South Bay mayhem report: Good man down and CYA

One of our tried and true South Bay cycling veterans got hit by a car yesterday in Santa Monica. Our guy had stopped at the red light, put his foot down, and waited for green. He got the signal and began making a left hand turn. Idiot motorist apparently blew through a red light and hit him head on. Our guy has a fractured C5, lacerations and stitches on his leg, a bike in ten thousand pieces, and a long, brutal road to recovery ahead.

Idiot motorist probably has a few scratches on the hood of his wagon and perhaps some pangs of guilt. But the real question is, does he have insurance? Our guy is going to have a mountain of medical bills and lots of missed work.

This accident brings onto the stage a grisly drum I’ve been beating for the last year now. Below is a reprint from a short article I posted on the Big Orange Cycling Yahoo newsgroup. Please read it and take action. The ass you save is going to be your own.

How to save your ass when the motorist who runs you over is also an uninsured or underinsured deadbeat shitforbrains

At my office we’ve taken in a number of bike-car accidents in the last year, everything from trashed bikes to people who are never going to walk properly again to people whose last action on this earth was pedaling a bicycle. What follows is some advice that I hope you’ll heed.

Most people think that if they’re in a bike-car collision, they’ll be able to recover money from the driver as long as the driver is insured. What you may not know is that in California, the minimal insurance coverage for accident liability is $15,000. What you also may not know is that 85% of the drivers on the road have this minimal coverage. This means that their insurance company is on the hook for $15k, and that’s it.

To put it in perspective, the money you can recoup from the careless idiot who took you out while sexting his girlfriend a “Brett Favre” evaporated on the life flight trip to the hospital, and once your expenses exceed the $15k that most drivers carry, you’re done. That’s the bad news, and it’s very, very real. Imagine how hard it is as a lawyer to tell someone who’s been trashed for life that their recovery won’t pay for their first day of medical care…then imagine how hard it is for the victim who has to actually live through it.

There is, however, a very cheap and very effective way to protect yourself and your family. It’s called uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage, and it comes standard with almost every auto insurance policy. Many cyclists are unaware that this coverage on their own auto liability policy even exists, and many more are unaware that it covers them in a bike-car collision when they’re not even in the car.

This means that when idiot’s policy tops out at $15k, you have the legal right to turn to your own insurance company for the remainder. So far, so good, but there’s a catch: most UM coverage is also minimal, often only $15 or $25k, which is hardly enough to make you whole when you suffer significant injuries.

Unlike most insurance stories, though, this one has a very, very happy ending if you’re proactive about it, because you can increase your UM coverage to very high levels for only a tiny increase in your monthly premium. Although your UM coverage is generally barred from exceeding your liability coverage, if you have $500k worth of liability you can bump up your UM from $25k to $500k for only a few bucks.

For the sake of yourself and your family, take a minute to look at the face page of your insurance policy, check the UM coverage, and then call your agent to ratchet that sucker up to the max. With the spate of deaths and serious injuries occurring in our midst this past year, this is something you can’t afford to put off.

The other benefit to turning to your UM coverage in the event of an accident is that if you’re forced to use it you actually wind up with a larger recovery than you would if you were making a claim against a driver with adequate coverage.

Ride safe!

6 thoughts on “South Bay mayhem report: Good man down and CYA”

  1. Thanks for alerting us how under-insured most motorists are — and those are the ones who _are_ insured; I suspect a significant fraction in the 3rd world known as LA County, are _not_.

    But why not just rely on one’s own health insurance? (assuming you have it). My individual policy’s deductible is high ($5K), but then I’ve got some $2+ Million in coverage.

    1. Your health insurance probably only covers your medical bills. What about your time lost from work? What if you lose your job as a result and are thereafter unemployable? Pain and suffering? Loss of consortium? Drastically reduced quality of life? Spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair? Your health insurance will not likely pay for any of the above, whereas UM coverage will if you sustain these damages.

      What if your health insurance runs out due to the catastrophic nature of your injuries? What will you have available to supplement it? And of course, why should you have to use your deductible to pay for injuries caused someone who ran you over while chatting on his cell phone?

      Most importantly, who’s going to replace your bike frame? Not your health insurer!

      Thanks very much for reading and for taking the time to pose this question. It’s a reasonable one and probably occurs to lots of people as they wrestle with the risks of cycling.

  2. Good advice on the UM coverage, an item your typical insurance agent will not council you on.


    Hello fellow Big O member,

    I was presented this article by another Big O member recently and found it invaluable. I thank you for making this post and answering questions. In fact, I have a couple of my own.

    1. Aside from being a responsible and moral individual, what is stopping someone from intentionally choosing the cheaper minimum liability coverage, knowing they are only on the hook for a smaller amount? Why does the article make it seem the victim can’t take the idiot driver to civil court for additional damages that exceeded idiot drivers limits?

    2. Do you have a list of companies that will extend UM coverage when on a bicycle?

    (I am currently with “insurance company A”, and i specifically informed them when joining, I will only join if UM coverage extends to the bicycle. They confirmed it will extend (verbally on phone). A few months later, I decide to get them to email me that confirmation so I can have a paper trail and am told UM coverage DOES NOT extend to the bicycle.) I will be joining a diff company soon that will extend UM coverage to us pedal pushers.

    Big O member

    1. 1. Nothing. You can reject a driver’s offer of his minimal insurance policy and sue him, but if he has no money or assets you will have nothing but a piece of paper. Also, few if any attorneys will sue a judgment proof defendant.

      2. Your insurance company is deceiving you. If you are walking or cycling and are hit by a negligent motorist whose coverage is inadequate or nonexistent, your UM policy applies to the extent that it is greater than the amount of the offending driver’s coverage. Insurance companies don’t get to “choose” whether their UM coverage covers you in such instance.

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