Writing a liability release for a biking accident?
March 6, 2009 4:16 PM   Subscribe

Legal filter - I hit a car head-on while biking the other day. It was my fault, and I’ve agreed to pay the damages to car. I need help writing up a release of liability contract so this guy doesn’t keep coming back for more.

Here’s what happened... I was biking to work on Tuesday, and came to an intersection with a long line of cars waiting for the light to change. I decided to try passing the cars, using the oncoming lane of traffic, which was empty of cars at the time. There was a big truck at the head of the line, blocking my view, and a car turned into my lane quickly and we hit head on. Fortunately, my bike took the brunt of the impact, taco-ing out the front wheel and destroying the fork. I walked away with a pretty badly bruised shin, some smaller bruises, and nothing more. The car was also damaged - the front assembly and grill was shattered on impact. An ambulance was reflexively called by the driver, but by the time they came, it was clear to me that I did not need their help, so I signed a waiver that said I was OK. The EMTs asked the driver to sign a waiver as well, which he refused to do, which started to put me on guard that this guy was a little shady.

From the beginning, I knew that this was on me - I did a stupid, illegal maneuver with my bike, and I was prepared to pay for the damages I made to this guy’s car. We agreed that he would take his car in to the shop, and then he would work with the shop to get the estimate to me and then I would pay for the damages. At the critical moment of exchanging information at the scene, I gave him my name, address, and phone number, but he only gave me a nickname and his cell phone number, strike two for my suspicions of shadiness. He also seemed very interested in leaving the scene of the accident before the cops came - I didn’t want to have to deal with that either, because at the time I feared I might be charged with something for my reckless biking, but in retrospect this makes me more worried.

The estimate is now in, and the car will be fixed by Tuesday. My plan is to meet the man at the shop and pay the shop directly for the work. I would like to have him and I sign something together saying that we are both satisfied with the situation, that neither of us owes the other anything, and that the matter can be considered closed. I have no intentions of suing the man, but I also want to ensure that this is my last responsibility to him. I don’t want him coming to me 2 months down the road saying his engine is knocking and that I have to pay to replace it.

I would like advice on what I should write in order to make this document legally binding and to cover all my bases. Also, if you all have any advice on how I can present this to him so as not to freak him out too much, as I already know he is reluctant to give out his name, that would be great too.

A few addendum, for the inevitable comments:
1) I know my handling of this has not been the best, but for better or worse, I am in the situation that I’m in now, and I just want it to be over and not have to worry about it any more.

2) I know you are not a lawyer or if you are, you are not my lawyer. I also know that I should probably be doing this with a lawyer, but this whole thing has already cost me quite a lot, and if I can manage to write up something that is legal enough on my own, it would save me that much more trouble.
posted by i less than three nsima to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Best answer: I think he will LOVE to sign a piece of paper saying that you are both satisfied.

To me, I think what you see is "shady" is actually his fear of you... the same fear you have of him. He probably didn't want to sign the EMT waiver because he was afraid you'd have a mysterious back pain 2 months down the road. That's probably why he hasn't given you his full name, either.

So, I can't say what the letter should say, but when presenting it I think you should just be honest: "I would like for us to both know that neither of us will come back with problems and claims. So, I wrote this letter saying that. I'd like for us to sign it."
posted by Houstonian at 4:25 PM on March 6, 2009

Obtain from your state bar website or Findlaw.com or similar a form "general release". Make sure it includes past, present or future known or unknown claims. Make sure it is designed for PA law (assuming that's where the accident took place and all of y'all live). This is not legal advice, rather a referral to a downloadable form.

posted by bunnycup at 4:27 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

(PS, I write personal injury and property damage releases for a living, basically. If certain "magic words" are not included, sometimes intent falls to the form of law.)
posted by bunnycup at 4:28 PM on March 6, 2009

I've been on the other side of this -- and it is always shady who is at fault in a bike accident. The driver could even feel at fault -- hence wanting to avoid cops. He might feel bad for hitting a biker in a huge car.

Realistically -- why the concern? You hit a car with a bike (200lb you + 18lb bike), theres no way you did anything other than superficial damage. If an "engine knocking", "bent wheel", or "cruise control wont work" comes up -- refuse to pay and have him prove it in small claims court. Good luck with that.

Keep a record of everything you did -- the estimate -- the cancelled cehck for payment (DONT PAY CASH).

