Introduction

Families for Safe Streets prepared this resource guide because so many of us wished we had the information it contains when we experienced the unimaginable, as you have.

Whether you have lost a family member in the crash or suffered a serious injury, your world is changed. Your thoughts and feelings may shift from minute to minute or hour to hour, and you could feel completely out of control. You may question yourself or feel lost, not knowing what to do next or who to contact.

Sadly, you are not alone. Alexandria has had three years of increases regarding pedestrian / cyclist traffic violence. It is at this incredibly painful time that you need to navigate the police, insurance companies, and more while also ideally getting the support you need from someone who understands.

We, like you, have experienced the same trauma, and we are here to try to help.

Alexandria Families For Safe Streets was formed in the summer of 2017 by a group who came together to turn our grief and concerns into action and promote safer streets for all users in Alexandria. We have all either lost family members or been injured in traffic crashes or experienced too many near misses of being crashed into by a vehicle and seek to prevent others from experiencing our pain. Unfortunately, our roads are not safe and making change that saves lives has helped many of us continue when we thought it wouldn’t possible.

We have compiled this guide, using our shared experiences and a variety of materials. Note that we are not attorneys and this guide is not meant to supplant legal advice. If you learn something new as you navigate this process, please share it with us, and we will update our materials. If we can assist you in any way, or if you would like additional information about our organization, please contact us at any time at: contact@alxffss.org 

We are so sorry you need this information, but we hope you find it useful. No one should have to go through this alone.

Five Important Considerations After Your Crash

Work with the Police and Gather Evidence as Needed
  • If you are struck by a motor vehicle call 911.
    • Having police document the incident is important for your insurance claim as well as any criminal or civil actions.
  • Do not let the driver who struck you leave.
    • Many injuries have a delayed onset. Make sure to get their information and any photos/video of the vehicle and accident site if possible.
  • If you refuse medical treatment or to go to the hospital it could be used against you by auto insurance.
    • It’s up to you whether you want to go to the hospital after the incident but keep in mind that you are traumatized and likely mentally incapacitated and not in the best state of mind to refuse treatment. You may want to err on the side of caution.

Get witness contact information. The police will not readily provide you with this, and you will want that information for any case you file or legal proceeding. Don’t depend on an attorney to gather this information either. Be proactive.

If you wish to hold the driver accountable in some way, you will need to press the police to conduct a thorough investigation. The police are required to interview all witnesses, locate nearby security cameras to obtain video evidence, and take photos of the crash. Find out which police officer or detective is assigned to investigate your crash, contact them immediately and continue to follow up.

If your crash involved a serious injury or fatality, immediately ensure that the Alexandria Police Department’s Crash Reconstruction Team is being deployed and is handling the crash investigation. This team is combination of crime scene investigators, detectives, and officers specifically trained in crash investigations. Lieutenant Scott Patterson is the current commander of the Crash Reconstruction Team. You can reach Lt. Patterson at: Scott.Patterson@alexandriava.gov. If there are businesses in the vicinity you might want to approach them for video if they have any near the accident site. Video is usually not kept longer than a week so act as soon as you can. Help supplement what they might find.

Sadly, some of our members have found that the police do not always do enough. You may want to do additional investigative work yourself or perhaps with an attorney or private detective, if you hire one right away. If you are concerned that the police are not conducting a thorough investigation, we recommend that you or someone you know go back to the scene and try to collect your own evidence. Family members and friends typically want to help, and gathering evidence is a task you can ask them to do.

Possible ways to gather evidence:

  • Video Recordings: Ask local businesses near the scene if they have security cameras that may have recorded the incident. Businesses only keep such videos for a limited time (typically 30 days but sometimes as little as 24 hours), so you will want to obtain this ASAP. Be sure to get contact information of everyone who has handled the video because your lawyer will need to “authenticate” that no one tampered with the video.
  • Photos: Take photos of evidence you see at the scene, such as: skid marks, debris, damage to vehicles, damage to nearby property, etc.
  • Witnesses: Try to find your own witnesses. If you do not have anyone’s contact information who was at the scene, ask nearby business owners, put up posters, offer a reward, etc.

Note that many law firms will hire a private investigator to assist with this effort.

After five days have passed, contact the police to see if you can review a copy of the report to make sure it’s accurate. If it’s not, fight to fix it. Just because it’s written, doesn’t mean it’s not amendable. If there is evidence you believe was not collected, demand that they do more. You might want to call a lawyer to help with this. Police reports can be inadequate. You can obtain your police report for the City of Alexandria here: http://www.crashdocs.org/va-alexandriapd    Another resource to consider is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Alexandria, Va. The Commonwealth Attorney’s office has a Victim-Witness Assistance Program.

    1. A program that is staffed by Crime Victim Advocates who provide support and services to victims of crime during the immediate aftermath of a crime and throughout the criminal justice program
    2. Services Provided:
      • Answer questions about the court process
      • Provide outreach to victims of crime where an arrest is not made
      • Insure that victims have a voice
      • Make referrals to agencies that provide emergency financial, medical or psychological assistance to victims
      • Give information about and assist victims with filing for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund
      • Arrange pre-trial meetings between the prosecutor and victim
      • Can provide a tour of the courtroom prior to proceedings
      • Help the victim and family members by accompanying them the day of the hearing
      • Provide victims with victim impact statements and assist them with filling out statements
      • Assist victims with getting property returned that is being held as evidence
      • Assist victims with collection of overdue restitution
      • Refer victims to area support groups
    3. If you have been the victim of a crime in Alexandria, please call the Victim-Witness Assistance Program at (703) 746-4100, Monday-Friday, 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. for assistance: https://www.alexandriava.gov/commattorney/info/default.aspx?id=2020

BE PROACTIVE. It’s tragic to be the victim of a traffic incident as a pedestrian or cyclist. It can also be overwhelming.

