Everyone knows that in the United States you need car insurance to drive a car. Car insurance protects you and your family from the financial burdens of serious injury or death. In 2016, more than 40,000 people died in car crashes in the US. The money paid in settlements and verdicts for car accidents comes from insurance. Only rarely is money available beyond the insurance policy. The bigger the policy, the more money is available.
But did you know that if you are even just a passenger insurance protects you too? The same is true if you are injured as a pedestrian. And, of course, as a bicyclist. Bicyclists hit by cars tend to be more injured than accident victims who were in cars. Between 2002 and 2012 in Los Angeles, more than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes in which drivers fled the scene.
Injured bicyclists need a good lawyer to make an injury claim. Insurance companies take advantage of injured bicyclists who try to manage their own claims. A good bicycle accident lawyer will help you navigate this complex and adversarial process.
Ensure You’re Covered by Auto Insurance in a Bicycle Accident
When someone is hurt in a crash, insurance companies and the law focus on who was at fault, or liable. The portion of the insurance that pays for the other party’s harm is called liability insurance.
For auto insurance to cover a bicycle accident, the car must have been negligently operated. Operated is a loose term – the vehicle doesn’t have to be turned on. For example, opening a car door is operating a vehicle. Opening one into a bicyclist’s path is negligent!
The State of California requires all drivers to have the following coverage:
- Bodily Injury: $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident;
- Property Damage: $5,000;
Let’s say motorist is at fault in a vehicle vs. bicycle accident. The motorist’s bodily injury policy covers the cyclist’s harm. The motorist’s property damage policy covers the bicycle. Generally, the most significant losses tend to center on the bodily injury claim. Bikes are cheap. Bodies are expensive.
An insurance company that finds the bicyclist at fault will dispute liability. The bicyclist may not be hurt enough to warrant a lawsuit. If the bicyclist is significantly hurt, a lawsuit is the only way to secure a recovery. The recovery is obtained through the driver’s liability insurance.
But what happens if:
- The motorist has no insurance?
- The motorist hits and runs?
- The amount of coverage the motorist has is too little to cover the bicyclist’s damages?
The bicyclist must recover from their own auto insurance.
Many cyclists also own cars and have car insurance. When you buy car insurance, the insurance company must offer you uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). UM/UIM is governed by the same law and both are part of the same clause in your insurance policy.
If you decline UM/UIM when you buy auto insurance, you will not have it.
Denying UM/UIM when you buy your car insurance is a huge gamble, not just for cyclists, but for any road user, including drivers and pedestrians.
This is because an active, up-to-date UM/UIM policy covers anyone injured in a car crash if the injured person is not at fault and there was physical contact between the victim or the victim’s vehicle/bicycle and the motor vehicle or an object in contact with the motor vehicle.
UM auto insurance coverage applies if:
- the liable driver has no insurance: or
- the crash is a hit-and-run: or
- the liable car is stolen
UIM auto insurance coverage applies if:
- the liable driver has auto insurance: and
- their policy is not big enough to cover all the cyclist’s harm
As long as a motor vehicle was involved in the accident and the motorist was at fault, UM/UIM covers the bicyclist’s harm. In fact, UM/UIM covers anyone hurt by the negligent operation of a car whether the victim is another driver, a cyclist or a pedestrian. It even covers you if you are a pedestrian hit by a stolen car! (I should know – I secured a recovery for a client who was hit by a stolen car that crashed into him while he was walking his dog!)
In California, you can’t go after your own coverage until the other party’s policy is exhausted. First the claim must be against the driver’s policy. Once that has been paid out in its entirety, you can go after your UIM coverage.
Your UIM coverage is offset by the amount of the negligent party’s coverage. So if you only have $15,000 in UIM and the other party has $15,000 in coverage, you can recover no more than their policy. The bigger the injuries, the bigger your claim, so there is no such thing as too much coverage. GO BIG! If you own a home you can combine your UM/UIM into your umbrella policy on your home insurance for even more coverage. $5,000,000 is not too much coverage when you factor in such things as future care and future lost wages.
Insurance companies also sell a type of coverage called medical payments coverage, or med pay. Med pay is no-fault coverage. It doesn’t matter who was liable for the accident. Most med pay policies range from $1,000 to $10,000. With med pay, you can get your initial medical bills paid while you wait for your injuries to heal and treat long-term. It does not cover damages like long-term non-medical care, lost wages or pain and suffering. But it is a good way to protect yourself against such expenses as ambulance and ER bills, which can be costly. Insurance policies are contracts. The language varies from policy to policy. Some insurance policies require the injury to have taken place while the claimant was in a car, so ask about this when you buy the policy. If the med pay coverage requires a claimant to have been injured while in a car, buy from another company. Do your homework. A good bicycle accident lawyer will know how to use this coverage to add value to your claim and maximize your recovery.
What if you don’t own a car?
Several auto insurance companies sell non-operators’ policies for people who want to insure themselves against negligent drivers. Progressive sells one that will insure you up to $100,000. State Farm up to $250,000. And AAA up to $500,000! It’s an investment well worth making.
Check the declaration page that comes in the big envelope from your insurance company for UM/UIM coverage. If you don’t have UM/UIM, get it. Pay your premiums and keep your policy current and active. There is no recovery from an expired policy.
By the time an accident takes place, it’s too late to make sure you’re covered the way you should be. If you have concerns about specific types of accidents, review your policies, ask your auto insurance provider directly and update your insurance as soon as possible. Don’t delay.
Don’t open your own claim, whether against the other party’s insurance company or your own. DO NOT TALK TO THEM ABOUT YOUR ACCIDENT! Auto insurance companies will use the information you give them against you. Hire a lawyer instead.
See Los Angeles Bicycle Accident Lawyer Josh Cohen Today
Being injured in an accident may entitle you to substantial compensation. Insurance settlements and court-awarded damages help pay your medical bills and other expenses to put your life back on track. Contact bicycle accident attorney Josh Cohen today to learn more.