Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: More insurance questions


By Bob Mionske

I enjoy your column.

Your discussion about insurance left me confused about one point that might be worth addressing in a follow up article, if there is one. Regarding injuries that might be sustained in a bike-car accident, you write that it’s important to have high UM/UIM and PIP coverage on your own auto policy.

But there is an additional insurance player that could become involved– my health insurer. Presumably in a tort liability state, if an at-fault driver has no insurance/assets and I have no Uninsured/Underinsured coverage, then my health insurance gets stuck with the bill, minus my deductible (and similarly if I have no PIP in a no-fault or hybrid state.)

If this is the case, then do cyclists really benefit from buying UM/UIM/PIP with high limits (beyond their health insurance deductible)?

Thanks. Keep fighting the good fight.

Thank you for the information about insurance.

I agree that it doesn’t make sense to talk about insuring a bicycle without mention of personal insurance, but am surprised you don’t mention the most basic personal insurance, medical. As far as I know medical insurance covers injuries caused by solo falls, other cyclists and uninsured/underinsured motorists. Since many injuries don’t involve a vehicle, and medical insurance covers where auto insurance ends, I think it is much more important to have than UM/UIM and PIP policies.

I am concerned about the risk of getting sued by others for injuries and damages. I had ignored renters insurance because I don’t own much stuff, but will look into it as a way of getting personal liability insurance.

Thanks for your letters, M & T. In Bicycling & the Law, Ohio bike lawyer Steve Magas, who contributed the chapter on insurance, does in fact discuss the cyclist’s own health insurance as one of the coverages available. And as T points out, health insurance will cover you for accidents involving solo falls—by far the most common type of cycling accident.

However, there are several problems with relying on health insurance to protect cyclists in an accident. First, health insurance does not compensate you for all of your losses—and the uncompensated losses may be quite significant. When someone injures you due to their negligence, you are entitled to be put back in the position you were in before the accident. The “special damages” you incur, in addition to your medical expenses, are your property damage and lost wages or income. Additionally, you may suffer from “general damages” including future medical expenses, permanent disability, and both past and future pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering refers to the physical pain, psychological damage, and emotional trauma you suffer as a result of the injuries you received due to the other person’s negligence. You can’t present a receipt, post-accident trauma, to be reimbursed for your loss of peace of mind, as you can with “special damages,” so the legal system uses monetary compensation to accomplish this. Health insurance will not cover this, but liability insurance can.

If the at-fault driver does not have insurance, or has insufficient insurance, you can rely upon your own policy, and at that point your insurance company is essentially covering the bad driver, and as such becomes your adversary in the proceeding.

All policies in the U.S. have UM/UIM riders, and the riders mirror the amount of liability coverage you carry for your negligence. Because cyclists can be severely injured by a motor vehicle without sufficient coverage, you can protect yourself by providing for sufficient coverage in your own policy. So, for instance, if some one hits and injures you, and you suffer serious damage to your body and you cannot work and have significant pain and suffering and the person who injured you doesn’t have insurance, you bring a UM/UIM claim against your carrier, and it is as if the person who injured you is insured. Knowing this, it is prudent to have at least a quarter million dollars in coverage (even better -one million dollars), in my view. The additional cost is generally very affordable and the security of knowing you have a significant policy to cover you and your family members makes it worthwhile, in my opinion.

Second, it’s a sad fact that some 47 million Americans simply do not have health insurance. It’s a national disgrace that in this, the richest country on Earth—ever—with what is arguably the best medical care in the world, tens of millions of Americans have no access to that medical care. Until affordable medical care is made available to all Americans, however, the reality is that some people can turn to their health insurance policies when they’re injured, and some can’t. If a cyclist happens to be one of those 47 million Americans with no health insurance, that cyclist will need to turn to whatever other policies are in force in the event of an accident. And third, even if a cyclist is fortunate enough to be covered by health insurance, there’s this little problem called “subrogation”…

Dear Mr. Mionske,
I just read your article about bicycle insurance and I wanted to thank you for trying to educate riders. Regarding your article my only comment would be that when you “…..recommend that cyclists buy as much UM/UIM coverage as they can; very high limits can be purchased for very little more than the lowest limits” you should do so in 36 BOLD FONTS!!!!

