Hit and Run Bike Accident

Injury Lawyer Explains What to Do After a Collision

Video Transcript:

Claude Wyle:

If a bicyclist has a collision with a motorist, they always end up losing; maybe not the case, but they lose physically because they're going to get injured.

Rob Rosenthal:

If you're riding your bicycle and you're injured by a hit-and-run driver, do you know what to do? Well, we're going to find out because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer today.

Hi again, everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com. My guest is San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. Claude, good to see you again. Thank you for making some time to help us out as usual.

Claude Wyle:

Great to see you, Rob. Thank you very much for having me.

Rob Rosenthal:

Let's just back up a little bit to start with a little general background. How common are accidents between automobiles and bicycles?

Claude Wyle:

They're sadly extremely common. The places where bicyclists commute to work, and where they ride the most often are often the most congested. The congested streets where bicyclists and pedestrians and automobiles or trucks and buses are brought together, is where we have the most interaction, and where we have the most, sadly, collisions. And of course, if a bicyclist has a collision with a motorist, they always end up losing.

Rob Rosenthal:

For sure.

Claude Wyle:

Maybe not the case, but they lose physically because they're going to get injured. It's a foregone conclusion: if they're knocked off their bike, they're going to have some kind of injury. So we have an awful lot of these cases; we have a very, very small city with a lot of people and a lot of congestion, and it's a very, very bicycle-friendly city, but unless bicycles are kept away from motor vehicles, they are in danger.

Rob Rosenthal:

Let's expand on that. What about a hit-and-run? Is that a common thing with bicyclists? Is there a reason for that? Is it because auto drivers just don't realize they hit somebody?Tell me about that.

Claudle Wyle:

Well, the good thing about bicycling is it's mostly done in the day time, and thankfully, most drunk drivers are usually driving in the night time. But we do get people who are driving under the influence out there in the day time, and if somebody hits a bicyclist and thinks they hurt them or killed them, they might just drive away. We've had that situation many times, and I have very strong feelings about that, because I have the feeling that if somebody can at least call the authorities, call 911, that bicyclist can maybe be saved through medical intervention.

If you just leave somebody on the roadway, there's a much higher chance that they're going to die. And we see that, and we have seen that, and my partner George and I have seen that far too many times. Honestly, I think there's a special place in hell for people who hit bicyclists and drive away without even calling help.

Rob Rosenthal:

Would you say, in your experience, most of the time when somebody does a hit-and-run with a bicyclist, they are driving under the influence?

Claude Wyle:

I don't know. Most of the time they get away with it, but a lot of the time they're caught; somebody gets a video of the license plate, somebody gets some kind of something to identify. We have video in front of every store nowadays, so it's a lot better for us to be able to identify these drivers, and sometimes we catch them. Some of our clients have GoPros right on their helmets, and sometimes we catch them and that's better.

But you really can't tell if they're under the influence unless you catch them right away, and they never admit to it. But a hit-and-run is bad enough in and of itself; hitting somebody and trying to leave the scene happens way too often. We have a lot of cases all over the Bay Area where a bicyclist following our bicyclist, chases down the vehicle that's hit our client, gets the identifying information, comes back to the scene, and gives it to the police and that's wonderful.

Rob Rosenthal:

Well, let's follow that a little bit, Claude. Let's say the driver is tracked down, they’re charged. Does the injured person say, “Well, the prosecuting attorney, he's going to represent me; I don't need to hire someone on my own.” What's your answer to that?

Claude Wyle:

See, that's a mistake that so many bicyclists and motorcyclists make. They think, “Oh, we caught him doing something bad, so therefore the DA is going to protect me. The DA is going to look after my rights.” But the truth of it is the DA looks after the peoples’ rights. The DA can only prosecute crimes; they don't really ever compensate the victim of a crime.

Now, there is something in terms of probation where you are supposed to get compensation for your out-of-pocket expenses, but whether or not that happens is really a crapshoot, and it has nothing to do with the civil case that any injured person should bring. It's the civil case that helps put the injured bicyclists back on their feet, that helps with the economic recovery, that helps their family survive during a hard time while the bicyclist is recovering from their injuries. It's the civil case, and you a civil lawyer to prosecute that case. And frankly, the DAs, they do a good job with what they have, but they are really over-stretched and they've got other things to do, and I've been shocked time and time again for decades at how many cases the DAs do not prosecute.

So the civil lawyer is the one who's really going to help the injured party. The criminal DA helps the people by making the offending party criminally liable, but that doesn't really compensate the victim of the act.

Rob Rosenthal:

And as far as timing, if somebody thinks, “Well, I'll wait until the criminal case is over before I pursue my civil case.” I would imagine that's not a good idea.

Claude Wyle:

No, you should get a civil attorney right away. On many occasions we have hired investigators with the information that we had, with the information that the police have, and we find the offending party faster; we get a lawsuit filed before any criminal charges are filed. Oftentimes the DA will file, but it's later in the game and we'll get their information, we can subpoena their file, but really we're on our own in terms of civil law and in terms of actually getting the injured person compensated.

