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Motorists, take care


Mike Smedley wrote a Durango Herald article in August titled “Pushy pedestrians put the cross in crosswalk,” where he describes the perils that drivers face when traveling the streets of Colorado.

As a relative newcomer to Durango, the article made me reflect on some of my own personal experiences in driving in our town.

As I practice personal injury law, I recognize that a Durango driver must be extra cautious when confronting the likes of visiting Texans trying to cross downtown streets after tossing back a few at El Rancho. Crosswalk or no crosswalk, stop lights or no stop lights, we live in a very unpredictable environment when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists and our attempts as drivers to live in harmony with the sometimes erratic unpredictability of those traversing by foot or pedal.

A hypothetical:

So, you find yourself jumping in your car early on a Saturday morning for a quick trip down to Durango Joe’s for a cup of coffee and a Danish. As you travel down Florida, you approach a crosswalk, a crosswalk that you have traveled through probably a thousand times. You do what you always do, you slow the car down just in case there is a pedestrian or a cyclist wishing to cross the street. As you are proceeding cautiously towards the crosswalk, a man on a bike traveling at what you feel is a high rate of speed suddenly comes out of what appears to be nowhere and enters the crosswalk. Your natural reactions kick in and you slam on your brakes before getting too far out into the crosswalk. Unfortunately, the bike rider, in an attempt to avoid you and your car, swerves and loses control of his bike. You rush over to the injured cyclist to see if you can assist. As you approach him, you realize that he is in significant amount of pain and needs medical attention.

Instead of calling 911, you offer to take him directly to the emergency room at Mercy Regional where you make sure he is properly admitted and will be receiving the necessary medical care. You leave the hospital feeling you did everything that you could have possibly done under the circumstances.

Two weeks go by and a letter addressed to you from a law firm arrives. This letter states that this law firm has been retained by the cyclist for injuries that he received in this accident. They imply that you were responsible or negligent in the operation of your vehicle and your negligence caused the man’s injuries. They request that you contact the firm with your automobile insurance information, or alternatively that you directly report the accident to your automobile insurance carrier and have them contact the law firm.

You are mystified and in fact downright angry as you feel that you were nothing but careful and it was the bike rider’s own recklessness that caused his own injuries. You put your head in the sand and ignore the law firm’s request.

A few weeks later you get a phone call from the attorney who sent the letter requesting the needed information. Your immediate response is to get defensive and hostile with the attorney in what you believe is a frivolous claim and one that only will result in your auto insurance premiums skyrocketing. What to do?

The answer may be obvious, but it is sometimes important to state the obvious. Cooperation and notice of potential claim requirements exist with respect to most insurance policies, and failure to notify your insurance carrier could waive the protections and coverage available to you. These duties in case of a loss or an accident are clearly written within insurance policies, and your personal opinion of your own culpability does not and should not play a role in the duties you owe to your insurance company under your policy. Accordingly, I recommend swallowing hard and promptly notifying your insurance carrier to allow them ample opportunity to do their investigation and determine the scope of insurance coverage, if any.

And while you are at it, it is prudent to annually discuss your current policy coverage with your insurance agent or directly with your insurance company. A disheartening and sometimes life-changing discussion is one where your insurance company tells you that you have no coverage or a limited amount of coverage after a tragedy.

Jamie McDonough is a local attorney who is licensed in both Colorado and Texas. He practices personal injury law with Downs, McDonough & Cowan, L.L.C. He may be reached at james@swcolaw.com or at (970) 247-8020.

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