In my recent blog post about how bicycle accidents happen, I promised to blog next about how to properly investigate a bike accident to prepare a New York bicycle accident case against the at-fault motor vehicle driver. I keep my promises!
The first rule is to preserve the evidence. This is important not only to prove your case, but also to prevent the defendant from later arguing that your case should be tossed out because you destroyed evidence. So save the bike! Don’t use it or fix it. Preserve it!. The damage to it may help show where the car struck the bike and the force of the impact among other things.
Of course you should get any police accident reports. Equally important, but more time consuming, go to the scene and explore it carefully. Bring a camera and photograph and film everything in sight. Look for skid marks. Have an accident reconstructionist or investigator with you to take measurements. Have someone take a video as he or she rides or walks along from the cyclist’s point of view. Do the same, from a similar car, for the driver’s point of view. Look to see if it should have been obvious to the driver that there would be bikes and pedestrians in the area. For example, are there marked bike lanes? Are there sidewalks or crosswalks?
Look around for surveillance cameras that might have captured the accident. Look at the surrounding stores, houses, traffic lights, nearby buildings. Surveillance cameras are more and more prevalent.
When interviewing the client, pay close attention to time, speed and distances. How far was the cyclist from the intersection at the time he first saw the car? How many seconds passed before the collision? How far did the cyclist travel from one point to another? How fast was he going? How fast was the car going?
To make sure the client’s memory is correct, bring him or her to the scene (if he can stand it!). This will show you and the client whether his memory makes sense. Check the facts against the well-known mathematical formula for calculating feet traveled per second at a given speed. For example, if the cyclist was going 10 miles per hour, that means he was going about 15 feet per second, so in 3 seconds he would have traveled about 45 feet. Does the client’s memory of the time, distance and speed before impact make sense given this formula? Does your math help refresh the client’s recollection of distance, time and speed?
It’s also important to explore the safety measures the cyclist (hopefully) took. Think about how you can avoid the defense blaming him or her, at least in part, for the accident. Was he wearing a helmet? Was the client wearing bright clothing? Preserve them! Was there a light on the bike? Preserve it! Was the cyclist looking in front and did he see the car? Did he try to avoid it or did he even have time?
In an ideal case, the cyclist would be looking right at the car when it suddenly cuts him off or turns into him, violating his right-of-way, and giving him almost no time to react. Either that, or the car hits him from behind when he is as far right as he reasonably can go. You probably won’t have a “perfect” case (those are rare!) but a good, solid bicycle accident investigation will ensure that you (1) preserve all the “good” evidence for your case and (2) are prepared to confront and minimize the “bad” evidence.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central & Syracuse NY Bicycle Accident Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.