I had no idea that I was covered by my auto insurance when riding on the road (California). As a bicycle accident victim I was surprised to find that the “system” was/is gamed to benefit the health care providers, insurers and attorneys. While I’m happy to be alive and riding again I certainly would have hoped that the driver who hit me had purchased adequate insurance (not the case).

Luckily I had UM/UIM coverage.

Also, please enlighten riders about the pitfalls of “subrogation”. I think they would be stunned to find out that insurance companies can take your monthly premiums, annual deductibles AND your court winnings (up to their costs). All told the insurers can make a tidy profit off of one’s accident.

My advice to any bicycle accident victim (given to me by my wise attorney) is to “speak with no one concerning the accident”. This is especially true for one’s own health insurance provider. Though the health insurance provider may seem to be the logical choice for immediate notification, nothing could be further from the truth. Once notified they will immediately begin to work on a strategy to attach court winnings, via subrogation.


P.S. – Ride safe and carry a big insurance policy!

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us—they convey everything the readers of Legally Speaking need to know, straight from the mouth of a cyclist who has been there.

I really enjoy your column and often look forward to reading it weekly.

With your latest column regarding insurance, both for your bike and for yourself, one thing I have always asked of my agents anytime I switch insurance (particularly health) is whether or not my health insurance will cover sports related injury and/or trauma. Also, when I finally placed a rider on my home-owners insurance to cover my bikes, my insurance company went to great lengths to convince both my agent and myself that no bicycle could possibly cost the amount for which I was insuring them, let alone the total rider coverage for all four of them. It took a lot of documentation to get them covered. Further, my agent suggested that I take detailed photos of my bikes, from multiple angles, with close-ups of the components, wheel-sets, and badges so that even though I might be insured for replacement costs of the retail version of the bike, I will still be covered for those campy and dura-ace components I bought after the fact. He also suggested that I keep hard copies of the photos or a thumb-drive in a safe deposit box or a relative’s house in case my house, and all my records, went up in smoke.

Thanks again for a great column,
J. S.,

That’s all great advice. It’s always important to know exactly what’s covered by your insurance policy before you need to file a claim. As tedious as it may seem compared, to say, going for a ride, every cyclist should sit down and carefully read through their insurance policies to see what’s covered, and what isn’t. If your policy doesn’t cover a type of loss you want covered, it’s up to you to ask your insurance carrier to cover that type of loss.

As far as your insurance agent’s recommendations, they are entirely in line with my own recommendations in Bicycling & the Law [hyperlink to ]. It sounds like you’ve got a good agent.

What about insuring your bike against loss or damage while traveling by airplane (or train)? Perhaps only for the duration of the trip?

Dear A.C.
You are actually asking about two different types of insurance—both of which are available. To cover yourself—and your bike—while traveling, you would want a travel insurance policy for that trip, with coverage for emergency medical, emergency medical transportation, and loss or damage to your bike. Some travel insurance carriers provide special “sports travel” policies that you might want to look into. You should also make sure that your travel policy covers other common (and not-so-common) travel losses, such as trip cancellation or delay, financial default of a travel provider, and baggage loss or damage.

