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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hit-and-Run Drivers Create Nightmare Scenarios for Bicyclists

Hit-and-run accidents are on the rise in metropolitan areas.

According to Philly.com, police handled 14,028 hit-and-run accidents last year and 5,214 so far this year. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration show an upward trend in fatal hit-and-run crashes too, from 1,274 in 2009 to 1,393 in 2010 to 1,449 in 2011.

According to Peter Kissinger, CEO of AAA Traffic Safety Foundation, “[a]bout 60 percent of the people killed in hit and run crashes are pedestrians, ” adding that “1 in 5 pedestrian fatalities involve hit and run drivers.” Since most traffic accident reports identify bicyclists as pedestrians, it's fair to assume that bicyclists too are disproportionately affected by hit-and-run drivers.

Why are drivers more likely to flee after hitting a bicyclist? There aren't any studies on this topic, but I've heard many excuses as a lawyer.

"I didn't know I hit someone." This answer generally comes from the driver who cuts off a biker or makes a right turn into the biker's path. In each situation, the driver fails to check his blind-spots. These drivers will often admit "I heard a bang" or "I felt a bump," but "I didn't think to stop." Nevertheless, every driver must act reasonably in accessing their surroundings and identifying other vehicles. If the driver had no idea a biker was near him, then that driver was likely not exercising adequate caution.

Some hit-and-run drivers flee because they have something to hide. These are the intoxicated drivers, the unlicensed drivers, and the uninsured drivers. They know that, no matter who was at-fault for the accident, they are facing criminal charges.

I was involved in one case where the driver fled thinking that if she could sleep off her intoxication, she would be able to avoid DUI charges if she was caught. Luckily, the police quickly found her vehicle and we had evidence placing her at a nearby bar hours before the accident. In the end, the bar paid a majority of the settlement for serving an intoxicated patron.

In a recent example, Robert Roberts (right) was driving alone with a learner's permit when he struck and seriously injured a Temple Student riding her bicycle. After turning himself, he told police that he fled because he was unlicensed.

Not only are bicyclists more susceptible to hit-and-runs, the issues caused by such accidents are compounded for bikers.

CHAOTIC MOON - A "Black Box" for Bicyclists
When a biker is hit by a car, they inevitably end up on the pavement. It's a lot harder to get any identifying information from this point-of-view. Without such information, bikers rely solely on witnesses or local surveillance cameras. As I lawyer, I can tell you that witnesses disappear and third-party surveillance video is very hard to obtain without a search warrant or subpoena. In light of this disadvantage, some bikers are placing cameras on their helmets or bicycles.

Then there's the biggest issue for bicyclists- lack of insurance. With the ACA, or "Obamacare," most bicyclists should have health insurance to cover medical expenses. But what about your pain and suffering or inability to work (most people don't carry disability insurance)?

Uninsured motorist coverage, or "UM," is the type of insurance meant to protect against hit-and-run drivers. This kind of insurance allows the bicyclist (so long as your accident involved a motor vehicle) to collect from his or her own policy when the defendant is unavailable to sue. For bicyclists, however, the issue is that UM benefits are sold along with auto insurance. Most city-cyclers don't own a motor vehicle nor live with a relative who does (under Pennsylvania's resident-relative rule, a cyclist may qualify for benefits under a relative's auto policy if they lived in the same household at the time of the accident).

Here's the nightmare scenario... You were hit by a car and the driver fled off. You don't own a car because you live in the City, so you don't have auto insurance. You may or may not have health insurance, but either way that's not covering your lost wages or suffering.

There's one final stopgap in the form of public insurance. The Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan provides up to $15,000 under such circumstances, including $5,000 in medical benefits and up to $10,000 in damages. While this is better than nothing, $10,000 is likely insufficient compensation for a serious injury or inability to work. Likewise, you must satisfy a set of criteria to qualify for Plan benefits.

The best way to avoid this nightmare scenario is by hiring a lawyer right after the accident. A competent lawyer will search out all available insurance, work with the police to find the driver, and identify third-parties who might be liable, such as a bar or the owner of the vehicle.

Contact Philly Bike Lawyer for more information.