Cycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.
It comes up amongst serious commuters all the time, should cyclists carry insurace? Are you already covered by existing policies? In this column Brendan lends some insurance guidance on what to look for in a policy.
Q:My bike is my primary means of transportation, so I ride a lot. Should I have insurance just in case, and, if so, what kind?
Talking about bikes is awesome. Insurance, not so much. But if you ride a lot in the city it is time to eat your peas and contemplate it, if only briefly. If something bad happens you will wish you thought about it. Cars, trucks and buses tend to produce horrible results when they collide with people on bicycles. For that reason, motor vehicle owners are generally required by law to have insurance to compensate anyone they may injure. Nevertheless, nationally one in seven drivers, over 14%, fails to carry the necessary coverage, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. In big cities, based on my experience, the statistics are ever scarier. I would guess that in Chicago where I practice, one quarter to one-third of all drivers go without auto coverage. That means if you get hit by one of these scofflaws your chances of being compensated for your injuries and damage to your bike are nil. But you can protect yourself by purchasing insurance before a crash.
Here is a brief primer on the coverage you should have:
Health insurance: I know, it is expensive and these days fewer employers offer it to their employees. Those dreary facts noted, do whatever you can to get yourself covered. Get on a parent’s policy. Look for a job with great benefits, even if the salary is not the best. Companies like Whole Foods, REI and Starbucks are well known for providing employees good benefits packages. Even with a seemingly minor injury medical bills can mount up fast. An ambulance trip to the hospital alone can run you close to a thousand dollars. Add in some x-rays and an ER trauma protocol and your bills could be jaw-dropping. The bottom line is that if there is any way that you can swing getting health insurance, you should.
Auto insurance: A bicyclist should have car insurance. If you get hit and injured by a driver you may look to your own auto policy for protection. It matters not that you were on a bike instead of in your car at the time of the crash. If one of the conveyances involved was a motor vehicle, then your auto policy may provide you with coverage. Your auto policy will likely have two relevant provisions: “med pay” and un/underinsurance motorist coverage. The medical payments provision of your policy will pay your bills up to a set amount, usually between $5,000 and $10,000. Med pay can get eaten up fast by medical bills but it is better than nothing. Also, it will not be necessary to prove that the other driver was at fault to recover under the medical payments provision of your policy. If you are injured by a motorist that coverage is generally available. Uninsured and underinsured coverage generally provides more substantial coverage. However, you will be required to provide proof that the un/underinsured driver was at fault for causing your injuries. You may wish to have an attorney assist you in recovering un/underinsured motorist coverage from your insurer.
Non-owners auto insurance: No car? No problem getting car insurance. Consider non-owners auto insurance. These policies are offered by many insurance companies and tend to be more affordable than owner’s coverage, generally about half the premium of a traditional auto owner’s policy. They may provide medical payments coverage, just like traditional auto policies. Also, they may protect the non-car owning bicyclist who is injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver. The other nice thing about non-owners policies is that if you decide that the no car thing is not for you, you will have established an insurance history which may help you get a fair rate on car insurance.
Bicycle insurance: This is another option for the bicyclist who does not own a car. Also generally less expensive than traditional auto insurance, these policies provide coverage to pay your medical bills and to fix/replace your bike. They may also protect you should you injure another cyclist or pedestrian. There seem to be more and more companies sprouting up to offer bicycle insurance. One company that seems to be aggressively marketing its services is Markel American. Curious about what they had to offer, a few months ago I investigated. What I found was that for $310 a year, $25.83 a month, I could receive $25,000 in “bicycle liability” and “vehicle contact protection.” Markel defines bicycle liability coverage as “protection for bodily injury or property damage” for which the insured cyclist becomes liable to another person such as a pedestrian, another bicyclist, or motorist. Vehicle contact protection is coverage to benefit the bicyclist should he or she be injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver. That $310 price also includes $10,000 in medical payments coverage defined by Markel as coverage providing “protection for the reasonable charges for necessary medical, surgical, x-ray, dental, ambulance, hospital and professional nursing services and funeral service expenses incurred within one year form the date of an accident causing bodily injury to an insured while using an insured bicycle.” Generally, the insured may receive compensation under a medical payments provision of an insurance policy regardless of who was at fault for causing his or her injuries. The quote I received also provided some nice benefits should the insured bicycle become damaged in a crash.
Homeowners and renters insurance: If you own a home or rent an apartment it is a good idea to have this sort of coverage. These policies may compensate you if your bike is stolen, even if it is swiped far from home. They may also protect you with liability coverage if you injure someone else while riding your bike. However, they probably will not offer a source of compensation to you if injured while cycling.
Insurance companies market themselves as offering safety and security should your world turn upside down. Sometimes they do. However, whether a particular policy is really worth the premium depends upon how it works when it is really needed. Please do not accept anything I have written here as an endorsement of any particular company or any service or policy it provides. I strongly encourage readers to investigate for themselves when purchasing insurance. Of course, all insurance policies are different. Ask lots of questions when purchasing a policy. Assume nothing.
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
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