Dear PoPville – Aftermath of a Bike Accident

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

Last week I was involved in a bike accident and I unfortunately broke the universal rule of accidents and didn’t call the police and failed to get his insurance information on the spot. I did however, get the man’s name, address and phone number. But now he won’t call me back.

My question is; what can I do now? I am physically okay but my bike will need a bunch of work. The accident was not my fault and I don’t want to have to shell out the money to fix my bike. I also don’t want to sue the man, I didn’t get the impression that he had a lot of resources and I don’t want to destroy his life just to fix my bike. But at the same time I would like some sort of compensation.

Since I’m sure that PoPviller’s will want to debate the merits of my accident I’ll describe it: I was going straight under a green light when a vehicle from the oncoming lane attempted to make a left turn right in front of me. I could do nothing but slam into the front quarter panel of his vehicle. Did a number on his windshield too…”

50 Comment

  • Since he won’t return your calls, maybe you can send him a letter explaining what you’ve said here: that you’re not looking to sue or to make his life miserable. You’d just like to talk with him about your bike. Maybe he’s just worried that you’re out to wring him dry.

    If he doesn’t respond to letters (send him a couple, maybe one certified, so he has to sign for it), then the next step would be to maybe (ugh!) contact a lawyer.

    I’m sure you’ll get a lot of responses from people advising you to hurt him in the worst possible ways, so I just wanted to put my two cents in for a civil course of action.

  • I think you’re probably out of luck without a police report. You probably couldn’t even sue him without that.

    Maybe a private investigator would be your best bet, to track him down and possibly arrange some sort of settlement.

  • Thanks, PoP for linking directly to the photo you used, rather than to my Flickr account in general. Much prefer it that way, thanks!
    -Mr. T in DC

  • You should still call the cops so they have it on record. Any witnesses? Get a quote to fix your bike, so if you do get in touch with him, you can get right to the point of how much it cost showing you’re not looking to rake him over the coals. I was in a similar situation, but luckily I got the person’s business card and left a 4th VM letting them know I would embarrass them by sending an email to [email protected] if my call wasn’t returned.

  • Sorry without a police report and/or witness, your out of luck. Its just your word versus his.

    • It was their words versus each other anyway. MPD doesn’t do accident reconstruction in cases like this, so all they have to go on is what the parties to the accident tell them.

      It’s highly likely that a police report would look something like this: “D1 reports driving in his car and cautiously attempting a legal left turn when B1 veered into oncoming traffic, hitting a baby, killing a dog and desecrating the American flag in the process. B1 reports that D1 turned suddenly and caused B1’s bicycle to collide with D1’s front quarter panel. No citations issued.”

      I’d try the person a couple of more times and then just file a small claims action. No lawyer or police report necessary.

    • Depending on how good (or terrible) his insurance company is you might be able to get some money out of it. I was in a situation where my vehicle was struck from behind. It was really just a tap, there were no apparent damages to either vehicle, and the other guy really didn’t want to get the police involved (nor did I for that matter). So we exchanged info and moved on.

      Later I found out he had contacted my insurance company claiming thousands of dollars of damages, and my insurance rates tripled. I called the guy directly to ask what the damages were, and he couldn’t come up with an answer. Even though he was at fault, the damages were nonexistant, and I had a witness who gave a statement, it was his word against mine because he was the first to report the “accident” and because my insurance company (Geico) does not stand up for its customers.

  • I’d try to file a police report.

    Your homeowners/renters insurance might be able to help, too. It would be worth a phone call to them to find out.

  • I had a similar incident about six months ago (a driver knocked me off my bike), the difference being that I do have a police report that states the driver was at fault.

    But my questions, and intentions, are similar to the OP. All I want is reimbursement to fix my bike, replace my broken helmet and lights…but am not sure if hiring a lawyer is a necessary (or financially viable) step.

    • maybe small claims court? I’ve never done it, and I’m sure it’s a PITA, but if you’re getting nowhere trying to get reimbursed, then I’d say give it a shot.

  • I’m glad you’re ok even if your bike isn’t. I had an accident exactly like that in college, only I hit the rear quarter of the car and flew over the trunk. Not much damage to the bike, but the incident (30 years ago?) taught me to wear a helmet whenever I get on my bike.

  • How did you not realize there were damages to the bike when it happened?

  • If you own a car, and have insurance (I would hope you do), your insurance might cover this. I was hit by a car as a pedestrian, and my car insurance got involved. However, without a police report, it’s probably unlikely that they could.

    • This is what his car insurance is for – an accident, whether with another car, a pedestrian, or a bike. If you get in an accident with a car, get the driver’s insurance information and call the police so that an accident report can be created.
      At this point, I would file (or at least try to file) a police report. There may be some way to get his insurance information from DMV. Whether you want to sue him or not, if he’s not getting back in contact with you there may not be another option.

