I have been hesitant to send an email on this topic for two reasons. One is that I covered this topic about five years ago. However, I am still finding people who think that they have to make a statement at the scene of an accident so they do and end up hurting themselves. Secondly, I try very hard to make these emails informative and not an advertisement for my firm. If you are going to take the time to read these articles then you deserve information not an infomercial. However, over the past couple of years I have been traveling around the country speaking about what your rights are during a traffic stop. In speaking to people, the one thing that always raises eyebrows is when I tell people not to make a statement at the scene of an accident; not even to the police. I often get responses such as don't I have to make a statement to the police? And why shouldn't I? I have nothing to hide! The answer to those questions is that you have an absolute right to not speak to the police. In fact, at the scene of an accident you may be harming yourself by doing so.
Before start let me say that I am not anti-law enforcement. I am a former police officer and a former prosecuting attorney. I was in law enforcement for nearly 13 years. However, I am also pro accident victim and if you are in an accident I do not want you to mistakenly hurt your claim.
As I have stated in previous articles, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina are contributory negligence states. That means that if the party who injured you can show that you were in some way at fault in causing the accident then your claim can be denied. Speed, following to close, and not paying attention can be used as contributing factors to deny an injury claim even if the other party is more at fault than you. South Carolina and most of the rest of the nation are comparative negligence states. That means that if you are in an accident and the value of your claim is $100,000 but it is decided that you were 30% at fault, you received $70,000.
Now let's go to the accident scene. Assume you were riding down the road and a car turns left in front of your bike. You fracture your leg. The officer asks you what happened and you tell him. He asks how fast you were traveling and you say 40-45 mph. The speed limit is 35 mph. In South Carolina and most other states you have just decreased the value of your claim. In Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland you may have just completely destroyed any claim that you had.
At the scene of an accident your adrenaline is pumping. You may be in pain and you are most likely very angry at the other person whose carelessness has interrupted a great ride and badly damaged your bike. This is no time to make a statement. You may not be accurate and the insurance company will rely on that inaccurate statement to evaluate your claim. What you should say to the officer is that you are in no condition to make a statement at this time and that you just want to get to the hospital to get checked out. You can make a statement at a later date, after you have had time to calm down and reflect.
Let me illustrate further by telling on myself. I was in an auto accident a couple of years ago. I was making a left on a solid green light when I was t-boned by another driver traveling in the opposite direction. My first thought was that I was at fault. If I had a solid green the other driver, who was traveling straight, must have had one as well. Needless to say I was very angry at myself. I had just turned left in front of another person. I was grateful that it was not a motorcyclist. Three officers arrived at the scene. One I knew, the second I knew because I was representing his wife at the time and the third one’s mother was a client of mine at that time. So things were getting a little better. I was asked by one of the officers to tell him what happened. However, I remembered the advice I give to others and refrained from making a statement. (I was later told by one of the officers that had I given a statement they were prepared to take me into the woods and beat me). I instead left to go get checked out at the hospital. Before leaving however a woman who witnessed the accident gave me her number to give to the police. I put it in my pocket and went to the hospital. The next day I phoned the witness and asked why she had given me her number. She said that she wanted to make sure that I did not get a ticket. I was all ears. She went on to tell me that she was on the same side of intersection as the person who hit me. She stated that the light was green as I entered the intersection; however that it had immediately turned yellow. All of the traffic was coming to a stop when she heard a vehicle rapidly accelerating trying to beat the light. The light went red as I was in the middle of the intersection. The rapidly accelerating vehicle entered the intersection and struck my vehicle. Based on that statement, the other party's company accepted liability and paid all damages from the accident. Had I made a statement at the scene I would have been wrong, I would have been held at fault, and I would have destroyed my claim.
If you find yourself in an accident make sure to do the following: First; get medical attention just to make sure that you are ok. Second; do not make a statement to the police or to any insurance company. Let the police know that you will speak to them later after you have calmed down and sought medical attention. Third; contact an attorney. There is a very good chance you won't need the help of an attorney. In fact, sometimes you are better off handling the claim yourself. However, it is better to make sure before accidentally harming your claim. Contacting an attorney usually does not cost you any money. My firm for instance will talk to anyone about their accident at no charge. I would rather you contact me and not need me then unknowingly need legal assistance and not realize it until after you have hurt yourself.
If you have an organization that would like me or a member of my firm to come speak about this or any other issues of interest to motorcyclists please feel free to give me a call. Additionally, if you have any further questions or comments concerning this article or any other matters concerning your rights as a motorcyclist please contact me at 1-800-321-8968 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McGrath & Danielson
Tom McGrath's Motorcycle Law Group
The preceding is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The laws governing the above may be different in your state.