That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to take care of the injured person and their family. We’re trying to take care of the injured person's future, like if they can't work, and the DA is trying to get a conviction. Once they do, they've satisfied what they're doing, and if they're too busy, well, they're not going to be working that hard on it. And I'm not going to knock the DA in any way, but really, we work for the survivor of the crash. The DA works for the people to try to criminally indict and criminally prosecute, and criminally punish people.But criminally punishing somebody who puts a bicyclist out of work for months, or years, or permanently does nothing to help that bicyclist or their family.

Rob Rosenthal:

Now let's pursue the other track; let’s say the hit-and-run driver is never found. How can the injured party get any kind of recovery if they don't have anybody to go after?

Claude Wyle:

Well, this is very, very good for bicyclists in particular. When you're riding your bicycle and, God forbid, you’re hit by a hit-and-run driver, nobody catches the hit-and-run driver, you are covered by your automobile insurance under uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage covers a bicyclist, pedestrian, passenger, or driver of a vehicle when the offending person is not caught, if it's a hit and run or if they're caught and they have no insurance.

A lot of times people run away simply because they have no way to compensate the person whom they've hurt, and they know they've hurt them, but they just run away. They're scared, for whatever reason, I think it's a despicable act, but they do it. So a person's own uninsured motorist coverage is what helps them recover. So the more uninsured motorist coverage through your auto policy you have, the better your chances of being fully compensated if you're hit by a drunk driver, hit-and-run driver, anybody who has fled the scene when you cannot catch them.

Rob Rosenthal:

So, that brings to my mind the next question. If somebody thinks to themselves, “Okay, I've got X number of dollars in uninsured motorist coverage, so my insurance company is just going to write me a check for that maximum amount, and I don't need an attorney. I'll just call and tell them I was in an accident and he didn't have insurance, and they'll take care of that.” Is that how that works?

Claude Wyle:

Well, I wish it were that simple. Sometimes it works that way. Sometimes the policy is small and there's not much help I can really provide. Other times, if the policy is adequate, you need a lawyer and you need a lawyer right away. Insurance companies don't always want to pay; they don't just jump at the chance. And also, bicyclists don't think about being covered; they don't know they're covered in the event of being hit by an automobile or if they're hit by a motorcyclist. They just don't understand it.

We have many cases in our office where there are uninsured hit-and-run cases for bicyclists. I'm working on at least 10 of them right now, and we'll never find the person that hurt them. We hire investigators, we send them out, and they check all the video in the neighborhood; we just don't stand much of a chance sometimes unless it's actually caught on video and you have something really good to identify that person. So what really protects a bicyclist is their own auto insurance, and it sounds strange because you would never think that your automobile insurance would cover you when you're hit by a hit-and-run driver or a drunk driver while you're riding your bicycle, but it's important.

So I always advise, and oftentimes it's too late because people don't call us until it's after the fact, but I always advise bicyclists to just go out and get a bigger policy, get big uninsured motorist coverage. It doesn't cost much more, and believe me, I don't sell insurance. It doesn't cost much more, but it really helps out in getting somebody compensated when they've been hit by an uninsured driver, underinsured driver, or a hit-and-run driver. This is when your own insurance comes into play and can really help make the difference in financial survival.

Rob Rosenthal:

One last question, Claude. It seems to me if you're injured in any sort of situation on your bicycle, any auto versus bicycle collision, is it important to have an attorney who has specific experience with bicycle cases, or is it the kind of thing that just anybody with general personal injury experience can handle?

Claude Wyle:

Well, anybody with general personal injury experience can handle the basic, obvious case, but you really need the experience to be able to look at the nuance of the case, to be able to look a little deeper, and find the coverage that you need under the circumstances that you need. I've seen too many attorneys just skip the step, miss the coverage, miss the compensation.

We took over a case once where the previous attorney had actually settled the case for a bicyclist for $100,000, and the bicyclist grew to not trust their attorney after a while and they came to us and we were able to settle the case for $5 million because we found the deeper pocket; we found the employer who was actually liable because when that person hit and ran, they were actually driving a company car. The first attorney didn't even think about that, and it made all the difference in the world to our client, and they were compensated and, in my book never enough, but they were compensated and they were able to survive for the rest of their life financially

Rob Rosenthal:

Always interesting, always helpful. Claude, thank you so much for making some time to answer our questions today. I do appreciate it.

Claude Wyle:

Rob, it’s so good to see you. In these weird times, it's always good to see a friend and hear a friendly voice. I really appreciate you guys talking with me and asking my opinions. I've got a world of opinions, and I'll always be here for you.

Rob Rosenthal:

Well, we appreciate all the knowledge that you have to share. We appreciate that.

That's going to do it for this episode of AskTheLawyers™. My guess has been San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. Remember, if you want the best information or you want to be able to choose a lawyer that lawyers choose, make sure to go to askthelawyers.com. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

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