In the last week—like nearly every week in California—there have been several deadly accidents that involved collisions between bicyclists and automobiles. On September 28 in Novato, a twelve year old girl was struck by a Sport Utility Vehicle as she rode her bike through her Northern California neighborhood. The helmet she wore was little help against the massive vehicle. The little girl was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. In another incident, a respected doctor in San Luis Obispo was killed after colliding with a truck while riding his bike. And finally, a 35 year-old man was killed when a car crashed into him on his bicycle in the idyllic community of San Diego County’s Valley Center. This is only one week in the state. Unfortunately, these types of tragic incidents happen on a weekly basis throughout California.
Rarely is a car and bicycle accident minor. Though many of the same laws apply to bicyclists and motor vehicles, the modes of travel are far from similar. Hundreds of people are involved in these accidents each year throughout California while they ride their bikes: wrongful death; serious head and spine injuries; lacerations and broken bones; life-long paralysis; mental incapacitation. These are all common when bikes and cars collide. For the distinct possibility where long-term medical care is needed after a bicycle crash involving a motor vehicle, a bicyclist must be sure that they carry Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage.
Since a bike accident can cause such serious injuries when an automobile is involved, there is a high likelihood that the car driver will not have adequate insurance to cover the medical costs incurred. Furthermore, California has countless people who drive without any insurance at all despite the legal requirement to have it. Cyclists are encouraged to carry UM and UIM insurance on their cars because the coverage will also protect them on their bikes and other modes of travel; walking, driving a motorcycle or bicycle: UM and UIM offers financial support if the driver of the vehicle involved is at fault and does not have adequate insurance.
Motorists throughout California risk punishment for not having insurance. If such a person causes an accident with a bicyclist, the cyclist may have an incredibly difficult time recovering compensation for medical care and lost wages. California insurance companies are required to offer UM and UIM coverage. Most insured drivers in California—unless they sign a waiver—have UIM insurance coverage. But as with all policies, the amount of coverage can vary greatly.
In California, drivers are typically entitled to protection with uninsured and underinsured motorists in the same amount of liability coverage that they have. Thus, if a driver has $100, 000 of liability protection, they may likely have $100, 000 of UIM coverage. To get this level of coverage is a bit more expensive than the legally required amount of California auto insurance. The least expensive UM and UIM insurance plans include $30, 000 for each injured person and $60,000.00 for multiple injured people in the same accident that involve uninsured or underinsured motorists.
To get even less than the minimum amount of UM and UIM, the motorist must ask for a special provision when they purchase car insurance. In such cases, a driver can get $15, 000 for each injured person and $30, 000 per accident of UM and UIM insurance. Clearly this is far from enough coverage if a bicyclist is injured by a vehicle operator that does not have insurance or is underinsured. Serious head or spinal trauma; mental and physical disabilities; lost wages and round the clock medical care: several thousand dollars will not be adequate to cover such costs. Even if a negligent driver does have some insurance, it will almost certainly not be adequate for a car and bicycle crash.
For many California drivers, they want to abide by the law and save money; they purchase the bare minimum insurance. They may believe that the chances of accident are so slim that they need only the legally required amount of insurance. This is why bicyclists must carry formidable Underinsured Motorist coverage. The chances of being struck by a reckless or negligent car or truck driver in California are high. The chances that the driver will have inadequate auto insurance are equally high.
For California bicyclists, UM and UIM protection is vital. Bicyclists should budget to have the maximum amount of coverage available. If you ride a bicycle or motorcycle, having UM and UIM can make a massive difference to your long-term health care if an unfortunate incident befalls you. There are so many variables that a bicyclist cannot control on a California roadway. The amount of insurance coverage is one of the few things that can be controlled. Wearing a helmet and being extremely cautious are also up to the cyclist. But such precautions are not enough; even the most careful, expert and heavily armored riders may sustain catastrophic injuries. When the stakes are so high, the extra cost for extensive UM and UIM is well-worth the cost.
For a detailed description of UM and UIM and their relation to California bicyclists, contact a trusted insurance industry representative or a lawyer who has a particular focus on this area of the law.
This article was written by Adam Abel on behalf of the Los Angeles law firm of Lederer & Nojima, LLP.