Consult with an Attorney

There are peculiar aspects of Virginia law that make it important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible whenever a pedestrian or cyclist suffers injuries or death as a result of an automobile crash. Attorneys in these types of cases are paid on a “contingency” basis, meaning they only get paid if they collect money for you. Legal consultations are always free, so it is recommended that you consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. Lawyers can assist with the investigation and can help gather critical information. We also suggest that you interview at least two attorneys.

What is it about Virginia law that makes it imperative to consult with a lawyer?  Virginia still recognizes the antiquated legal concept of “contributory negligence.” Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if the pedestrian or cyclist is even one percent at fault in causing the crash, and the auto driver is 99 percent at fault, the pedestrian or cyclist cannot recover any damages. Contributory negligence has been abolished in the vast majority of jurisdictions in the country, but it is still the law in Virginia, and for that reason, it is very important to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

A good personal injury attorney can help you navigate the legal process.  However, it’s not necessary in all cases.

Remember, an attorney is not an advocate in connection with the criminal justice aspect of your case. While they may be able to assist you in some aspects of the criminal justice case, the lawyer is your advocate in the civil justice system. Do not expect the lawyer to find the culprit if it’s a hit and run, and don’t expect them to be a liaison with the police should you need to communicate with police. Attorneys can help with legal proceedings, but they are not detectives. Your attorney’s job is to protect you in the civil justice claim for injuries and damages.

Attorneys who are experienced in representing injured clients will handle the case on a contingency basis. This means that you do not have to pay them an initial retainer and will not be receiving bills every month. The typical contingency retainer is one-third of the recovery.  If there is no recovery (for instance, you are determined to have been contributorily negligent), you do not owe the attorney anything. If you have health insurance, the insurer might also put a lien on your recovery if you used your health insurance to cover your medical costs.  Try to get a solid understanding of your personal circumstance.

If you opt to hire an attorney, be sure to hire an attorney who is experienced in personal injury and remember that he/she works for you. You can set up a consult to make sure you want to work with the attorney, and don’t be afraid to ask the most mundane or simple questions.  A good attorney will be more than happy to educate you and assist you in getting the best recovery.  Again, be proactive and make sure you understand the legal process.

To find a personal injury attorney in the state of VA refer to: http://member.vsb.org/attsearch/search.aspx
Note that AFSS does not endorse any particular attorney.

Seek Support

Get the help you need.

Take advantage of hospital support services and resources. Ask for a patient advocate or social worker if one is not provided. They can help you understand hospital regulations, insurance requirements, and paperwork, as well as advocate for specific care. Some members have found that a hospital chaplain can serve a similar role. If you or your family member were injured, make sure to not be discharged until all necessary home care arrangements have been made. All hospitals are mandated to provide discharge planning assistance.

Start an Insurance Claim

File an insurance claim with the driver’s insurance company as soon as possible. Provide only basic information about what happened: that you were hit as a pedestrian or cyclist by this driver on this day at this location. The insurance company will likely pressure you to give a full narrative, ask whether you’ve seen a doctor, or spoken to the police. You do not have to disclose any of this, and attorneys advise that you get legal counsel before divulging any details related to the crash. If you were driving and/or have auto insurance, you should contact your own insurance company as well. You may be covered, as a pedestrian or cyclist, under your own auto insurance.

If it’s a hit and run you may have uninsured drivers’ coverage in your auto insurance policy. However, you may or may not want to file a claim with your own insurance company in the event of a hit and run. There are pros and cons, and this is a personal decision.

Brace Yourself, Lean on AFSS and Be Prepared to Push Back

Sadly, you will learn that the system is far from perfect. Alexandria and the State of Virginia should be doing so much more to prevent crashes and hold reckless drivers accountable. Families and individuals who suffer should be compensated, but unfortunately, this is not typically the case.

Many of our members describe their experience dealing with the police, insurance companies, commonwealth attorney, and the press as just pouring salt on a colossal wound.

From the very beginning, the odds are stacked against you as you work to find justice. The police, press, and judicial system often try to blame the victim. The system labels crashes as “accidents”. Insurance compensation is often dictated more by whether the driver was sufficiently insured than by what funds you need to recover or survive after the loss of income or ability to work. Moreover, you may learn that had there been better policies or implementation of our existing law, the crash may have been prevented from occurring in the first place.

If you wish to hold the driver accountable in any way for the crash, just know it can be a long and complicated process. Be prepared that you likely will need to fight to make this happen, particularly if the driver was not drunk and stayed at the crash scene. This resource guide is a good place to begin your quest for justice.

Also, consider channeling your grief or anger into action. If you wish to speak out publicly, create an online petition, meet with the Commonwealth Attorney, contact the APD, reach out to your elected officials, etc., we can help you.  Join us and demand change, so that others do not suffer as we have.