The Need for Bicycle Insurance in San Francisco
The SMFTA 2012 State of Cycling Report estimates that there are over 10,000 bicycles in San Francisco. The latest US Census Data shows that 17% of San Franciscans ride weekly. Ridership has doubled since 2006, and now bicycles make up the primary mode of daily transportation for up to 4.3% of city dwellers. On an average day in 2016, there were an estimated 82,000 bike trips in San Francisco. But, as a San Francisco bicycle accident lawyer I understand that an increase in ridership can also mean an increase in expensive injuries.
It makes sense then that the insurance industry would respond with policies to cover cyclists and their gear. However, that’s not the case. While a number of insurance companies (and branches of insurance companies) began offering bicycle insurance coverage from 2010 on, the trend never really took off. Many of the companies have closed up shop or dropped essential liability coverage, opting instead to simply insure the bike itself against damage or theft.
In the Bay Area, there is a trend towards creating a more bike-friendly environment. In San Francisco specifically, this trend has included the improvement and expansion of bike lanes to encourage more individuals to commute via bicycle, while aiding in the safety of these riders. The SMFTA 2012 State of Cycling Report estimates that there are over 10,000 bicycles in San Francisco. The latest US Census Data shows that 17% of San Franciscans ride weekly. Ridership has doubled since 2006, and now bicycles make up the primary mode of daily transportation for up to 4.3% of city dwellers. On an average day in 2016, there were an estimated 82,000 bike trips in San Francisco. Even with all of the improvements that have been made, however, bicyclists are still involved in very serious accidents with automobiles causing severe injuries. Unfortunately, an increase in ridership can also mean an increase in expensive injuries.
In California, no insurance is required to operate and commute via bicycle. While at first, this may seem appealing in that there are no monthly payments for insurance premiums, it becomes incredibly problematic the moment a cyclist becomes involved in a serious accident. Because bicycle accidents by their very nature tend to result in serious injuries to the rider, medical expenses often sky-rocket very fast.
Logically, this unfortunate scenario leads to the following question: What insurance coverage is available to cyclists? And what can you do to protect yourself when cycling in the Bay Area?
Auto Insurance Coverage for Bicycle Accidents
Perhaps surprisingly, often the best protection available to cyclists is their own automobile insurance policy. California law requires automobile insurance policies to provide coverage for injuries caused by a motorist who carries no insurance (uninsured – “UM”) or has very low liability limits (underinsured – “UIM”). As such, UM/UIM coverage is part of every motor vehicle liability insurance policy unless the insured and the insurer execute a written waiver in the exact form contained within California’s uninsured motorist statute, California Insurance Code § 11580.2.
UM/UIM coverage is defined in terms of the “insured” and not the insured’s occupancy of any particular type of motor vehicle. As such, UM/UIM coverage protects you whenever you are injured by a motor vehicle, even when you aren’t in the car named on your automobile insurance policy. Take for example the California Appellate Court decision Daun v. USAA Casualty Ins. Co., (2005) 125 Cal. App. 4th 599, where the court opined that “section 11580.2 mandates UM and UIM coverage to the named insured regardless of whether the individual is in a motor vehicle or on a horse, motorcycle, bicycle or stilts when injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, so long as one of the statutory exclusions does not apply.” Id. at 610.
UM/UIM coverage actually goes even further than this – it will also protect you and all of your family members living in your household. Practically, this means you do not even need to own a car to have UM/UIM coverage as long as you live with a spouse or another household family member who has auto insurance providing this coverage.
As such, we strongly encourage bicyclists to carry high limits of UM/UIM coverage on their auto insurance. Making a UM claim does not increase your auto insurance premiums, and the coverage itself is not very expensive. In fact, the biggest cost of automobile insurance is getting the coverage activated, and the difference between minimum coverage and additional coverage is not usually that high. Insurance carriers will only allow you to carry UM/UIM limits that are identical to your bodily injury limits, so it is important to carry as high of limits as you can afford and confirm your UM/UIM limits match your liability limits.
Hit and Run Bicycle Accident UIM Claims
For a bicyclist involved in a hit and run accident, there are a couple of threshold requirements that must be met to pursue a claim through their UM/UIM insurance coverage. First, the injury must arise out of physical contact with the automobile. Second, the accident must be reported to the police within 24 hours in the city where the accident occurred. And finally, a statement under oath that you have a claim for personal injuries arising out of the accident against a person whose identity is unknown must be filed with the insurer within 30 days of the accident. If any of these requirements are not met, the UM/UIM claim will be denied.
Home or Renter’s Insurance May Apply in a Bike Accident
Another way cyclists may find coverage is through home or renter’s insurance. To determine whether you are covered under this type of insurance, you would need to read the liability section of your policy. If your policy covers “personal activity” away from the home, your bicycle may be covered as cycling will often be considered a personal activity. If your home policy is a “location only” policy, it will likely not provide coverage for any accidents or injuries involving your bicycle away from your home. Application and coverage of a home or renter’s insurance policy will thus, depend on the specific language contained within. If you are a frequent cyclist, we strongly suggest reviewing your home or renter’s insurance policy to see if it will provide coverage in the event you are injured while biking.
Bicycle Insurance Riders
Cyclists who need more coverage can add a rider (no pun intended) to a current insurance policy but that can be costly. Covering a $1,000 bike could cost well over $150 per year. Plus, those costs aren’t regulated across the industry. Individual insurers will base premiums on average use, where the bicycle is ridden, where it’s stored, and even the weather.
What insurance will cover me if I’m in a pedestrian or bike accident?