To cover your bike while it is in transit, you may need to declare the value of the bike at check-in. I cover the details in Bicycling & the Law, but the basics are:

  • The airline may refuse to accept your bike for check-in if it does not meet the airline’s minimum packing standards (read: packed in a cardboard bicycle box).
  • However, unless your bike is packed according to airline instructions (read: packed in a hard-shell bicycle travel case), you will be required to sign a waiver releasing the airline from all liability for loss or damage before the airline will accept your bike at check-in.
  • If your bike is packed in a hard-shell bicycle travel case, the airlines have a limit, established by law, on the amount they will pay out on lost or damaged baggage, unless you declare a higher value for your bike and choose a higher level of liability coverage by paying a higher shipping rate. For domestic flights, airlines are limited to a minimum liability of $2,800 per passenger for lost, damaged, or delayed baggage, unless the passenger declares a higher value and pays a higher shipping rate. For international flights, airline liability is limited to 1000 “SDRs” (Special Drawing Rights, equivalent to about $1,500 in the summer of 2007), unless the passenger declares a higher value and pays a higher shipping rate.
  • If your bike is lost or damaged, you must observe the procedures and time limits for filing a claim.

Again, I cover airline liability, including claim procedures, time limits, “Special Drawing Rights”, and more, with more detail in Bicycling & the Law. If you’re planning on checking your bike in as baggage when you fly, I would encourage you to read that section well before your trip.

Liability for bicycles checked on trains will vary by the operator. For example, Amtrak limits its liability to $500 per passenger, unless you declare a higher value (up to a maximum of $2,500) and pay a higher fee. However, Amtrak fees are very reasonable; the regular fee for a bicycle checked in as baggage, for example, is only $5. You may also place your bike in an onboard rack, although Amtrak disclaims any liability for loss or damage to bikes stored in the racks. For more information, you can visit Amtrak’s Baggage Policy, as well as Amtrak’s Bicycle Policy. For bicycle policies on other trains, you would want to check with that train operator.

Whatever your mode of travel, if the maximum declared value is too low to cover you for your potential loss, you should purchase travel insurance to cover your bike in advance of your travel.

Hi Mr. Mionske,
Although I live in Canada and our laws can be quite different, I always read your column on with great interest.

In your latest column about bicycle insurance you point out that one of the major problems is the personal insurance aspect. Here in Quebec we have Velo Quebec which is a great advocacy group and organizer of cycling events. A paid membership with Velo Quebec includes as part of the benefits an insurance that covers you and your bike in case of accident, anywhere in the world.

Thought you’d find this interesting.

Best regards,
S. L.
Montreal, Quebec

Thanks S.L.,
I do find that very interesting. Although I believe that bicyclists should have access to insurance without being required to own a car as a condition of having that access to insurance, with the exception of the bicycle insurance that is available in some European countries, the insurance companies simply haven’t stepped up to the plate. For that reason, it appears that cyclists will need to come up with innovative solutions of their own. The accident insurance that Velo Quebec offers is one such example of an innovative solution, and Velo Quebec should be applauded for offering this insurance program.

Another idea that may be very similar has been put forth by Portland, Oregon attorney and cyclist Chris Heaps. He proposes that cyclists form “insurance cooperatives” to provide insurance for cyclists, in the face of the failure of the insurance industry to do so. It’s an interesting idea that just may work, and is an example of the type of innovative thinking about insurance that cyclists should be engaging in, and bringing to fruition. So now I’ll toss the question to Legally Speaking’s readers—what types of innovative cycling insurance solutions are being talked about, or put into place, in your town?

Finally, my thanks to everybody who has contacted me to request my appearance at their event on my upcoming speaking tour. I will be speaking extensively this year, beginning in February, and will make plans to appear before any club, bike shop, or other engagement that is interested in hosting me. As promised previously, throughout the year, I will be announcing my speaking appearances in this space. Confirmed events for 2008 include the following:

San Francisco, California February 20, 2008: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Evanston, Illinois February 28, 2008: Turin Bicycle
Battle Creek, Michigan February 29, 2008: Team Active
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania March 1, 2008: SRAM’s Redbowl Benefit for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Washington, D.C. March 5, 2008: League of American Bicyclists National Bike Summit

I am currently working to confirm some additional dates, and will announce those dates next column. If you would like me to appear to speak at your event or shop, or to your club or group, please drop me a line at I’m looking forward to meeting as many of my readers as possible in the coming year.

(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.)

Now read the fine print:

Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.

After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).

Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.

If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at

Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.