The Los Angeles Times recently reported that California leads the nation in bicycle accidents. While collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles account for about 2% of traffic accident fatalities nationwide, they represent 4% of fatal traffic accidents in California.
In addition to fatal accidents, almost 14,000 California bicyclists were injured in collisions with motor vehicles in 2012. Most of those collisions were primarily the fault of a careless motorist who failed to yield to a bicycle.
If you were injured in a bicycle accident that was caused by the negligence of a motor vehicle driver, you are entitled to compensation. To maximize the compensation you receive, here are five steps that you should follow.
California sets strict time limits for bringing personal injury claims. If you do not settle your case or file a lawsuit before the expiration of that time limit, you lose the right to seek compensation for your injuries. In most cases, that time limit is two years, but in special cases (including cases involving the drivers of government vehicles) a different time limit or additional procedures for bringing a claim might apply.
To make sure you understand the time limit that applies to your claim for compensation, you should obtain legal advice from a CA bicycle accident lawyer with experience. Never rely on information you receive from an insurance adjuster. Their job is to serve the interests of the insurance company, not your interests.
A lawyer may also want to begin an accident investigation immediately. If you wait too long, vital evidence such as skid marks might be lost. The sooner you see a personal injury lawyer, the more quickly an accident investigation can begin.
Do not repair or junk your damaged bicycle until you talk to your personal injury lawyer. At the very least, the lawyer will probably want to have pictures taken of the bicycle. Photographs of a mangled bicycle are the sort of “high impact” evidence that motivates a jury to award significant compensation. Since the lawyer may also want to use the damaged bicycle as an exhibit at trial, you need to preserve it until your lawyer tells you that it is safe to repair it.
The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words holds true in jury trials. Photographs of injuries are powerful evidence. If you have scratches, cuts, bruises, or other visible evidence of injuries, have pictures taken. Even better, see a personal injury lawyer immediately to get advice about the pictures you will need to prove your claim.
An insurance adjuster will probably contact you soon after the accident takes place. The adjuster will want to take your statement. Some adjusters try to “guide” your statement to make it seem that you are admitting fault for the accident. You should never talk to an insurance adjuster without getting advice from a personal injury attorney first.
The adjuster will also want to settle your case as quickly as possible. As a general rule, the sooner the insurance company settles, the less it pays.
The adjuster may want you to settle before you know the full extent of your injuries. In many cases, injuries that seem to have healed become troublesome again a few weeks later. If you settle your claim and then discover that you will need months of expensive physical therapy to rehabilitate your injury, it will be too late to recover that expense. California bicycle accident settlements are final and cannot be reopened if you later discover that you were entitled to more compensation than the amount you agreed to accept.
Too many bicycle injury victims decide to get on with their lives without following a doctor’s treatment recommendations. They stop going to physical therapy before they are released for they do not attend follow-up appointments. If you do that, the insurance adjuster (and possibly the jury) will assume you did not see more treatment because you were completely healed.
The settlement value of a personal injury case is tied the medical expenses you incur. The higher those expenses are, the more compensation an insurance adjuster will agree to give you for pain and suffering. If you stop going to the doctor before you are released from treatment, you artificially lower the compensation that you will receive.
Medical expenses are one of several factors that determine the compensation you should receive for your injuries. Others include the wages you lost because you were unable to work, whether you have a long-term or permanent disability, and the overall impact of your injuries upon your life. Whether you were partially at fault for the accident also plays a role.
There is no simple formula that allows you to compute a settlement value. Before you settle, discuss your case with an experienced personal injury lawyer. If your injuries are significant, you will nearly always obtain more money (even after deducting the attorney’s fee) if you hire the lawyer to negotiate a settlement for you.