What To Do After an Accident When the Police Fail to Respond?

(Farid Yaghoubtil is an attorney with the Downtown L.A. Law Group. Following last week’s story on the LAPD’s failure to cite a driver in a crash involving a cyclist, Yaghoubtil asked if he could write a piece on what cyclists can do to get the best legal results after a crash…not that it would have helped in last week’s incident. – DN)

The moments immediately following a traffic accident can be confusing, leaving the victims in a state of bewilderment and shock.  In the most serious accidents, the injured parties are hopefully quickly transferred to a local hospital where they are given immediate medical care.  Dealing with the aftermath of the accident becomes an ancillary concern, and the focus justifiably shifts to the well-being of the accident’s participants.  However, what about situations where an ER visit is not necessarily needed? 

The first step in any traffic accident situation would be to contact local police department and have them write up a report regarding the accident.  While many accident victims are tempted to forego this crucial step, it is essential to resist this urge.

Many times, the at-fault party accepts fault immediately following the accident, only to change their story once they speak to their insurance provider or when they are in a courtroom setting.  Without a police report that confirms the true story, innocent victims are frequently left with only their word in defending their position.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that time and again the police department, especially in busy metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, will simply refuse to come out to the scene of the accident.  In fact, Ted Rogers of Biking in L.A. recently reported  on the story of Melanie Freeland, which is one of the most egregious examples of police inactivity we have ever seen.

Whether this is due to police indifference, a general lack of resources, or simple police bureaucracy, the fact remains that accident victims are sometimes  left dealing with the repercussions without the benefit of police involvement.  This can be especially crippling for victims that are left with thousands of dollars worth of medical and property damage bills.

Therefore, in light of Mr. Roger’s report, the following is a list of additional measures that should be taken after an accident that could protect your rights following an accident.

1. Witnesses can be your best friends – Other than a police report, independent witnesses are the most credible pieces of evidence in proving your innocence.  Look out for anybody who may have witnessed the accident, politely ask for their information and if they would be willing to provide a statement in the future.

2. Take pictures – Sometimes, the only way to demonstrate how an accident actually occurred is to reconstruct the scene of the crash.  Take pictures of all the motor vehicles involved, the scene, the road, skid marks, injuries, or any other picture that might help in proving your case.

3.  Look at nearby businesses – Many business have surveillance that not only monitor the store, but also the surrounding areas.  Unfortunately, these videos are usually disposed of, sometimes after only one day.  Make sure you contact these establishments to see if they have video surveillance that can be beneficial to your cause.  If so, ask them to preserve the evidence.

4.  Get a statement from the at fault party – With the advent of the Smartphone, almost everyone has a video camera at their disposal.  Ask the at-fault party to make a statement.  Individuals are far more likely to be honest immediately after the crash rather than a few days or hours later, when the initial shock has subsided.

* Although this article focuses primarily on how to act immediately following an accident, I wanted to add one final note on uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage.  UM/UIM coverage protects innocent accident victims in situations where the at-fault party does not have sufficient insurance coverage, or fails carry any coverage to pay for all the damages.  It also protects individuals in hit-and-run accidents, where the perpetrator is never found.  Most people have never heard of UM/UIM coverage, but with more and more people driving without insurance, it can often be the single most important aspect of an insurance policy.  UM/UIM coverage not only protects victims of car accidents, but any type of motor vehicle crash such as bicycle, pedestrian and motorcycle accidents.