In 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, 818 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes (i.e., crashes on a road or highway involving a motorized vehicle) in the United States. Four of those fatalities occurred right here in San Francisco, California. Perhaps a more astounding statistic: 45,000 additional cyclists were injured in 2015 traffic crashes in the United States. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage of weekday cyclist fatalities occurred smack dab in the middle of the p.m. rush hour: between 3p.m. and 5:59p.m. The average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes is increasing, climbing to 45 years old in 2014, up from 39 in 2004, 32 in 1998 and 24 in 1988. 71% of all 2015 cyclist fatalities occurred in urban areas. In short, if you’re an adult road biking in an urban area like San Francisco, you are at risk and need to consider how best to prepare yourself, in advance, to maximize the compensation available to you should you fall victim to a driver’s negligence.
Here’s a checklist to ensure that you are well prepared should you suffer an injury while riding due to another person’s negligence.
Make sure you are adequately insured before you get on the bike:
California law unfortunately requires drivers to carry only $15,000 in liability insurance. That means if a driver negligently hurts you while you are riding, there could be as little as $15,000 available to compensate you for your harm. And that’s if the driver is insured. In 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, roughly 15% of drivers in California were uninsured! And a much higher percentage carried only $15,000 in coverage. That’s barely enough to cover a visit to the ER. Imagine a high wage earner who suffers a catastrophic head injury, can no longer live independently, can no longer work, and will require millions of dollars of in-home care throughout their lifetime looking to a $15,000 insurance policy as the sole source of potential compensation. It doesn’t add up.
So what does this mean for you? It means you need to analyze your own uninsured / underinsured coverage limits to make sure you are prepared. The starting point is to look at your primary insurance policy. If you are a car owner, this will be your auto insurance policy. If you are not a car owner, you should look into obtaining non-owner operator coverage. Either type of policy will cover you, and family members in your household, while riding a bike or walking as a pedestrian. Make sure you carry at least $300,000/$500,000 liability limits (meaning your insurer will pay up to $300,000 per person or $500,000 per incident to resolve claims made against you should you negligently injure someone else). But more importantly, make sure you carry at least the same $300,000/$500,000 limits in uninsured/underinsured coverage (coverage that will pay you if an uninsured or underinsured driver negligently injures you). Why is $300,000/$500,00 the magic number? That’s usually the minimum to qualify for an “umbrella” policy, discussed below.
Next, consider obtaining an “umbrella” policy to extend the limits on your auto policy. You can obtain up to an additional $1,000,000 in uninsured/underinsured coverage in your umbrella policy. Combined with your primary policy, carrying this coverage could provide up to $1,300,000 in compensation if you or a family member are struck and injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver while riding your bike or walking. Note, however, that most umbrella policies do not offer uninsured/underinsured coverage – so make sure to ask and read the fine print.
Finally, look at your health and disability insurance landscape to ensure you have all bases covered.
Think ahead to preempt arguments that you were at fault:
If you are seriously injured by a person with adequate insurance coverage and/or personal assets, their attorney will leave no stone unturned looking for a way to shift fault to you. Why? The compensation you can recover is reduced proportionately with your percentage of fault. For example, you go to trial, obtain a $1,000,000 verdict, but the jury finds you 50% at fault. You can collect only $500,000 from the driver, not the full $1,000,000.
So, again, what does this mean for you? It means you should do everything you can to preempt a claim that you were at fault. Here are some things to consider before and during a ride:
- Keep your bike in good working order. Save your tune-up invoices to show that you regularly service your bike. Avoid an argument by opposing counsel that you failed to reasonably maintain the bike and the bike’s state of disrepair caused the incident.
- Consider wearing a brightly colored kit or a kit with reflective striping and always ride with front and back lights. Don’t give opposing counsel the opportunity to argue that you were riding at night, without lights, in dark clothes and that the driver couldn’t see you.
- Always ride with your helmet. Should you suffer a head injury without a helmet on, your chances of recovering full value for your claim will be greatly diminished.
- Familiarize yourself with biking rules of the road and follow them while riding. A good resource for this can be found here: http://www.sfbike.org/resources/bicycle-law/rules-of-the-road/
- Though it goes without stating, do not drink (or …) and ride!
There’s an obvious additional benefit to honoring these principles – not only do you set yourself up to successfully defeat a claim that you were at fault, but you also reduce the risk of being injured in the first place.
Good luck and happy trails!
Theo and his partners Miles Cooper, Maryanne Cooper and John Hullverson, are all Bay Area residents, avid bicyclists, and devoted attorneys. We represent bicyclists and others who suffer injuries and pursue maximum compensation on their behalf.