What Every Massachusetts Bicyclist Needs to Know About Car Insurance
All too often, bicyclists suffer serious personal injuries caused by inattentive motorists. Knowing and following the rules of the road, and always riding defensively, are the best ways to prevent a bicycle accident and to protect yourself from harm. The most important step in protecting yourself financially is to purchase insurance on your personal vehicle which could provide coverage for injuries, medical expenses or lost earnings when you are hurt by a motorist with inadequate insurance.
What are the two smartest things a cyclist can do with regard to insurance?
- Purchase adequate amounts of Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist coverage
- Purchase adequate Medical Payments coverage
Before you continue, click this link to see what a Massachusetts automobile policy coverage selections page looks like. Even better: pull out your own automobile policy so you can check your policy as you read.
Most bicycle riders do not know (until they are in an accident and need the coverage, but don’t have it) that the insurance coverage they purchase on their personal automobile can provide coverage if they are injured by another vehicle while riding their bicycle. Those coverages are called “uninsured motorist coverage” and “underinsured motorist coverage.” Many drivers have minimal insurance coverage and some have none at all. Minimal insurance will not be enough to compensate you if you are seriously hurt, which is why you need to protect yourself.
The coverages are just as they sound: If the other driver has no insurance, then uninsured coverage (#3 on the coverage selections sheet) covers that. If the driver is underinsured, then underinsured coverage (#12 on the coverage selections sheet) covers that. If you do not own a car, but live in a household with a family member who owns a car, you may be able to make a claim against the uninsured or underinsured benefits on their policy (called a “household” policy).
You can buy uninsured and underinsured coverage up to the amount of your liability coverage (#6 on the declaration sheet). You should buy enough liability coverage to protect your income and your assets in the event of a serious accident. And you should match that coverage with equal amounts for uninsured and underinsured coverage.
How much should you get? The question will come down to what you can reasonably afford. If you can afford $100,000 per person/250,000 per accident, buy it. If you can afford more, buy it. You should be able to purchase $500,000 in coverage. The difference in cost for each of these increases is minimal, and that small expense will provide you with excellent insurance coverage if you are hurt. And if you can afford an umbrella policy, it's a good investment that does not cost very much. Very few insurance companies write excess uninsured/underinsured coverage, but check with your agent or broker to see if they can get that for you.
Medical Payments Coverage
Another type of coverage that cyclists should consider purchasing on their personal automobiles policies is “Medical Payments” benefits or Med Pay (Coverage # 6 on the coverage selections sheet). Med Pay is an optional coverage on the car you own or on the cars in your household. This is great coverage to have if you are a cyclist for a few reasons. First, the coverage is cheap, only $24 for $5,000 in coverage. For $33, you can get $10,000 in coverage. You can buy up to $100,000 in Med Pay coverage. That would cost you $71.
Med Pay is used to pay co-pays and deductibles not covered by Personal Injury Protection (or PIP--see below), as well as medical services not covered by your health plan. Med Pay will also reimburse liens from health insurance companies.
What are Medical Liens?
If you are injured in a bicycle accident or car accident, the health insurance company which pays for your medical treatment will place a lien against your settlement. They have a right under Massachusetts law, and usually under the insurance policy, to be reimbursed from any recovery you may obtain. In fact, they are entitled to get paid from any settlement even before you receive any of the settlement or award on your bodily injury claim.
Having adequate uninsured coverage, underinsured coverage and medical payments coverage will help you get compensated in an accident. The rest of this article focuses on the rest of the claims process if you are in a bicycle accident.
The Big Picture
There are several other provisions in insurance policies that afford coverage to an injured cyclist. These include payments from the vehicle involved in the accident, your own vehicle (or a household vehicle), health insurance, and sometimes homeowner's insurance. Some of the benefits are known as "no fault" benefits; others depend on legal fault.
