The current temporary “tent city” for the homeless outside Bellingham’s City Hall reminded me that there are unique issues in car accident cases involving homeless people. Currently there are around fifty people camping in close proximity to busy downtown streets. Pedestrians are at a severe disadvantage in a car accident, which was tragically shown when a drunk driver’s car left I-5 and struck a homeless person sleeping in Seattle’s tent city. What happens if a driver hits a homeless person?
Any injury accident is tragic, of course, but accidents involving homeless people can be more complicated than other motor vehicle accidents. First and foremost, anyone injured should receive emergency medical attention immediately. Another top priority is to identify the victim. Many homeless people lack personal identification, may not have living relatives, and may have untreated mental or physical illnesses. Law enforcement will be tasked with trying to find out who the person is. If the homeless person was killed, then the coroner’s office will lead this part of the investigation.
Identifying someone who does not carry i.d. doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find out who they are. Police records, arrest reports, dental records, missing person reports, military records, and other legal means can be clues to the person’s identity. Fingerprints and DNA can also determine identity.
From a personal injury standpoint, the drunk driver in the Seattle accident would clearly be at fault, and if there are family members of the deceased, they could sue the driver for wrongful death. But what if you hit a homeless person and believe you were not at fault? The first thing you should do is call 911. When police come to the scene, make sure they file a police report, even if the accident was relatively minor. Just as you would any other accident, collect contact information and statements from witnesses, take photos of anything that may be important, and consider a free consultation with us if you feel that your insurance company is not dealing with you fairly.