As an attorney who defends the rights of cyclists, all too often I am contacted by an injured bicyclist whose legal rights have been severely compromised by the failure to get a police report. The cyclist recites a story about how the accident happened that seems “straightforward”. The fault of the motorist seems obvious. But without a police report, the story frequently becomes anything but clear.
To make matters worse, it can become difficult to find the motorist. The cyclist often didn’t get the full name and address and telephone number of the motorist who hit him/her. The cyclist typically doesn’t know whether the motorist has insurance. Although at the scene, the motorist promised to cooperate with the cyclist to pay for bike damage or even medical bills, the motorist now won’t cooperate – won’t even answer the telephone. At the scene, the motorist may have even admitted responsibility to the cyclist for causing the accident and would have done so to the police. But somehow once the motorist returns home and days have passed, the motorist begins to tell a far different story of what happened in the crash…and how the bicycle rider was at fault.
The Florida Traffic Crash Report
Florida law is very particular about when there must be a police report. A “Florida Traffic Crash Report” is mandatory where a crash between a bicyclist and a motorist involves bodily injury to any party, death, or damage to any vehicle, bicycle or other property of at least $500.
If you have any question about whether you are injured, or whether your bicycle, helmet, clothes, sunglasses, or other items might total close to $500 damage, you should always stay at the scene, insist the motorist stay at the scene, and you should contact the local law enforcement to come investigate and prepare a report.
Three Types of Police Reports for Crashes
The police may prepare one of three types of reports. The police will prepare a “long form” report if the crash “resulted in death of, personal injury or …complaints of pain or discomfort by any of the parties or passengers involved in the crash."
The police will also prepare a “long form” report if one of the vehicles became “…inoperable to a degree that required a wrecker to remove it”. The police should prepare a “long form” report, even if there is only a small amount of damage to the property, if the driver of the vehicle left the scene, which is a crime. By law, the police officer must submit the “long form” report within ten days of the accident.
On the other hand, a “short form” report or “driver exchange of information” report may be prepared by law enforcement in any crash situation which is not severe enough to meet the requirements for the preparation of a long form report. If there is a death, the police will prepare a “Homicide Report”, which make take several weeks or even months to complete, in addition to the long form report.
What Happens if Police Don't Show?
Occasionally, due to call overload, severe weather, or other reasons, a police officer will not arrive at the crash scene to prepare the report. In that instance, the cyclist should prepare and submit his/her own written report of the accident to law enforcement.
This should be done in any crash within 10 days after the crash. The report shall be submitted on a form approved by the department. In order to protect your rights and prepare the written report, you should get the other party’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver license number, license plate number, and auto insurance name and policy number. You should note the make and model of the vehicle. Ask the driver to show you his/her driver license.
Florida Statute §316.062 states that the “driver of any vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property…shall give his or her name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and shall upon request and if available exhibit his or her license or permit to drive…”
Even in the most minor crashes, you are wise to contact law enforcement and ask that a police report be prepared for many reasons:
- With all the shock and adrenaline from the incident, you may not realize that you have suffered an injury. Other times, soreness and pain do not arise from an injury for twenty-four or forty-eight hours from the time of the accident. You may feel fine immediately after the accident occurs, only to find a few days later that you have suffered a rotator cuff tear in your shoulder, a torn meniscus in your knee, or serious neck or back pain.
- You may not realize that your bicycle has sustained damage. With so many bicycle frames being made of composite or carbon fiber, it is difficult to determine whether the frame is damaged and safe to ride. Cracks may be nearly impossible to visualize, or may be internal. Yet, if your bike suffered such frame damage, the claim typically exceeds $500 and must be reported. Most manufacturers of helmets contend that if your helmet touched the ground in a crash, no matter whether it has scrapes or dents, it must be replaced. This amounts to $75-$200 in damage automatically.
- Without a police report, the other party may fail later to admit fault for causing the crash later. Or worse, the other party may blame you for the crash, and bring a legal claim against you.
If you need to discuss any accident or possible legal claim arising out of a bicycle accident please contact me.