Monday, March 12, 2012

Police, Bike Accidents and Witnesses.

Police are required to properly report an accident in which there is $1,500.00 of damage to property ($500.00 if there is no insurance) or an injury. Sometimes bicyclists have a hard time meeting this threshold if there was no injury and only damage to the bicycle, but you should always try to file a report.

Bicyclists often complain to me that police are less than sympathetic when a bicyclist is involved in a collision with an automobile regardless of who was actually at fault. While I have seen instances of police writing reports to favor drivers who were clearly at fault, my experience is that a lot of the time police are simply trying to be as unbiased as possible when filling out their paperwork.

What many people don't realize about civil cases is that the police report is often more or less irrelevant. First and foremost, unless the officer actually observed the accident they can't testify as to how the accident actually happened. They can testify as to what they observed at the scene, and under certain circumstances they can testify as to what the parties said. While the officer can offer opinions about her observations, those opinions have to be based on rational thought and real world observations or they won't sound credible, and a jury will disregard those portions of their testimony that don't add up. Also keep in mind that while some insurance companies may stake their whole defense on a favorable police report, generally the police report isn't admissible as evidence in a civil trial, so a jury in a civil trial will probably never see the police report.

I suspect that many bicyclists often alienate responding police officers after an accident. Adrenaline and fear run high in bicycle collisions, and often times I hear of a bicyclist screaming obscenities at a negligent driver after an accident. Such actions are often reported to police by bystanders or the driver, and such things can turn opinions against you.

You have to keep your cool. Think about your actions following the accident and how that will affect witnesses opinion of you. Keep in mind that while there are what appear to be a small minority of accidents where police seem to favor drivers for whatever reason, most of the time they are just trying to do their job. The key to getting a police officer to sympathize with you is to convince them that you are the victim.

The thing that officers can do that is most harmful is fail to document evidence. Most commonly this is seen in a failure to properly document witness information. When asked if they have any witnesses, clients often tell me that, "The police got the witness' information," only to find later on that no witness is recorded in the police report. For this reason you should never depend on a police officer to get witness information for you. Always get the name and contact information of anyone who may have witnessed your collision.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Evanston Cell Phone Ban

On Wednesday the Sun Times reported that Evanston is contemplating banning all cell phone use- even with hands-free devices, while driving. The matter has been referred to the Evanston City counsel for a vote. If enacted, the measure would prohibit the use of cellphones while driving in the City of Evanston.

Statistics have long shown that talking on a cellphone greatly increases the chances that a driver will be involved in a collision. Studies have consistently shown that the risk of causing a collision is not affected by whether or not the driver is using a hands free device at the time of the accident. the problem is not that the driver has a phone in their hand, rather it is that they are distracted by their activities apart from driving. Studies have equated cell phone use while driving to driving drunk.

Evanston gets my applause. While I can appreciate the desire for a driver to be in communication, I think in a complicated urban area or residential area it is imperative that drivers use all their faculties to concentrate on the most important task at hand- driving.

Evanston mulls banning all cellphone use while driving — even hands-free - Chicago Sun-Times

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hit-and-Run Accidents... The Numbers

Since I've been so focused on hit-and-runs lately, I wanted to try to figure out what the actual prevalence is of hit-and-run accidents in Chicago. The guys at Grid Chicago have been crunching crash numbers. They found that approximately 32.7% of reported auto/pedestrian crashes were hit-and-runs and 24.4% of auto/bicyclist collisions. This data was compiled from the calendar years 2005 through 2010.

The most interesting piece of data revealed that in 2010 the percentage of hit-and-run drivers in Chicago was more than twice that of the rest of the state. While Grid Chicago only had data from 2010 for the entire state, they were able to determine that over all reported accidents outside the City of Chicago there was a 12.3% rate of hit-and-runs, while in Chicago 31.4% of all reported accidents were hit-and-runs.

If you are involved in an accident in Chicago there is an almost one in three chance that the driver will flee the scene. It is ironic that pedestrians, the most vulnerable users of Illinois roadways, were at the highest risk of having a driver flee after a collision.

Thanks so much to Grid Chicago for crunching numbers.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hit and Run Collisions- Common Defenses.

While I don't have any statistics to prove it, it seems that hit-and-run collisions are on the rise. we have been swamped with an influx of hit-and-runs in the last few months. Normally, about 25% of our cases at any given time are hit-and-run collisions, but that percentage seems to be rising of late.

Hit-and-run defendants don't tend to come up with novel excuses for why they fled the scene. In fact, we hear the same defenses from these drivers time and time again. Most of the defenses to a hit-and-run fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. Play dumb. "I didn't know I hit anyone." In this scenario the driver claims they have no knowledge of the collision in the first place.
  2. No injury. "Sure, contact occurred, but the bicyclist was fine, so I just drove away. I wasn't fleeing or anything..."
  3. Play scared. "The bicyclist was trying to attack me, so I fled in fear of life and limb."

In my opinion, none of these defenses really works, unless they are actually true, which is rarely the case. Often times independent witnesses come forward to refute the driver's version of events, and juries tend to give great weight to the testimony of an independent witness.

Conveniently, we usually don't have a problem getting bystanders to cooperate and testify in hit-and-run cases, unlike most other cases. Bystanders of most accidents don't want to get involved, but in the case of a hit-and-run, bystanders tend to be appalled or angry with what they witnessed. Because of that they are more willing to come forward, and they are more willing to testify if need be. In fact, hit-and-run collisions are the one time that we consistently see bystanders really getting involved in caring for a victim.

Evidence of a hit-and-run starts to disappear almost as quickly as hit-and-run drivers disappear. A hit-and-run driver will often try to conceal or destroy evidence of their acts. For this reason, it is imperative that a victim of a hit-and-run get legal help as soon as possible. Thorough investigation often reveals damage to a hit-and-run vehicle that has been concealed or repaired. Sometimes camera pods or red light cameras show the actual events of the crime.

Above all, never assume that nothing can be done because a hit-and-run driver flees, or even gets away. We are adept at finding hit and run drivers and any insurance coverage activated by the hit-and-run. Our office has helped many victims of hit-and-run collisions recover where the hit-and-run driver was never located, so never assume nothing can be done.