If you are truly concerned of something mischievous-- talk to a lawyer.
posted by SirStan at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2009

I was hit by a car where it was clearly the cars fault -- no one wants cops involved.
posted by SirStan at 5:34 PM on March 6, 2009

The first thing that struck my mind while reading your post was that he might be an illegal immigrant or uninsured, thus wanting to avoid any kind of official documentation. Any chance either of those are true?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:45 PM on March 6, 2009

Sounds to me like he has some reason to not want to talk to cops. Maybe he has a few other bang-ups, or a bunch of unpaid parking tickets, or something like that.

Anyway, I think you're fine just paying with a check and thinking nothing else about it. I think you're being generous even doing that. In fact, even that might be a mistake.

I think you're being too hasty and polite-at-your-own-expense by automatically proclaiming this accident your fault. It would be wonderful if everyone in the world thought like you (and me). However, you hit head-on, right? Just because you're doing something illegal does not relieve the driver of his responsibility to not hit objects in front of him. If a driver hits ANYTHING in front of his car, he bears some responsibility, if only for not driving at a prudent enough speed to be able to stop in time. People like you and me, with stoic ideas of personal responsibility are why insurance companies tell you NOT TO ADMIT FAULT. EVER. Just because you feel guilty about your part in what happened does not make you fully responsible and him blameless.

If he comes back later for more money, he's the one who's going to have to prove it happened at all, prove you were responsible, etc. He's going to have to claim you're responsible for him hitting a bicyclist in front of his car. That's an uphill climb, right there. Your shelling out money for his car might be seen as an admission of fault and work against you. If he comes back later, get a lawyer right away.

Most likely, though, you'll pay and never hear from him again.
posted by ctmf at 8:55 PM on March 6, 2009

Just because your maneuver was illegal does not automatically make you 100% at fault.

The guy who hit you was responsible for being in control of his car - that is, making sure that it was safe to proceed and being able to stop before hitting someone. Depending on where you were in the intersection, a court might find him partially at fault because he should have seen you.

And for other reasons mentioned above (no insurance, illegal imigrant, stolen car?), he might be happy to just pretend this didn't happen.

Here's a guide to determining fault. Following this, it's possible that both you and the other driver were negligent and that this contributed to the accident.
posted by zippy at 9:01 PM on March 6, 2009

If this person has car insurance settle it through his insurer.
posted by pianomover at 9:10 PM on March 6, 2009

Just because you're doing something illegal does not relieve the driver of his responsibility to not hit objects in front of him. If a driver hits ANYTHING in front of his car, he bears some responsibility, if only for not driving at a prudent enough speed to be able to stop in time.

Just this past Sunday, I hit a car that was traveling in front of me.

The car was crossing the street on which I was traveling. She stopped at the stop sign there, did not see me approaching (I had no stop sign), she pulled out into the intersection; I had no time to react.

I was driving at a "prudent enough speed" (35 in a 35, on a sunny day, on dry streets, seems prudent enough).

The subsequent police report put all the responsibility squarely on the other driver.
posted by Lucinda at 9:22 PM on March 6, 2009

If a driver hits ANYTHING in front of his car, he bears some responsibility

May bear, depending on many factors, only one of which is whether the other driver was doing something illegal.
posted by zippy at 9:46 PM on March 6, 2009

I need help writing up a release of liability contract...

Translation: I need a lawyer.
posted by sanko at 9:53 PM on March 6, 2009

Lucinda, you're making exactly my point -

In your situation, I would have felt guilty for assuming that the other driver was going to stay put without some sort of eye contact or indication of her intention. That's just me, I'm not saying you're wrong. I tend not to feel "I've done nothing wrong," I feel "I could have done more." I'd also say that, to some extent, morally, the person steering 3000 pounds of metal around populated areas has failed in their responsibility when they run it into something by accident, regardless of the circumstances. It's the 'captain is responsible for everything that happens' theory. Turning a corner and finding a bike rider there is something a cautious driver is looking out for routinely, not something that could never have been guarded against, like being hit by a meteorite on the Interstate.

The point is, our subjective sense of what moral responsibility we have for the situation, right then, in the heat of the moment, is not necessarily the same thing as what the law would assign. So we should keep our mouths shut and not volunteer anything that could possibly be used unfairly against us later.

The OP volunteered to pay for the damage, which may or may not be appropriate under the law, depending on lots of things. That's minor, since he's apparently happy to do that. I'm not saying I'd feel any different. The problem though, is that now it's kind of open-ended, and no impartial judgment was involved to say ok, you have to pay this, and that's it. I still think it will turn out ok, because most people in the world are not opportunistic scumbags. I also think that even if the person is an opportunistic scumbag, getting a lawyer at the first sign of that would save the day.
posted by ctmf at 1:58 AM on March 7, 2009

No police report = it didn't happen.
posted by TomMelee at 4:40 AM on March 7, 2009

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