Help with a Hit and Run Bike Accident
May 22, 2022 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Last month a friend was likely hit by a car while biking in DC. However, all she remembers is waking up in the hospital a few hours later. She's struggling to put the pieces together in terms of police reports, medical bills, and more. Please help me help her!

She was commuting through downtown DC on a weekday morning only to wake up a few hours later in a dark room at Howard University Hospital. Apparently, a stranger found her passed out on the street and called 911. An ambulance arrived in five minutes, which is supposedly before the police arrived, and she was taken to the ER Her bike's chain was broken and she had a bump on her head and some cuts but is otherwise OK.

However, she has no memories of what happened in that moment or in the day after. Apparently, she had called friends and family according to her phone and the friends themselves. She tried to make a police report but they are being difficult, refusing to consider it a hit and run or any sort of crime; there is a very basic report on file that she can't see. Bike accidents are incredibly common in DC so it likely was a hit-and-run accident. The police won't release any information: is a FOIA request the only way to get a copy of the 911 call or police report? There is a law office across the street from the site of the accident; they have a security camera but won't show her the footage.

More background: She had just been to the doctor for a check up where had been deemed healthy. Likewise, the weather was mild so simply passing out seems unlikely. However, if that had been the case, she'd like to know, too, so she can get more medical support there. The bottom line is that she's really confused and having to fight through all this red tape and bullshit.

Furthermore, she received a massive medical bill from the ER that her good insurance hardly covers. Do you have any advice for how she can get more covered and/or negotiate a lower price?

She has good emotional support but feels very lost and overwhelmed in dealing with all of this. Her family is in another state so it feels extra hard. I have volunteered to help her find out more information from the police as well as support her with the insurance claims. Her goals right now are to get the medical bill paid by insurance and, if possible, find out more information about what really happened. Thank you for any and all advice or anecdotes you can offer!!
posted by smorgasbord to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Best answer: Are there businesses or homes in the area they were found? I have had a friend in a different east coast city contact businesses and use store surveillance cameras to find the description of the car that hit them. (They knew the place, approximate time, and the event of interest, and sent a short form letter to the manager of each store to beg any pictures of the area that might show this.) Sometimes stores have cameras at weird angles (catching odd areas of the street outside or across intersections) so check even if there is a store down the block. I imagine that with Ring and other cameras, there may be some private homes that could have footage if they were in a residential or mixed area (I don’t know DC).
posted by holyrood at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For the bills: yes, she absolutely can get on a payment plan. She'll just need to talk to the billing department at the hospital. It might be worth finding out exactly what she's been billed for (the medical codes) to see if there's any wiggle room there with the insurance company. Maybe someone coded something wrong. Also, if she could try to find out the reason for the denial of payment, that would be helpful.
posted by cooker girl at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Head trauma can cause memory loss. It is normal to not remember traumatic accidents that include head trauma. You just "wake up in the hospital" like your friend did. Head trauma can also cause ongoing confusion and emotional stress. It is not surprising she is going through all this. If she has not already, she should see a brain injury specialist, and get a thorough workup and rehab program.

The state of the bicycle and her injuries should give some indication of whether she was hit by a car. There must be people who know about things like that. I'd reach out to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. They might be able to help analyze the evidence. They also probably have a lot of experience with the police not caring, and could advise on that.

You mentioned the broken chain. Is it possible she hit a pothole or some other thing happened, her chain jammed and broke, and she was thrown from her bike?

Do you know why she is intent on filing a police report? Will that help her insurance payout? At this point, she should be focusing on her health and her peace of mind. Legal cases don't usually contribute to peace of mind, even if they are justified.