  • File a report.

    Send him a letter of intent to sue.

    Provide him with an estimate for the costs to repair the bike. Tell him what you’d settle for.

  • Since you asked about debating the merits of the accident … I’m wondering if you were visible to the left-turning car? Were you, for example, following closely behind another car crossing in the same direction? Or did the left-turning car just not see you or miscalculate your speed? Also, were you going really fast? [Questions asked only in the interest of learning about bike safety, not to blame the victim!]

    • Hi M, the OP here, in response to your questions;
      1. Was I visible? I’m 6’5″, riding a large bike (though admittedly a little small for me), and wearing a blue helmet and a white t-shirt. I was passing a line of cars but I am definitely visible over them.
      2. I wasn’t following another car, I was just riding down the right side of the lane- on 13th street to give you an idea-
      3. I wouldn’t say it was “really fast” although I was rolling with some momentum. I think the driver just failed to check for anyone else on the road once he decided to go for the left turn.

      P.S. Thanks for the tips everyone.

      • So you were passing another vehicle, in the same lane, on the right?

        • Yes, I was passing another vehicle. Regardless of this fact I don’t see the driver being absolved of any responsibility. I was moving in the correct lane of travel for my form of transportation and he failed to check that all lanes which he was about to cross were clear.

          • Point. Set. Match.

            Were you in a bike lane? If no, were you passing a line of stopped cars into an intersection on the right? If yes, you should seriously rethink your plans to shake down the means-less driver and learn to follow the law.

          • Bike lane or not, I thought it was legal to lane split in DC? Also, vehicle making a left always must give right away.

          • I think you may not have been as visible as a car because the cars you were passing were blocking his line of sight to you. Legally he had to give the right of way, but he wasn’t expecting a bike to pop out. What makes me infer that the driver was being reckless is that if traffic crossing in your direction was heavy enough that you were passing it on your left, he would have had to really gun it to make his left turn in any event. Reckless, even if you weren’t crossing just then.

    • A left-turning car needs to look for EVERYThING potentially in the way. Honestly – are you really saying that “failure to be visible” is a crime?

      Though actually – sometimes say it is! If you’re on a bike on the road you need to be neon. And drivers – you need to be alert to scurrying voles.

      Come on – drivers – 2 minutes at 20 mph to deal with a cyclist? What’s that our of your life? Bikers with attitude? You’re not actually saving the planet – move the hell over. This whole topic should have died years ago.

      • I think bikes need to be really careful to make sure they’re visible to left-turning cars. Yes, the cars need to be careful, but if you’re hidden behind the car in front of you (or the car you’re passing in the bike line), then the left turner just thinks there’s a gap where the biker is … “failure to be visible” isn’t a crime, but this is just another reason why bikers need to approach intersections with the utmost caution rather than assuming that they can shoot through on the green.

        FWIW, the closest I’ve come to an accident in the 9/10 months I’ve been bike commuting here is in exactly this scenario — left turning car at intersection doesn’t see me because I was behind or beside another car going in my direction.

        • It’s also a good idea, when approaching the intersection, to check for turn signals and positioning of the cars there. Of course there are idiots who don’t use their turn signals at all, but usually you can guess which way they might be going by whether they are hugging one side of the lane. If it’s not obvious I proceed cautiously and make sure everyone can see me. Bikers can be hard to spot from witihn a vehicle, even if you’re driving carefully and paying close attention to your surroundings.

  • Seems like it wouldn’t hurt to pursue it a little more, but I’d be prepared to file this experience under “lessons learned.”

  • To everyone recommending a belated police report. I called and the guy told me to call 911 and ask- so I did and the 911 operator told me that they don’t file reports once the scene has been left.
    Was the operator just being a slug or can we not do this in DC?

    • Not sure I would have called 911 for a non-emergency that occurred in the past. That may have prompted the “we can’t help you now” response. The response itself doesn’t really make sense. Lots of police reports get filled out for things that occurred well in the past. If after being away from your home for a month you returned to find it had been broken into, you’d call the police and file a police report. The purpose of the report is not to help the police solve the crime but to document it.
      You should go to – not call – the police station for the district the accident occurred in and tell the person you need to file a police report.

      • saf

        911 is the only way to get in touch with the cops these days, unless you have someone’s direct line. Note that the officer at the station told the OP to call 911.

      • I’ve filed a police report over the phone. Called 311, left a message, police officer actually called me back within the hour and filed the report. It was awesome.