No Fault Benefits
In addition to Medical Payments discussed above, every motor vehicle in Massachusetts is required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP provides up to $8,000 in no-fault insurance. If you are hit by a car or truck, then the PIP coverage on that vehicle will apply.
PIP coverage (Coverage # 2 on the coverage selections sheet) usually pays the first $2,000 in medical bills. Medical co-pays, deductibles, and treatment excluded by health plans will be covered up to $8,000. PIP also pays for a portion of any lost wages. Finally, PIP will pay for replacement services. If you find yourself unable to perform housework, yard work or to drive your car, PIP will cover the costs for these replacement services.
Coordination with Health Insurance
Massachusetts residents are required to have health insurance and health insurance will usually cover most of the bills above $2,000. There are exceptions. For example, under some employer-funded plans (known as ERISA plans), and under plans such as Medicaid or Medicare, PIP pays before the health insurance, up to the limits of $8,000. It can get complicated, and that is where your law firm can help you.
The next layer of insurance relates to liability. If you are injured as the result of the negligence of the other driver, and as long as you were not more than 50% at fault yourself, you have a right to recover for your personal injuries. Massachusetts has a threshold: Your medical bills must exceed $2,000 or you must have a broken bone. The $2,000 threshold is very low - medical bills add up fast!
Assuming the operator of the motor vehicle was negligent, his or her insurance will cover the loss up to the limits of the bodily injury coverage. Every motor vehicle in Massachusetts must have at least $20,000 in coverage per injured person, and $40,000 per accident (in the trade, that is a 20/40 policy). This minimum coverage is included as Coverage # 1. But it is essential to buy more. You should buy Optional Bodily Injury Coverage, which is Coverage #5. Auto insurers will write policies up to $500/500 ($500,000 that is). On top of that, the driver may be covered under a homeowner's umbrella or excess policy, which may provide an additional $1 million or more in liability coverage.
Underinsured coverage, discussed above, provides insurance after the liability coverage has been exhausted. Under Massachusetts law, the underinsured coverage that you have on your vehicle or any household policy is actually reduced by any liability payment made by the insurance company for the responsible driver. That "offset" is another reason why you should have large limits for your underinsured motorist coverage.
The insurance company for the vehicle that caused the accident will be responsible for the value of the bicycle. Depending on the age and condition of the bike, there may be depreciation. Your homeowner's insurance may also cover the bicycle, depending on its value. Often there is a high deductible.
A word of caution
If you are buying your insurance on-line, some carriers may, by default, eliminate coverage such as PIP coverage for the operator or family members. They may set your uninsured and underinsured coverage to minimal coverage, even if you are getting excess bodily injury coverage.
There may be other options which are obscured. Be extra careful when buying online! If you are buying insurance for the first time, or changing companies, we recommend that you talk to a live person instead of buying on-line. Your auto policy is written in plain English, and you really should read it. Ask your agent or broker any questions you have--they are being paid commissions by the insurance company but their job is to help you.
Most years we write checks for hundreds or thousands of dollars to our automobile insurance companies, and if feels like throwing money down the drain. Hopefully you will never need to rely on your own insurance coverage. But in the event you do, you will be glad that you properly insured yourself for the accident.
If you have any questions, or need assistance with an injury claim we are here to help you
Breakstone, White & Gluck has, since 1992, established a reputation as one of the most respected personal injury law firms in Massachusetts. The lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck have over eighty years of combined experience representing bicyclists. We have successfully represented hundreds of victims of motor vehicle accidents, and may of them have been injured cyclists. We would welcome the opportunity to assist you with your claim or answer any questions you may have about insurance or any other matter.
If you need help with a bicycle accident case, please call Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244. The claims process can be very complicated, and your case needs to be prepared as if it were going to trial. Our firm has the experience, the expertise and the resources to get you the best results in your case.
To Learn More About Bicycle Accidents, please visit our Massachusetts Bicycle Accident Page.
We are proud supporters of several Massachusetts bicycle organizations and clubs, and we are committed to the safety of Massachusetts bicyclists.