Good luck to your friend. It is great that you are helping her!
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If the bike advocates don't have a suggestion, I would look for a friendly trial attorney. They obviously focus on situations where there is someone to sue, but they could probably refer your friend to someone who specializes in bike accident forensics, who could help her figure out how she was injured, if that is truly important to her.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe reach out to the pro bono bike lawyers in DC at this org and see if they have any advice. It may be too late to get any footage from security cameras, unfortunately.
posted by pinochiette at 2:53 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A quick Google indicates there is an entire industry of bicycle accident forensic analysis. That would cost money, but if it is in important to your friend, it could be a way to get some answers.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:54 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh also she can and should designate a willing person on her hospital account so that person can help her when she gets overwhelmed. If she designated someone, they'll be able to talk to the billing department without her being an intermediary.
posted by cooker girl at 3:06 PM on May 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In terms of the medical bill, she (or her designated support person) will need to take a look at the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that she got from the insurance company. First thing is to look at the summary - how much was billed, how much was allowed, how much she is expected to pay (included deductible and copay or coinsurance amounts) Ideally, all of the charges should show up as "in network" which means that there will be a huge discount negotiated between the hospital and insurance company. If any part of it is out of network, she might have grounds to challenge that. (There was a new law January 1 to try to prevent the nastry surprise of getting emergency care then finding out some part of it is out of network. If the problem is just that, even with good insurance, and even after the network discounts, the deductible plus copay is too much, then she can talk to the hospital about a payment plan.

I like cooker girl's suggestion on asking for help from a friend or family member in dealing with the medical bills and insurance. There may be someone in her network with the time, patience and willing to tangle with bureacracy that would be very glad to help her out in this way.
posted by metahawk at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In terms of reconstructing what happened, you could ask the POPville blog if they would post to see if there were any bystanders, or people there have suggestions for how to figure it out.

If the forensic analysis is too much, she could take her bike to a local bike shop and see if they notice anything helpful, like if a wheel hit something or the bike was dragged along the ground. I'm trying to imagine a scenario where a collision breaks the bicycle chain but doesn't otherwise mess up the bike (or scrape her up a bunch!) and I'm having a hard time.

Good luck with DC police. In my experience any time spent on anything with them was wasted time. If they filed a report at all there is probably no useful info or it blames the cyclist/assumes she fell over. (bike accidents are common BUT people falling off their bikes is also common -- ask me how I know!) You might get somewhere with legal help but otherwise I doubt it's worth the effort. You could also reach out to her local DC council member -- I'm not sure if there's anything they could do but it wouldn't hurt.
posted by ropeladder at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My husband was in a bike accident - he went over the handlebar when his front wheel dropped into a hole disguised as a mere puddle - had a concussion, and has no memory whatever of the accident or the rest of the day. Fortunately he was with several riding friends, so one of them called 911 for an ambulance and took him to an ER.

On the insurance front, perhaps you can help her investigate what her maximum out-of-pocket expenses are - and before she pays those bills! The EOB from the insurer is an excellent place to start.
posted by citygirl at 7:51 PM on May 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try posting on Twitter with the hashtag #bikedc with the whole story and ask people to RT and share thoughts on how to tackle this. Where I live at least, there is a pretty active #bikeXX community on Twitter, including personal injury lawyers, who tend to rally around bike accident victims.
posted by Mid at 7:30 AM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sorry, just adding: you may be able to find a witness through local bike Twitter and/or a bike-oriented lawyer who could do a FOIA for city traffic cam footage and similar. Sometimes lawyers run advertisements or requests for eyewitnesses in local bike-oriented media (like twitter or Reddit). It looks like there is a BikeDC Reddit too.
posted by Mid at 7:35 AM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am jumping back in to mention that if you can get yourself added to the Nextdoor community that would include the neighborhood where you were hit, you might get some witnesses to speak up. Hubby had another accident - not bicycle - a hit and run, and Nextdoor was very helpful in locating people who witnessed it.
posted by citygirl at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You shouldn't need to FOIA a police report in DC. Does your friend have her CCN number for her case? With that, or with the date, location, and her own name, she should be able to go in person to the station for the police district where the incident happened and ask for the PD 251. There is a public copy that anyone can request, and by law, they're supposed to have to give it to you. Feel free to message me if that doesn't work. I do this a lot. (IAAL, but IANYL)
posted by decathecting at 4:18 PM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everyone seems to have it well covered but also consider putting up posters on poles near where the crash happened giving the time/date etc and asking people to contact her if they saw any part of what happened. People tend to be around the same areas over and over again and this would maybe capture people who were not online-type people.
posted by urbanlenny at 4:09 PM on May 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your kind and knowledgeable replies!! My friend has read everyone's advice and checked out the great links. She's considering how to proceed; she realizes that it was, indeed, likely a solo accident and her focus will be on sorting the medical bills.

You all really helped us here, and we appreciate it!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:39 AM on May 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

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