As a San Francisco bicycle and pedestrian accident attorney, I represent a lot of cyclists and pedestrians who have various types of insurance coverage, and each type of coverage may or may not come into play in a personal injury case. Keep in mind that all insurance policies vary and you need to look at the specific language of the policy to know what is and is not covered, but here are some basics of insurance coverage in bike and pedestrian accident cases.
Insurance that may cover you in a bicycle or pedestrian accident:
I have never had a client who carried specific bicycle insurance, although I do believe there is such a thing, but I have seen my clients have various insurance policies that provide coverage for their bodily injury and damage to their bike caused by a third party in an auto vs. bike or pedestrian case.
For bodily injury in a bike accident or pedestrian accident:
Many of my clients drive cars as well as ride bikes (in fact the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports that a large percentage all San Francisco cyclists are also drivers), and of course we are all pedestrians in the City. So, if you carry automobile insurance and are involved in a bicycle or pedestrian accident, you will want to look at your policy to see what is covered. If you carry Medical Payments coverage on your auto insurance, it may cover you for out-of-pocket medical expenses as they are incurred if you are struck by a car while bicycling or walking. Again, this is not guaranteed, so you will want to read the specific coverage language (or better yet, have a qualified and experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney review it) in your policy documents.
The same goes for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. If you are hit on your bike or while walking by an uninsured or underinsured driver, your own auto policy might cover you. Here’s an example of a bicycle accident case where our client went from getting $15,000 to $50,000 for their case by using their underinsured motorist insurance.
What if You Don’t Have Auto or Home/Renter’s Insurance?
What options are available to a cyclist who does not have automobile insurance or home/renter’s insurance, and does not live with any family members that carry said coverage? While it would seem that with this trend of encouraging and promoting the commute and safety of cyclists there would be bike-only insurance coverage available, most insurance companies have not quite caught up yet. This is an issue for cyclists who do not own a car, and therefore cannot carry UM coverage, or for those who do not rent or own a home.
From common insurance carriers such as GEICO, there is no bike-only coverage or bike-specific coverage available. However, there are a few smaller companies that provide options for bicyclists.
Standalone bicycle insurance is a rarity in San Francisco but The Insurance Information Institute says that most cyclists are covered (to an extent) by their homeowners and renters insurance. These policies often provide limited liability protection as well as no-fault medical coverage. However, the maximum payout in such cases is often $5,000 or less—not even enough to cover a few days in a hospital.
Most of these policies simply don’t work for professional or pro-am cyclists either who often spend thousands of dollars on their bikes. Filing a claim for a $5,000 bicycle would nearly tap out any average homeowners insurance policy.
“I cant recommend Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers enough, they really did take a large amount of the stress and worry out of the whole affair, managed the process extremely efficiently and allowed me to focus on getting back to 100%.”
The Options for Standalone Bicycle Insurance
As a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco I have to say the idea of bicycle insurance is a good one for daily commuters. However, the implementation is lacking—there simply aren’t enough providers to offer competitive plans and rates. Why? Unfortunately, bicyclists seem like a riskier investment for insurance companies. Not only do riders who are in accidents suffer more severe injuries, bikes are more difficult to protect from theft or damage than automobiles.
However, there are a few insurance companies who market specifically to riders offering coverage for:
- Crash/Accidental Damage
- Damage/Loss in Transit
- Roadside Assistance
Velosurance might provide a solution. Velosurance provides stand-alone bicycle insurance coverage, allowing cyclists to insure their bicycles for theft, physical loss, damage and liability. Velosurance provides a number of different coverage options to cyclists. First, if needed, there is cycling liability insurance that will cover the injuries or property damage you cause to other people/property. If you don’t have auto or home insurance, or these policies exclude accidents caused on a bicycle, cycling liability coverage is necessary to avoid personal liability and responsibility to the injured party.
Velosurance also offers Medical Payments coverage up to $10,000 per person, which will help pay medical bills not covered by your health insurance policy. Finally, and most importantly, Velosurance offers what they call “vehicle contact protection.” This type of insurance is basically UM/UIM auto coverage designed for bicycles and covers situations where the motorist has no insurance, not enough insurance or cannot be identified. Velosurance offers coverage at limits of $10,000 or $25,000.
To find more information about this type of insurance, please visit Velosurance’s website at https://velosurance.com/blog/uninsured-motorist-liability-coverage/
Markel Bicycle Insurance
Markel bicycle insurance offers a variety of coverage options. The major difference between Markel’s policies and those offered by Velosurance is that Markel’s worldwide coverage is an add-on, not part of the standard policy.
Bigring Insurance is underwritten by Transamerica Casualty Insurance Company and administered by Health Special Risk, Inc. They offer similar policies with similar benefits (including discounts at certain specialty bike shops). However, they do also offer bicycle rental reimbursement. This is a great option for San Franciscans who use their bicycle as a primary means of transportation.
Non-Owner Insurance Policies
One final option is a non-owner insurance policy. This is a special kind of policy where insurance companies provide liability coverage only when you’re renting a vehicle or borrowing someone else’s car. It is possible this type of policy may cover bicycle accidents, although some insurance policies will contain exceptions for when the insured is hit by a non-four-wheeled vehicle, which could mean the bicyclist would not be covered if struck by a motorcycle. Several larger insurance companies such as Progressive Insurance and Dairyland Insurance offer these policies.
Evaluating Your Risk
If you’re considering whether or not you need bicycle insurance in San Francisco, it’s important to estimate your personal risk. Ask yourself:
- How often do you ride?
- Do you ride in the city’s “Danger Zones?”
- Do you ride at night or in inclement weather?
- Do you own a high-end bicycle?