Insurance Issues for Bicyclists

December 3, 2009

Why do I need insurance? 
You follow the rules of the road, wear hi-vis clothing, use a mirror, and wear enough blinkie lights that your friends mistake you for a moving Christmas tree. You ride safe so you don’t have to worry about being injured while on your bike, right? Wrong. According to the National Highway and Safety Transportation Agency, in 2008 there were 50,000 bicyclists injured in accidents on the road and 716 bicycle fatalities. Every year there are news stories across the country of bicyclists injured or killed by inattentive, intoxicated, and “road rage” drivers through no fault of their own. Whether you are a recreational cyclist, commuter, club rider, or weekend warrior, you are constantly exposed to the risk of injury. What can you do to protect yourself?

The easiest way to protect yourself, your family, and your bicycle in the case of an accident is to make sure you are covered under one or more policies of insurance. Bicyclists have a number of insurance options available to them to protect themselves in the case of injury, property loss, and legal liability. However, because there is no universal “bicycle insurance” available, it is important that you understand the patchwork of different coverages available to you and the limits of each type of coverage.

What if I am hurt in an accident? 
There are several sources of insurance available to a bicyclist injured in an accident. First, if you have purchased health insurance individually or through your employer, your medical bills will most likely be covered under your health insurance policy. However, health insurance policies may have high deductibles, yearly maximum limits, and will not compensate you for any pain and suffering you endure. Also, many individuals lack health insurance. Therefore, it is important to consider alternative sources of insurance coverage.

If you are hit by an automobile and the driver is at fault, the driver’s automobile liability policy will be available to pay for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damage up to the limits of the policy. Beginning January 1, 2010, every driver in Wisconsin now must possess liability insurance with limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

If the driver’s insurance policy limits are not sufficient to cover your injuries and expenses, or if the driver does not possess insurance at all, you may have to look to your own automobile insurance to provide coverage. If you own an automobile and have purchased automobile insurance, your policy will contain medical payment, or “med pay” coverage, which may cover a portion of your medical expenses. However most med pay limits are not sufficient to cover a serious accident. Under current law, insurance policies are required to contain only $1,000 in med pay. As of January 1, 2010, policies must contain $10,000 in med pay coverage.

Your automobile insurance policy may also contain uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. This type of coverage will protect you if the driver of the automobile that hits you does not have liability insurance or if the driver’s insurance limits are not large enough to cover your injuries. Starting January 1, 2010, every policy of automobile insurance in Wisconsin must contain uninsured and underinsured coverage with limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. This type of coverage is “personal and portable,” meaning it will apply whether you are driving your car, riding your bike, or walking as a pedestrian.

What if I do not own a car? 
Many cyclists have adopted a “car-free” lifestyle. While this is commendable from an environmental, health, and energy perspective, not owning an automobile puts you at a serious disadvantage if you are struck by a car. Unfortunately, there is no “bicyclist insurance” equivalent of the types of coverages discussed above. If you do not own a car and are hurt in an accident with another vehicle, you put yourself at the mercy of your health insurance and run the risk that the driver of the car that hit you does not have insurance. In order to protect you and your family, you may want to consider purchasing a cheap, old car and a policy of automobile insurance so you can get the peace of mind offered by the mandatory uninsured and underinsured coverages under the policy.

What if I hurt someone? 
Sometimes accidents just happen. We have all experienced a tire blow out unexpectedly, a chain derailing, or some other mechanical failure with our bikes. These incidents can sometimes result in injury to another person or cause property damage. If this happens, you should be protected by the personal liability portion of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. This will provide a source of funds if the injured person makes a claim against you. If you do not have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, you may have to pay for an injured person’s medical expenses or property damage out of your own pocket. For this reason, it is a good idea to purchase the maximum coverage available under your homeowner’s or renter’s policy.

If you want more peace of mind, you can also purchase what is known as an “umbrella” policy of insurance. This provides an extra layer of insurance coverage, often up to $1 million in case your homeowner’s, renter’s, or automobile insurance limits are not sufficient to cover an injured party’s expenses.

Who pays for my bike if it is stolen or damaged? 
If your bicycle is damaged in an automobile accident and it is not your fault, the property damage should be covered by the driver’s automobile insurance. If you are at fault for the accident or if your bicycle is stolen or damaged in an accident that does not involve an automobile, you will need to look to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Your bike can be protected in two ways under a homeowner’s policy.

First, your bike will be covered by the general property damage limits in your policy, subject to your deductible. Most insurance policies will pay the cost to replace your bicycle, while other may pay only the depreciated value of your bicycle. However, if you store your bike in your garage or house and your house is damaged by a fire, your property damage limits may not be high enough to pay the full replacement cost for all of your personal belongings.

If you have a very expensive bicycle, or want to make sure there is enough coverage to replace your bicycle, you can also purchase a “scheduled” personal property policy for your bicycle—similar to insuring expensive jewelry. Under this type of policy, you and the insurance company agree upon a value for your bicycle at the outset and your bike is covered up to that amount. This type of policy provides “worldwide coverage” and should protect your bike if you crash on the trails near your house or if your bike is damaged while in transit across the country.

Bicycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to exercise, travel, and just have fun. However, please make sure that you, your family, and your bike are protected in case of an accident.

To subscribe to email alerts from Axley Law Firm, click here.