As an attorney representing victims of bicycle accidents, I am constantly amazed by the frequency of hit and run accidents on cyclists. These recent news stories provide an example of what I mean:
- June, 2012 – Gainesville, FL: 20 year old Rebecca Harris, a student at the University of FL, was struck while crossing the road on her bicycle. She slipped into a coma and died a few weeks later. The motorist initially fled the scene, but was later identified as Jessica Paige Becerra, a fellow UF student. The driver ultimately plead guilty and was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison.
- January, 2013 – Clifton, NJ: A cyclist was struck and killed by a hit & run driver in a white Toyota Camry. The accident reportedly occurred at 5:50 pm on Route 3, near the Valley Road exit. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
- April, 2013 – Acadiana, LA: A 54 year old woman was struck by a hit & run motorist in front of the Grand Theater, suffering a broken neck, broken back and a lacerated spleen. At last report, the driver remained unidentified.
- April 16, 2013 – Ft. Worth, Tx: A 14 year old boy was reportedly struck and killed while riding his bicycle along the side of the road. The car responsible fled the scene and, as last report, police were still calling for assistance in locating the driver.
- April 16, 2013 – South Carolina: The South Carolina Highway Patrol was reportedly seeking information on a hit & run crash on US-21 in which a burgundy colored Buick Regal had struck a cyclist, inflicting serious injuries, and subsequently fled. At last report, the driver remained unidentified.
- April 26, 2013 – Shrievport, LA: 71 year old Samuel Leon Smith was struck and killed while riding his bike along the side of the road around 7:00 pm. Witnesses on scene reported hearing the sound of squealing tires and seeing a silver pickup fleeing from the area where Mr. Smith’s body was found. At last report, the driver had not been identified.
- Marietta, GA: 25 year old Joseph Gathambyri was reportedly struck from behind and killed while riding his bicycle on South Marietta Parkway, near the Cobb Community Transit bus terminal. While the driver initially fled the scene, evidence at the scene and a tip ultimately allowed police to locate the pickup involved and to arrest the driver. At last report, the alleged driver, 27 year old Damon Lautch, was being held on charges of hit & run, DUI and 1st degree vehicular homicide.
- Los Angeles, CA: Statistics compiled by the California Highway Patrol and LAPD document that Los Angeles has a serious problem with hit & run accidents. Reports indicate that approximately 20,000 hit & run collisions are logged annually by the LAPD. In one recent example, a 36 year old cyclist was struck by a Toyota minivan. The van’s driver fled the scene, but in the process proceeded to drag the victim for 600 feet along the highway onramp. The victim suffered 20 separate fractures and had to have his leg amputated.
Unfortunately the examples outlined above are just that – examples. Hit and run accidents are a major problem. Their affect extends beyond the toll taken on the lives of the victims and their families, as they place a heavy burden on the medical and legal system. And, all too frequently, the victims and their families have few options to compensate them for the damages they suffer – particularly when witnesses fail or refuse to come forward.
The best time to take action to protect yourself and those you love from a tragedy like this is before it happens. Here are some suggestions (tailored to NJ residents):
- Buy “No Threshold” Auto Insurance: In New Jersey, the rights of a cyclist who is struck by an automobile are generally governed by the cyclist’s own auto insurance (or that of their resident relatives). Selecting “no threshold” insurance coverage may allow you to recover for your injuries regardless of their severity.
- Make Sure You Have High Limits for Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) Coverage on Your Car Insurance: Again, in New Jersey, if you are injured by a hit & run auto while riding your bike, it is your car insurance policy to which you will turn for compensation. Unfortunately many people carry lower limits on their UM coverage than they do on their liability coverage. This is a foolish choice. Typically UM is amongst the cheapest coverages on your auto policy. Do yourself a favor: Carry as much as you can!
- Speak With an Attorney Sooner Rather than Later: Prompt retention of a lawyer can facilitate investigation which may lead to the discovery of the responsible party and/or the protection of rights which may otherwise be lost.
If you happen to witness a hit & run, have the courage to take action and report what you saw. Take down the driver’s information and call the police.