  • Yeah, even if the guy was initially nice and told you he would pay the damages, you really should have gotten a police report. Yeah, I’m not trying to rub it in, but I’d like for you, and PoP readers, to think about the other implications of calling the police. In order for the city to know what intersections are dangerous, whether bike lanes should be built, if police enforcement of dangerous driving needs to be stepped up etc.. they need good statistics. When you fail to call the police after a collision, this leads to an under-reporting of traffic collisions, which makes it harder for the city to know what actually goes on in the streets.
    Secondly, this was NOT an accident, so please do not call it one!!!!
    I know that vehicle collisions are often called accidents, but I strongly feel that we need to make the distinction between true accidents versus reckless behavior and bad driving. If a dog runs out into the street and someone swerves to avoid the dog and hits a mailbox, yeah, that is an accident. In this case, the driver recklessly cut you off. That wasn’t accidental, that was dangerous and careless behavior on the part of the driver. He should have at least gotten a ticket for putting your life at risk with his careless driving! So please, call this incident for what it was, and save the word ‘accident’ for cases when the collision truly couldn’t have been avoided.

    • What if the dog was chasing a bike? Accident or conspiracy?

    • Please check Webster’s for the definition of “accident”:

      “1. an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance b : lack of intention or necessity : chance
      2. a. an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
      b. an unexpected and medically important bodily event especially when injurious
      c. an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought ”

      Your definition of “accident” appears to be unique to yourself, and therefore, of little use for discussions with other persons.

      • Recklessly cutting off a bike results in an event that could have easily been foreseen (bike hitting car). I know this is splitting hairs, but the general usage of accident (in non-traffic related contexts) typically implies a large degree of chance. In this case, reckless behavior predictably caused damage. Using the above definition, if I threw a frozen turkey onto the highway and I just ‘happened’ to hit a car and killed a person, would that just be an ‘accident?’

        • Well if it was so predicatable why didn’t the biker avoid it?

          Sure sounds like an accident to me.

        • No. No. No. Stop illiteracy. “Accident” has nothing to do with chance. It does not mean something that could not have been foreseen. You are in a town of lawyers, so please do not embarrass yourself further. Accident means something bad happened and it was *not intentional.* Plainly the incident described was not intended by either party. And you are hereby banned from issuing any more sanctimonious/illiterate opinions. That is all.

          • “It does not mean something that could not have been foreseen. You are in a town of lawyers, so please do not embarrass yourself further.”

            This is indeed a town of lawyers, and we each have a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary on our shelf.

            “Accident, n. 1. An unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence; something that does not occur in the usual course of events or that could not be reasonably anticipated.”

    • I take your point about carelessness and bad driving, but the opposite of “accidental” is “intentional”.

      So, unless the driver saw the cyclist and thought to himself, “Hey! I’m gonna to run him down like a dog!” then this was indeed an accident.

      I don’t think anybody would excuse this kind of careless driving, but it’s just an unfortunate, avoidable (by the driver) accident.

      • There is actually another concept in the law called “recklessness,” which is useful here. It’s not accidental; it’s not intentional (e.g., he did not INTEND to hit the bike.) It’s “he should have known better than to try to shoot that gap in heavy traffic.”

    • I’m sure the driver didn’t intentionally cut him off. He may not have seen the biker, or misjudged his speed; hence accident being the correct word to describe. As much as vehicle drivers tend to threaten they really aren’t intending to do anything other than scare and intimidate.

    • Actually, it seems like it was the dog-owners fault for accidentally letting their dog loose so the car would destroy the mailbox of their fiercely hated next-door neighbor.

      And mailboxes…that’s quaint.

  • Mail a letter, but also tape a note to his door if the address is reasonable to get to. Let him know you know where he lives. Tape multiple notes if you don’t get a response in five to seven days.

    This is a great reason to carry renters insurance… CYA.

  • I haven’t really seen this advice yet: move on. The cost/hassle of trying to secure a financial settlement is likely to exceed the cost of fixing the bike and you lack the basic information, documents you need to force the issue.

  • A police report won’t do much. You need the tag # or insurance company name of the driver. If you have an auto policy of your own, your insurance will track down the driver’s policy using the tag number so you collect from his policy instead. But get a verbal estimate from a bike shop though (written estimates cost a fee.) That way you know if it’s worth pursuing. Truth is, the driver’s policy will try to depreciate your bike over 5 years. If it’s old, you may be SOL. Renters or homeowners would cover the bike, though it probably is not worth a home owners claim.

  • Had this same thing happen to me the first time I rode my bike in the city. I was coming north on Georgia (admittedly not the best street to bike on) and a driver did the same thing, likely thinking I wasn’t going that fast (my bike computer said around 18mph). I landed on their hood and cursed the hell out of them. They looked completely stunned and didn’t say a word. I got up and rode off. Aside from my wheels being a little out of true, I was fine, but pissed. Anyway, I’ve learned since then to be super aware of your surroundings when biking in this city and always expect the worse of drivers.

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