He never looked at me, I saw him too late, and with a terrible crunch of my wheel into the driver’s side, I was flying over my handlebars, across his windshield and onto my face. Before I could even check to see if I was bleeding or really hurt, I sprang to my feet and flung my helmet in the driver’s direction. I was furious. He had burst out of a driveway into the bike lane on Kent Avenue and could have easily killed me.

“Why are you so mad?” The driver asked as he surveyed the damage to his car, not even checking to see if I was physically intact.

“Stay exactly where you are and don’t start the car,” I told the driver, who was insisting he had to get to work. I went over to the car and leaned against it so he couldn’t move it. A few witnesses came forward and gave me their names and phone numbers. They all agreed the driver didn’t look for cyclists when he came out of the driveway. In fact, the driver kept admitting to me that he hadn’t bothered to look, and that it was all a big accident, pleading to let me move his car.

I called 911. My bicycle was ruined, my computer smashed, and I had abrasions all along the right side of my body. I had just become one of the over 4,000 bicyclists injured or killed by an automobile every year by in New York City. Almost all of them didn't see it coming.

“The main problem is you have cyclists walking around with serious injuries, all because they didn’t have health insurance or didn’t want to pay for an ambulance,” said Carol Wood, the editor of NycCarAccident.Net, a website that provides assistance to New Yorkers who have been struck by cars. “Not many people know that in New York State, the cyclist is covered under the driver’s insurance for up to $50,000 in medical bills and $10,000 in property damage.”

The law that Wood is referring to is the state’s “No-Fault” insurance law, a powerful and under-publicized piece of legislation that aims to keep cyclists and pedestrians in good medical care after an accident, no matter who is at fault in the accident.

But navigating the “No-Fault” insurance law to receive coverage for necessary medical bills and property damage can be a long and onerous task—cyclists often leave the scene of an accident because they are unwilling to spend time dealing with the labyrinthine insurance process. But compared to the lingering physical pain, costly medical bills, and loss of property, the filing of a claim is a worthwhile endeavor, even if during this process you sometimes feel like it's more unpleasant than getting run over. To help, we’ve compiled a list of best practices (with the help of Carol Wood and attorney Steve Vaccaro) on how to file a claim, get your medical bills covered, and hopefully, find your way back onto the road.

Dial 911 and talk to witnesses: Unfortunately, the process really does begin the moment after the accident. Stay prone and relaxed until medical assistance arrives. Ask if any witnesses at the scene would mind giving you their phone number and name, so the NYPD could contact them later while filling out an accident report. Make sure the driver remains at the scene so they can share their insurance information with the NYPD.

Get the accident report: Once the NYPD arrives (and this might take a while—in my case, 45 minutes), get the name of the officers investigating the scene and ask for their cards. Ask if you can have a copy of the accident report, or how you can obtain it. The accident report is incredibly important and contains the driver’s insurance information, as well as the conditions for the accident, and the NYPD assessment of who was at fault. This is crucial for future litigation beyond insurance claims. The officers might tell you the report is not available yet, and that you have to go to their precinct to retrieve it. If so, get the accident report number before you go by calling the precinct ahead of time. Make sure you ask for the “key” for the report (below) because without it, the report is gibberish.

Police ReportKey.jpg
Ah, it's all so clear now!

Go to the hospital: You’ve just been hit by a car. A car is an incredibly heavy thing that does not give when you hit it. Your body has experienced serious trauma and right now your adrenaline is incredibly high. There’s a very real possibility that you’re more hurt than you believe yourself to be. Your hospital visit is covered under New York State law. The “No-Fault” law also covers lost time at work, so don’t worry about making that 10 a.m. meeting. The bill for this hospital visit is staggering (see below) but again, do not fret! It is covered.

A lot of money you don't have to pay.

Inform the driver’s insurance company: Here is where the fun starts! Once you’re all healed up, or at the very least comfortable, find the insurance code of the driver (located on the accident report) to look up which insurance company they use. Then, in writing, send a certified letter to the insurance company that there’s been an accident (include the driver’s name and policy number) and that you’re planning to file a claim. Include your phone number and email address. Make sure you send the letter within 30 days of the accident, or the insurance company might dispute your “no-fault” claim.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who specializes in this sort of claim, also says you should also include a no-fault insurance application form (pages 5-7 here), which also needs to be sent in within 30 days.

Get your medical bills covered: If you’re lucky, property damage might be your biggest problem, but it’s also the hardest thing to prove to the insurance company that you should be compensated for. The easiest thing, and the most important, is that your medical bills and treatment remain covered. Once the insurance company receives your letter, they will either call or email to provide you with a claim number.

Once you have that number, you can begin filling out the medical bills to be forwarded to the insurance company, which, because of “no-fault” insurance, will most likely not be contesting the bills. Medical bills must be sent to the insurer within 45 days of treatment or services rendered, which may be only a few days after you receive the bill for services, so stay on top of that mail pile!

Lost Earnings: No fault insurance also includes reimbursement of lost earnings, use of paid leave while injured, or even the cost of hiring "substitute help" to assist you in conducting your own business while injured. In most cases, the reimbursement is limited to $2,000 per month.

Begin the long process of getting your property covered: This might not be easy. Unlike the no-fault claim, the property damage claim is based on fault. The insurance company will record everything you say on the phone and may try to trick you into admitting fault. Vaccaro recommends preparing a set of written talking points for this phone call and sticking to them.

The insurance company will possibly contest the damage, say the value of of your bike or computer or other valuable has depreciated, and otherwise try to get off the hook for as much as possible. Find receipts, drink some herbal tea, get back in touch with the insurance company, ask to be transferred to the property claims division, and prepare for a long slog of bureaucracy. Namaste.

And if your property damage claim is denied, be sure you do NOT sign a release of your personal injury claim when agreeing to release your property damage claims.

Personal Injury Claim: If you were seriously injured—sustained a lasting impairment, disfiguring scar, fractured bones, etc.—you may want to consider the lengthier and even less pleasant course of suing the driver for cash compensation, for lost wages, pain, and suffering. For this, you'll want to consult a lawyer, and most offer free consultations.

Vaccaro also notes, "If this isn't complicated enough, bear in mind that if you or a family member you live with has auto insurance, then that can change everything—even if you were struck while biking or walking. If you or your family member with whom you are living has their own policy, then that policy will provide no fault, personal injury and property damage coverage, each of which will function as either a supplement to, or as primary coverage instead of, the coverage of the driver that hit you."

In summation, what began as a simple bike ride to work or a date or exercise has now ended in physical pain and a hit to your wallet. While “No-Fault” insurance does provide an incredibly powerful tool for bicyclists, Wood laments the lack of publicity and guidance from the city for bicyclists involved in an accident. Right now the official response from the city is that a bicyclist should call 911 or 311 for more information, but neither go into specifics about how to file a claim.

Wood hopes that the city will step up its game in giving information to cyclists, “and let bicyclists and pedestrians know that they don’t have to walk around with concussions because they don’t have medical coverage.”