As I got dressed this morning, I heard the usual rumble of the garbage truck chugging its way down my street.
I poked my head out of my third-floor window to watch, just to make sure my bike was OK. Since my tiny Astoria apartment is too small and there are no designated bike racks in my neighbourhood, I leave her (yes, her) locked up to a street sign on my block most nights.
I was just in time to watch the worst happen.
First, one of the garbage loaders bumped into her, and she went down hard, dangling pathetically to the pole by the U-lock with the rear wheel now jutting out into the street.
OK. Not a huge deal. I opened the window and shouted down for the loader to stop and pick it up off the ground. But he couldn’t hear me over the engine. The driver had just thrown the truck in reverse and the loader had stopped to direct him.
In less than 5 seconds, he crushed my bike, steel frame and all, like it was made out of LEGOs.
I realise this situation is rare in that I was actually home to witness it. I imagine garbage trucks must run into people’s cars and bicycles all the time on their routes. But what happens if they get caught?
Here’s how I handled it:
Step one: Chase the drivers down.
By the time I dashed downstairs, the drivers were loading up and about to continue their route without so much as blinking an eye. I told them I was the owner, that I wanted to file a complaint and that I wanted all of their information.
“You got a pen?” the driver asked me, without so much as an apology. “I’ll give you a number to call.”
No, I didn’t have a pen. I ran back upstairs to grab one, along with a pad of paper and my cell phone to take pictures of the damage. But when I got back downstairs, unbelievably, they had already gone to the other end of my block and were back to business. I ran the truck down, and the driver told me his supervisor was on his way.
“Just wait for a white car,” he said. Then he told me they had to go. Just like that.
Step two: Take down their truck information and take photos of damage.
I’ve been in bike accidents on the road before but I always got so rattled that I never bothered to file a complaint. I always regretted it, so I was determined to get it right this time.
While I waited for their supervisor to show up, I started snapping photos of the damage. The rear wheel, which I’d only replaced a month ago, was wrecked. The rear fender was folded like a baby blue metallic taco and my side saddle and tire were completely crushed. This was not fixable.
Within five minutes, a sanitation department vehicle turned up. Luckily, I’d copied down the ID number on the side of the garbage truck already. With that, he could find out immediately who the operators were.
Step three: File a complaint with the city sanitation department.
“Sorry, ma’am, it’s my first day on the job so I’m going to need to call someone here to help,” was the first thing the sanitation supervisor told me.
Awesome. I was dealing with a rookie. His back-up arrived in another five minutes and they spent 20 minutes questioning me about what happened and filling out their forms.
The complaint form asked for basic information and had to be mailed (and notarized) to the city comptroller within 90 days of the accident.
The wait time for filing a claim via the Dept. of Sanitation? Up to a year! I use my bike almost every day to get to work. It was a big blow.
Step four: Call 911 to file a complaint.
I wasn’t sure whether I should call the cops, but I figured if I wanted to file a claim with my renter’s insurance, I’d need all the proof I could get.
I called the local precinct directly, but they told me to call 911 first. An operator sent over a local police cruiser to take my complaint, and they turned up within 10 minutes.
It all felt like a little too much drama for a bike accident, but the fact that the drivers had just left me like that really irked me. Turns out it also irked the NYPD officers who answered my call. They started taking down my information and filed a complaint against the drivers for leaving the scene of an accident.
“I hate these guys,” the officer said. “Just last week they knocked my side-view mirror off my new car and drove off.”
It took about half an hour for them to finish filling out the necessary paperwork, and they handed me a simple complaint form with further instructions. I had three days to call their precinct to get my complaint number for insurance. They apologized for the drivers and sent me on my way.
Step five: File a claim with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
If you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, your personal property is covered under your policy, whether it’s inside your home or not. That means, luckily, I could file a claim with my insurer (USAA) and dodge the year-long wait for reimbursement from the city.
The caveat: Under my policy with USAA, I have a $250 deductible (standard for most policies) and my bike was worth $500 when I purchased it. At most, I’d get $250 back.
Another plus to having insurance is that I could give them all the information I gathered today and send them after the sanitation department for the other half of the bike’s value. It’s called subrogation, which basically means insurance companies have the right to act legally on behalf of their clients.
In the end, it turned out even better than I imagined. I didn’t have a receipt for my bike because I bought it on Craigslist. But I could use the email exchange I had with the buyer, in which we settled on a final price and arranged a meeting. I also had before and after photos of the damage.
USAA agreed to immediately send me the $250 for my bike replacement and asked me to upload photos of the damage to their website. It took all of five minutes and I should see the money in a few days. I can’t be more grateful after the morning I’ve had.
Moral of the story: Park your bike indoors if at all possible. And get insurance! It’s so worth the money.
In the meantime, here’s a photo in memory of my old pal, Blue. She served me well!
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