Cyclist Insurance

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2011 “Ask the Experts” column of BCM’s newsletter, “Maine Cyclist”.

A reader requested that we explain insurance for cyclists. This can be a very complicated subject, and we cannot do more than scratch the surface in this article. You need to talk with your insurance agent(s) and possibly a lawyer to know all the details of your situation. Also note that this article focuses on Maine laws and policies; other states may differ.

Currently, there is no such thing as comprehensive “cycling insurance” in this country. Depending on the circumstances, cyclists may use a variety of policies: homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, health insurance, auto insurance (yours, or the motorist’s if you crash with a car) and “umbrella” or “excess” insurance.

Damage to your bike from causes other than crashing with a motor vehicle generally is covered by a personal liability clause in a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Check to make sure bikes are covered. If someone else caused the damage, you can try to get it from their personal liability coverage, if they have it. If you are injured, you should talk to your health insurance company. If the injury was due to someone else’s actions, your company may negotiate with their company (if they have health insurance).

Theft usually is covered with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Additionally, if your bike was stolen while locked with a high quality lock, the lock company may provide coverage against theft.

Guard against loss ahead of time by keeping your bike’s bill of sale with the serial number, and take photos of the bike. If possible, register your bicycle; some communities such as Portland have voluntary bike registries through the police department.

If your bicycle is stolen, report it to the police and keep a copy of the police report. What if you crash with a motor vehicle? In the “best” case, the motorist who hit you is found at fault, and he or she has insurance. Most insurance companies, if they accept assignment of blame to their customer, will simply pay out to the other party, regardless of whether you were in a car, on your bike or even on foot. (Unfortunately, we have been told that some insurers will deny medical claims from bicyclists, though they pay for pedestrians.)

There are a variety of other, less ideal situations that may present problems to the cyclist colliding with a car.

The motorist at fault may be uninsured, or underinsured relative to your expenses. In this case, if you have automobile insurance, your own Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage may be used to pay you, even if you were on your bike (or walking) at the time. (Even if you don’t personally own a car, this applies as long as you are a driver on a family member’s policy.)

For this reason, bicycle law experts recommend that cyclists purchase the maximum amount of UM/UIM coverage available, especially since most states have very low minimum liability limits. (Maine’s minimum is $50,000/$100,000 for bodily injury, and $1,000 for medical payments, according to http://www.autoinsurancetips.com/.) Personal injury protection also may help.

Those who do not own a car may buy a “non-owner auto insurance policy,” intended primarily to provide liability coverage. Such a policy can include UM/UIM, Personal Injury Protection or medical payment coverage. Unfortunately, these policies can be expensive. If you are found at fault for the collision, you have a problem even if you have an automobile policy, because the liability coverage only applies when you’re operating the insured motor vehicle.

Your homeowner’s or renter’s policy may cover the bike damage. For medical bills, your health insurance, if you have it, will be needed. As for the motorist’s damages, in the best case he could simply use his own UM/UIM coverage. But worst case, you are legally liable for his damages, and he could sue you to recover them from you. This is a very good reason to make sure you always ride legally!

Some insurers offer “excess” or “umbrella” policies, with very high limits that come into play when other options are exhausted. Although rarely needed, this can be invaluable in particularly catastrophic crashes.

Be sure that you consult your insurance agent or lawyer if you have questions about your situation, both before and especially after you are in a crash with a motor vehicle. It is also important that you investigate all options before you accept any settlement offers.

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