I travel around the state speaking to motorcycle clubs and organizations about matters involving motorcyclists such as insurance, statutes involving motorcycling, and what to do if you are involved in an accident. 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 you don't have to speak to the police, and your statement at the scene of an accident may not be accurate, and may cost you any case you may have.
As I have stated before Virginia is a contributory negligence state. 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. In other words, if you are struck in a 35 mile per hour zone and you state you were going between 35 and 40 mph, that can put your claim in jeopardy. Most people are not looking at their speedometer at impact. Therefore, most people guess at their speed. Don't do that? At the scene of an accident, your adrenaline is pumping, you may be in pain, and you may be angry. This is no time to make a statement. You may not be accurate, and the insurance company will rely on that statement to evaluate your case. 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.
By way of example, my associate, Matt Danielson, was in an auto accident a couple years ago. He was making a left at a solid green light when he was t-boned by another driver. His first thought was that he was at fault. If he had a solid green the other driver, who was traveling straight, must have had one as well. Needless to say he was very angry at himself. However, he remembered the advice he gives to others and he refrained from making a statement. The next day, a witness to the accident, who had given him her number, told him that she saw the accident and was on the same side of intersection as the person who hit him. She stated that the light was green as he 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 Matt was in the intersection and as the rapidly accelerating vehicle entered the intersection and struck Matt's vehicle. Based on that statement, the other party's company accepted liability and paid all damages from the accident. Had Matt made a statement at the scene, he would have been wrong, and he would have destroyed his case.
If you find yourself in an accident make sure to do the following: First; get medical attention just to make sure 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, but its better to make sure before proceeding with your matter further. This 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.
The preceding is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Before attempting to settle any claim you should contact an attorney. The rules governing insurance coverage may be different in your state .
Tom McGrath is a personal injury lawyer with credentials that are rare in his profession. When Tom's not lawyering, he's lobbying to protect your rights, or crisscrossing the Commonwealth teaching motorists and motorcyclists about their rights, helping them to understand the insurance laws and how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Got a question? Send Tom an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.motorcyclevirginia.com/.