Case Closed

 The image from the insurance report of the shattered windshield, caused by the impact of my body. April 22, 2014.

The image from the insurance report of the shattered windshield, caused by the impact of my body. April 22, 2014.

 

2 years ago today, I was biking to work, as I had been doing for 8 months, along a bicycle boulevard in Berkeley. I crossed an intersection that I crossed on an almost daily basis. Halfway through the crossing, I found myself lifted up onto the hood of someone's car, and then down onto the pavement in front of it. I got up and walked myself and my bike to the curb, where I sat down. A bystander was walking by at the time and stopped to call 911. I remember thinking how I needed to get going to work or I would be late. Then the police and the ambulance and the fire truck showed up, and I realized I wouldn't be going anywhere. 

The paramedics took my blood pressure and looked me over and asked me if I was in any pain. I kept insisting that I was fine. They mumbled to themselves about my blood pressure being highly elevated - I was in shock. They wanted me to be transported to the hospital for further evaluation. I was being difficult and in denial and didn't want to go. They had me take a look at the impact my body had on the windshield of the car, warning me of the horrors of internal bleeding. I went with them.

When I arrived at the ER, they placed me in a room for 2 hours. A nurse came by at one point to give me some Advil and clean the glass off of me. The doctor came through and decided I didn't need further evaluation. Finally the police came by with information on how to pick up a report. 

I went home that day and rested up; I was okay, I was alive, and with barely a scratch to boot. I was incredibly lucky.

This is where two stories diverge. The first story is one of gratitude. I'm writing on the eve of Passover, which is a holiday that is focused on the redemption of the Israelites from the land of Egypt. It is a story of memory, to know where you come from and to help re-shape where you are headed. 

The second story is of lessons learned. This experience was transformative and terrible for me, and I want to make sure others who may have similar experiences know better than I did.

Feeling grateful to be alive, a few weeks later the bills started to come in. I owed thousands of dollars for the 10 minute ambulance ride to the hospital, and the 2 hours of care plus Advil I had received in the ER. This was the first time I had ever seen such bills or had to manage my care so independently, and it was terrifying. Fortunately I was able to get everything covered by insurance, but it was a wake up call about a few things:

1) Prices for services rendered in a hospital are not one-price-fits-all. If you are uninsured, you get one price. If you are insured, you get another. 

2) Prices are disproportionate. The 2 Advil I was given cost $20 on my bill. You could buy a hundred Advil for that price in Walgreens. 

A few more weeks went by. I picked up the police report from the city of Berkeley. I then started to get mail from Geico, the insurance company of the 98-year-old woman who had hit me. They wanted $2000 for me to cover the cost of repairing her car. To repair the damage caused by the force of my body smashing against her windshield.

I was so angry it was all I could think about for awhile. How could they dare to ask for that? I was the victim in the case, not them, and not the woman who, especially given her age, likely should not have been driving.

They followed up with calls and more letters. Finally the creditors started calling. I had no choice but to fight back, because I couldn't and wouldn't pay them what they wanted. I learned a few more things here:

1) Police reports are essentially good as gold in accidents. Whoever is on the scene determines all causes, regardless of actually witnessing the incident. 

2) You can fight back against large insurance companies. They are scary and enormous monoliths with power and resources, but when you start to put up a fight they back down eventually. They don't expect individuals to fight back. I had to essentially threaten to take their client to small claims court over the whole thing in order to get them to stop bothering me. Still, I was fearful that my credit score might be affected or creditors would continue to harass me for money. Fortunately, they didn't, and today marks the statute of limitations, so they never will. 

3) Get renter's insurance. They can and will fight for you in these sorts of cases. I unfortunately didn't have renter's insurance and my parent's home insurance wouldn't cover me since I was living out of the state and over the age of 24. 

4) Small claims court is usually not worth the hassle. I felt bringing my case there was my only chance to fight for myself. Sadly there are a number of convoluted steps that you need to follow in order to appear in small claims, and if you have a full time job it is nearly impossible to stay on top of it. 

5) Know the bike laws in your state. In California, this means bikes are vehicles. So, you are technically supposed to walk bikes through pedestrian crosswalks, not ride them. When you are on your bike, you are subject to the laws of vehicles, and when you walk it, you are subject to the laws of a pedestrian. 

I feel lucky that I walked away from this accident with both my life, money, and sanity in check. But it was a terrible experience. It was my first real encounter with the problems of both our medical and legal systems. I hope some of the lessons I learned can help someone else in the future. 

2 years later, I bike to work almost every day. I still am fearful and have moments of dread and anxiety when I bike past the spot I was hit, but I try not to let it consume me. I'm not sure how or why I escaped unharmed that day, but I will never forget it. 

I'm grateful that the woman who hit me was also uninjured. Though I feel anger at the way her insurance company treated me, I know that was not her fault. 

Since my accident, I have seen other bicyclists be hit by cars, even in the same intersection. Bicycle boulevards are not necessarily safer than other roads for cyclists. Cross with caution, preferably at a traffic light, where the law is much clearer about who should be moving and when. 

And of course - always wear a helmet.