This is the third and final entry of my three part series on Bicycle Safety including information on reducing risk, types of injuries, insurance issues, liability, and litigation.
Bicyclists not only face a high risk of injuries in a crash, they must also wade through the inevitable confusion from the fall-out of the crash. What insurance source will cover the damage to the bicycle? Is there coverage for the lost wages? To whom do they turn to address their medical expenses? Unfortunately, there is not always a clear answer, as the facts and local insurance laws will vary widely. In order to find the answer, one must sift through all of the insurance sources which may provide coverage for the answer. In some instances, the car insurance for the at-fault driver may be responsible for all of the injured cyclist’s injuries and related damages. In others, there may be a mix of carriers to deal with. For instance, in a “no-fault” (a.k.a. “PIP”) state like New Jersey, the bicyclist’s insurance carrier will likely be responsible for paying for necessary medical bills and possibly some wage benefits, even if the cyclist bears no liability for the accident. If the cyclist is at fault (wholly or partially), they may still find coverage for the property damage to their bicycle and related gear through their homeowner’s insurance. And, depending on the facts of the crash, general liability (“non-auto”) policies may be implicated (such as for defects in the maintenance of a property creating a hazardous condition). Disability insurance should also be considered where available. And a number of companies are now offering various forms of “bicycle insurance,” which may be able to provide protection for some or all of the typical losses. In short, you must look at EVERYTHING.
Bearing this in mind, let’s look to a couple of the questions I hear regularly from folks who’ve been hurt in a cycling crash:
What do I do about my medical expenses and property damage if a car hits me while biking?
Assuming liability for the crash is clear, the answer turns largely on the state where the crash happens and that state’s auto insurance law. In most states, the at-fault driver’s auto insurance should be responsible to pay your medical expenses and property damages from the crash. However, to protect yourself from the likely delays in securing payment, you will probably need to turn to your health insurance or other sources to pay the bills initially. And, be wary of signing ANYTHING! Many unscrupulous insurers will offer trivial settlements early on, but require the injured party to sign a “release” which absolves the responsible party and their insurer from further liability. In states like New Jersey, which have “No-Fault” or “PIP” coverage, the cyclist’s own auto insurance is likely responsible for the medical expenses which are reasonable and necessary due to the crash. Property damage should ultimately be paid by the responsible party or their insurer, but cyclists may be able to turn to their own homeowner’s insurance to cover all or part of the property damages promptly. If the at-fault driver doesn’t have car insurance, or has less insurance than needed, the cyclist may be able to turn to their own “uninsured” or “underinsured” motorist coverage on their personal car insurance to help pay all or part of the damages.
What do I do about medical expenses and property damage if I was responsible, or if I hit a pedestrian?
If a cyclist harms another while riding their bike, they may be able to turn to their own homeowner’s insurance or general liability (“umbrella”) coverage to address the other party’s damages. If you have a bicycle insurance policy, you may be able to turn to it as well to cover some or all of the damages from the crash, including your own damages. Typically, under these facts, the cyclist will need to turn to their own personal health insurance to address their personal medical expenses. If you caused the accident and didn’t have bicycle insurance, you may not be able to be reimbursed for your own property damage. And, bear in mind, you can be sued for injuries you cause if you ride negligently. So, in the end, there is the possibility that there is no one responsible for the damages other than YOU, so ride with caution!
As foresight offers the best protection, I would suggest that you have an insurance review with your local insurance agent or, better yet, with an experienced bicycle injury attorney BEFORE you are in an accident to ensure that you understand how your coverages work and identify any gaps which may exist in your coverage. In any event, if you do get in an accident, it is prudent to consult an attorney immediately to find out your rights and options.