Monday, December 24, 2007

My accident, part II: Dealing with the aftermath

If you didn’t read Part I, it is the post immediately before this one.

After my extreme misfortune of being involved in an accident, came a series of more fortunate circumstances.

I was not unconscious, but was in a somewhat dazed state and not able to think clearly for myself. It was a good thing that someone immediately called for medical help and the police.

The officer who responded was a motorcycle cop, and was maybe a little understanding of what it is like to be in the minority on two wheels, in a mindset that roads are for vehicles with a wheel in each corner.

I was taken to the hospital, and the police officer later visited me and took my statement before filing his police report. This was the second fortunate circumstance.

My attorney later told me that so often in an automobile/cyclist accident, the cyclist is seriously injured and goes to the hospital and the police officer only takes statements from the driver involved, and any witnesses. The accident report is filed and the injured cyclist never gets a chance to give their side of the story.

The police officer also wrote a citation for the female driver of the SUV I hit, for “Failure to Yield.” This turned out to be a pointless exercise, because some ten days later a judge dismissed the charge, because it was my word against hers. I did not even get a chance to describe the extent of my injuries.

The driver of the SUV stated in court; “I didn’t see him, I didn’t know what the Hell had hit the side of my vehicle.” I feel this was an admission of negligence, but the woman had some strange notion that because she didn’t see me, she was not at fault.

The day after my accident I called cycling attorney Gary Brustin; I called Gary because I had known him for many years. He is an avid cyclist, and owns a custom ‘dave moulton’ bike as well as a Fuso.

Gary Brustin handled the initial phase of the case, but because his business is in California he handed the case over to Peter Wilborn, an attorney from my home town of Charleston, SC. Peter is also an avid cyclist and specializes in cycling cases.

My next piece of good fortune was that there was a witness. Another female driver was also sitting in the center lane, behind the SUV, waiting to turn. She saw me, and saw the accident happen. My attorney contacted this witness and she came to his office and made a statement.

If this witness saw me, then the driver of the SUV should have also seen me, except that maybe she was focused on the “gap” in traffic, and where she was headed. However, my final piece of fortune was in the fact that the driver of the SUV had sufficient insurance coverage to meet the settlement.

My attorney Peter Wilborn has become a good friend and cycling companion; we have ridden many miles together, and sometimes we ride with a group of his other friends. He has shown me some quiet local country roads to ride on.

He advised me, and I pass this advice on, to increase my “uninsured and underinsured coverage” on my own auto insurance to $250,000 per person, $500,000 per accident.

I am not planning a repeat performance, but should I be in an accident with an underinsured motorist I can claim on my own auto insurance. If I were not to blame there would be no penalty imposed on me.

The other advice, if you are involved in an accident, call the police. Or get someone else to call and make sure the officer knows you wish to make a statement. If you are taken to the hospital before he arrives, have someone relay that message to him.

Get an attorney that specializes in cycling cases. The League of American Bicyclists has a list. A cycling attorney knows cyclist’s rights, and will know from experience how much to expect from a settlement, and get the best outcome.

An attorney will take a third of the settlement, but they take no money up front, and it is in their own interest to get the best settlement possible. Insurance companies are in the business if collecting money in the form of premiums, and paying out as little as possible in claims.

In my case, the insurance company stuck with their client’s claim that she was not to blame, and it was left up to me to prove otherwise. I could have collected the witness’s statement and negotiated this settlement on my own.

However, that would have been a tremendous amount of work and stress on my part, and I am convinced that the outcome would not have been as satisfactory as it was by leaving the case in the hands of a legal professional.


Anonymous said...

Ahhh...some good advice, Dave. Glad everything worked out and hope that the vision takes care of itself in due time.

By the way...Merry Christmas!!

Ed W said...

Thanks for posting that link to the LAB page on attorneys, Dave. It's much appreciated.

It's good to hear that you're making steady improvement.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Anonymous said...

It's strange that the case was dismissed after 10 days. The woman that squished me had a court date 6 weeks after the acident. I was told that if I didn't show up, the case would have been dismissed.

Yokota Fritz said...

That's very helpful information, Dave. Sorry about the accident, but it's good of you to relay your experiences for the rest of us to learn from.

Oh, and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS :-)

Anonymous said...

it pains me to read about your accident again, but am happy for you in terms of how it has turned out. I know it depends on the circumstances of the accident, but I agree with your advice on hiring a professional to represent you. Mr. Brustin also represented me in the accident I was involved in and it was certainly worth the peace of mind. In your case, it's great to hear that you also made a friend and a new riding partner. Thank you for your other advice as well. I wish you and yours a prosperous and "high-mileage" 2008.

Bob G
Granite Bay, CA