driver may have been using a cell phone or was otherwise distracted, be sure to tell the police officer and double-check that he or she has included that statement in the police report. Proof can be attained later by viewing the driver’s cell phone bill. The police will give you a receipt with instructions for attaining a copy. If the police report turns out to be inaccurate, go to the police station and submit a revision. The police report is one of the most important tools in settling your case with the insurance company.
Always make sure you get complete information about the driver and the vehicle involved in the incident. Copy down all of the information from their driver’s license, insurance card, and license plate. Get the contact information from every witness available. Follow up with the witnesses as soon as possible and ask them to email you what they remember immediately, before memories fade. By having them email it, you have a date-stamp of these statements.
Keep a detailed diary of everything in one place — go buy a small notebook just for this long process. Write everything down: descriptions of the incident, physical descriptions of everyone involved, a daily log of your injuries and pain, records of any economic losses, notes of all conversations relating to the crash, especially names and employee numbers of insurance agents and police. After every conversation with the insurance company or other party, send a confirming letter restating the points discussed. It can take a long time to settle your claim, so keep everything carefully organized.
Preserve all evidence. Take photos of your injuries each day, and photograph any damage to your bicycle or other personal property. Physical evidence, including your damaged bicycle or clothing should be kept intact. When you bring your bike to the shop, be sure to tell them it was the result of a crash and you plan to file a claim against the insurance company. They will detail all of the damages for you to make your claim easier.
Get medical treatment immediately because those medical records are extremely important to attaining a fair settlement. Medical care can be expensive, but if the driver is at fault you are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable medical expenses and pain and suffering caused by the injuries. In some cases, medical care providers will accept a lien in lieu of payment.
If the insurance company phones you, it is your right to refuse to speak with them when appropriate for you. Keep in mind that staff at insurance companies first job to is avoid paying claims, so be cautious what you say and speak to them only when you are in a place where you aren’t distracted and can focus on the issue at hand. Everything you say is recorded and can be used to refute your claim.
Your case may involve a crime. If the driver was acting recklessly, on purpose or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, California Penal Codes which may apply include (but are not limited to): assault; assault with a deadly weapon; battery; drunk or drug-influenced driving; hit and run; reckless driving; opening a door into (bicycle) traffic.
Even if you were not injured, you may still be entitled to recourse under the criminal law if you are the victim of a crime. Failure to signal a turn, turning from a lane other than alongside the curb, speeding, and running stop signs are all crimes, and are contributing factors to crashes — be sure the police understand what actions led to the crash.
If you are a victim of a crime, you are entitled to a police report and an investigation. If a police report was not taken at the scene, go immediately to the police station to make a report. In a few days, you can request a copy of the report. Check it for accuracy and report inaccuracies back at the police station. Follow up on the investigation with phone calls and letters. Speak with an attorney regarding your rights.
If you are the victim of a crime, you may be entitled to state victim support services. Information is available from the Victims of Crime Resource Center: 1-800-842-8467. If your injuries result from the driver’s criminal activity, you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to pain and suffering.
If you are severely injured, have long-term or permanent disabling injuries, or were injured in the course of a crime, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. If you do not know of a good lawyer you can trust, call your local bar association or see our list of bicycle-friendly lawyers. In addition to private lawyers, the Bar Association of San Francisco provides free consultation in some cases: 415-989-1616.
If your injuries are minor and your case uncomplicated, you may want to attempt to handle your case on your own. Benefits of representing yourself include: self-empowerment and considerable savings on fees. If you are at fault, your injuries are minor, and/or the driver is unknown or uninsured, it may be difficult to find an attorney who will help you on a contingency basis (contingency = instead of paying the attorney by the hour, the attorney takes a proportion of your settlement). Simply put, lawyers are expensive — if your injuries or damages are less than a few thousand dollars and you have the driver’s insurance information, a lawyer is probably not necessary.
You have a limited time to sue someone, after which no lawsuit can be filed by the injured person to seek compensation for his or her injuries. In California, the time limit is generally two years from the date of the incident. However, in cases involving a Local, County or State governmental entity or agency (for example, MUNI, AC Transit, CalTrans, BART, etc.), a governmental claim must be filed with the governmental entity within 6 months of the incident (and a lawsuit filed within a certain amount of time after the claim is filed or rejected).
This guide has been prepared as a resource for people involved in a bike/car crash or are seeking information should they ever be involved a crash. It is intended as an introductory educational tool only, and is not intended to provide legal advice or to replace legal counsel. The fault of crashes varies with each case, and this resource is written from the perspective of someone hit by a driver who was at fault. Always ride responsibly, predictably and follow the laws of the road. This guide was prepared by Mona Lisa Wallace, Esq. and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
The SF Bicycle Coalition works hard to protect bike riders by advocating for more bike lanes and improvements to reduce crashes. But, when crashes do occur, we provide resources like this guide to help people who choose to bike in San Francisco. If you are not currently a member of the SF Bicycle Coalition and found this information useful, please consider joining the SF Bicycle Coalition today.
Just because the car is bigger, does not necessarily make the driver at fault. For example, a bicycle illegally cutting across traffic in the middle of a block might be at fault. However, fault can be shared. If the driver had plenty of time to stop, but had been negligently distracted by his cell phone, the fault may be partially his. Usually, you don’t need to prove fault. As long as you make a reasonable argument that an insured driver was negligent, the insurance company will usually settle the claim. Insurance companies will usually prefer to pay a nominal claim settlement rather than pay the expense of going to court.