Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: Insurance for your bike

Two weeks ago, we received a letter to the editor from Darin Baer asking about the availability of insurance for expensive bikes. We received several letters in response, including one asking about protection for the rider.

Published January 17, 2008 by VeloNews 
By Robert Mionske, JD

Dear Readers,
Two weeks ago, we received a letter to the editor from Darin Baer asking about the availability of insurance for expensive bikes. We received several letters in response, including one asking about protection for the rider. We figured all of it might be a good subject for our legal columnist to take on. – Editor


Dear VeloNews,
Does anyone sell bicycle insurance? I have a few expensive bikes and want to protect them from theft, crashes and such. I know some European companies offer bicycle insurance, but do we have that option here in the U.S.?
D. B.
La Canada, California

Dear D.B.,
Insuring your bike is one of the most important precautions you can take to protect yourself. Unfortunately, there's no comprehensive bicycle insurance available in the United States, as there is in some European countries. I think it should be available here, because, as I discuss in Bicycling & the Law, one of the institutional biases against cyclists is the requirement that you have to own an automobile in order to be able to purchase some important types of insurance. But before we get to what you can't purchase, let's discuss what is available.

If you have homeowner's or renter's insurance, your policy may protect you against theft or damage. You will need to check your policy, or check with your insurer to be certain that your bike is protected against theft or damage, but even if it isn't, you can have it added to your policy for an additional fee. One thing you will want to be aware of is the limit of your coverage-make sure that your bike is insured for its full replacement cost value.

Your homeowner's or renter's policy will also provide you with another important type of coverage-personal liability for your negligent acts. Let's say you run a red light and broadside somebody's new Porsche-your personal liability coverage will cover that very expensive dent you just created. Another way to attain personal liability coverage is to purchase a personal liability policy.

So rest easy, if your bike isn't insured, it can be.

But what about you?

This is one of those areas where the institutional bias that favors the automobile gives cyclists the short end of the stick. If you're involved in a collision with an automobile, your injuries will be covered by an automobile policy. In a traditional tort liability state, the insurer of the person you collided with will pay for your injuries-if the other person is at fault. In this tort liability system, however, you will be depending on the motorist being insured, and equally important, being insured for an adequate amount. Because you can't know that the motorist will be adequately insured, one of the most important types of insurance on your auto policy will be Uninsured/Underinsured coverage ("UM/UIM"). I recommend that cyclists buy as much UM/UIM coverage as they can; very high limits can be purchased for very little more than the lowest limits. Obviously, you will need to own an automobile in order to protect yourself against uninsured and underinsured motorists.

In no-fault and "hybrid" states, you will be covered by the "PIP" (Personal Injury Protection) coverage in your own auto policy-if you own a car, For that reason, you will want high policy limits on your PIP coverage. If you don't own a car, you will be covered by the motorist's policy-if the motorist is adequately insured.

As you can see, there's a significant institutional bias that favors automobile ownership, regardless of what type of insurance system is in place in your state. While it's likely that most cyclists also own cars, many cyclists choose not to own cars, and they should not be discriminated against for making that choice-if comprehensive bicycle insurance can be offered in some European countries, there's no reason it can't be offered in the United States or elsewhere.

Insurance is a complicated subject, with pitfalls lurking for the unwary. For those cyclists who want to make sure that they understand insurance and its pitfalls, I've covered with more depth what you need to know in Bicycling & the Law.

Thank you to everybody who has contacted me to request my appearance at their event on my upcoming speaking tour. I will be speaking extensively this year, beginning in February, and will make plans to appear before any club, bike shop, or other engagement that is interested in hosting me. If you would like me to appear to speak at your event or shop, or to your club or group, please drop me a line at bookbob2speak@gmail.com. I'm looking forward to meeting as many of my readers as possible. Look for announcements of my first 2008 speaking engagements in this column soon.?
Bob
(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.)