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BIKE LAW 101 – The BLS for the Motorcyclist – Part One – Insurance


Posted on - 08/16/2007
by ABH

Can’t you just picture it – maps laid out, clothes folded ready to be loaded into waiting bike luggage, bike all tuned up, the smell of heavy leather gear [or freshly laundered Gore-Tex] floating about the room. The last thing on the motorcyclist’s mind as she/he goes through the Pre-Trip Checklist is The BLS1. Unfortunately, failure to consider The BLS can end up costing the motorcyclist time, money and the safety and peace of mind of his family should something go awry on the trip! The BLS includes: insurance issues, estate planning and traffic/motorcycling laws. We’ll take a look at all three, starting with the always exciting topic of INSURANCE today!

INSURANCE ISSUES for the MOTORCYCLIST

Insurance? You don’t need to worry about no stinkin’ insurance, right? You’re driving a MOTORCYCLE … what can POSSIBLY happen? [For this part of the article, let’s assume you are staying inside the United States – things REALLY get crazy in the insurance world when you cross sovereign borders!]

Health Insurance

First, and foremost, before you leave the house make sure you are carrying all of your health insurance information. Keep it close at hand - better yet, pack your insurance card, or a copy, in a small [2”x3”] baggie with your ID, emergency contact information and list of medical allergies stored visibly on your person – or in your helmet! If you are hurt on the side of the road, unable to communicate and need emergency care or serious medical intervention you do NOT want healthcare professionals wondering who you are, who to contact and whether or not you’ve got health insurance! “Road ID” is a company that makes an excellent wristband product holding a plate with your emergency information or whatever you tell them to type on the plate! [www.roadid.com].

WARNING: Some health insurers are experimenting with limiting the benefits they provide if an insured is injured while riding a motorcycle or engaging in certain other “hazardous sports.” As you might expect, groups, such as the American Motorcyclist Association, are up in arms and preparing to do battle. However, under health insurance policies covering motorcyclists right now a motorcyclist can hit by a DRUNK driver and find out they have NO health insurance coverage! A bill is currently pending in Congress to stop this practice. Support H.R. 1076 in the House and S.B. 616 in the Senate! Follow these bills on the MRF [mrf.org] or AMA [ama-cycle.org] websites.

Disability Insurance

In 2005, there were 179 riders [77 intoxicated riders] killed on Ohio’s roadways – a 35% increase. However, more telling, there were some 3,400 riders injured in a total of 4,500 motorcycle crashes. Statistically, you are MUCH more likely to become disabled, short term or long term, from a crash than you are to be killed. I’m certainly not here to sell you insurance, but if you earn a decent wage, you should protect it. Take advantage of disability policies available through work or, perhaps, a professional group that you belong to. Make sure there is no “hazardous sports” clause, however!

Motorcycle Insurance

Guess what – we are POPULAR folks – at least with insurance companies. More and more major carriers are fine tuning their motorcycle insurance offerings to be competitive. Why? Because they are realizing that, contrary to some folklore, motorcycle owners and operators are not a bunch of scofflaw outlaws – they tend to be dedicated vehicle owners, taking pride in their equipment and enjoying their rides. Also, and more pertinent to insurers, aging baby boomers, present company included, have sparked a motorcycle boom – buying bigger, hotter, faster, cooler and more expensive bikes than ever before. These machines - whether they do 175 out of the crate or cost $35,000 in custom design and components – and their riders all have one thing in common – they need insurance!

Motorcycle Insurance – Medical Payments Coverage

If you are injured in a crash on your motorcycle and can’t pay your medical bills, you may find some financial assistance buried within your motorcycle insurance policy!

Most motor vehicle insurance policies provide, or offer, “medical payments” coverage. This coverage pays YOUR medical bills if you are in a crash with another car. Historically, if you were hit by a car while riding your bike your “medical payments” coverage could be used to pay some of your medical bills even though the coverage is found in your automobile policy.

Check your policy and declarations page to make sure you have “medical payments” [ or “med pay”] coverage. If you were shopping for the lowest PRICE on insurance, some agents will remove some typical coverages in order to cut down the amount of the bill – “med pay” included. You will want this coverage – particularly if you no medical insurance, or a very poor policy.

Motorcycle Insurance – Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

One scenario many motorcycle riders face is the cowardly motorist who runs you off the road, throws something at you or otherwise causes a crash in which the motorcyclist loses control or is injured, and then flees the scene. These “phantom motorist” cases are tough, but the law of many states, including Ohio, provides for a recovery under the “uninsured/underinsured motorist” [“UM/UIM”] provisions of your auto insurance policy.

I advise my clients to buy as much “UM/UIM” coverage as they can afford because, like “med pay” coverage, UM/UIM coverage pays YOU when you need it the most! So when does UM/UIM coverage come into play?

The “UM” or “uninsured motorist” part of the equation is pretty obvious. If you are in a crash caused by motorist who simply has no insurance, your “UM” coverage should pay your injury claim just as if it was the motorist’s coverage. The motorist may be driving intentionally without insurance. In some cases, however, the motorist may THINK he has insurance but failed to pay the premium and the policy lapsed. If the motorist improperly, or fraudulently, filled out his application when he applied for insurance, the carrier might yank the coverage once it figures this out – usually following a crash when a claim is made. This formerly insured motorist now becomes “uninsured.” You can use your “UM” coverage to pay your wage loss, medical bills and pain and suffering just as if the other guy did have coverage.

The application of “underinsured motorist” coverage may not be so obvious. Let’s say the motorist who runs you over actually has pretty good coverage - $100,000.00 policy limits. However, because of the severity of your injuries, wage loss, medical bills, pain, permanent injuries and the like, your claim is worth a lot more than that – say, $500,000.00. The motorist, despite his excellent coverage, is considered to be “underinsured motorist” under your policy and your policy’s “UIM” coverage may be used to pay your claim.

Crashes in which UM/UIM coverage becomes involved have generated an incredible amount of litigation. The insurers are constantly pushing to limit the circumstances where such coverages can be used, while lawyers representing injured riders and motorists are constantly pushing to maximize the recovery their clients can obtain. You would be wise to retain counsel in ANY situation in which UM/UIM coverage might come into play.

No Fault States

Kentucky is a “no fault” state – Ohio is not. The difference in the motorcycle insurance world is night and day. In essence, in a “no fault” state, YOUR insurance pays the first part of YOUR medical bills regardless of who was at fault. In Kentucky, it’s the first $10,000.00! The purpose of “no fault” is to reduce the amount of lawsuits – the thought being that if an injured victim is getting his bills paid, he’ll be less likely to sue.

However, while every AUTO policy MUST have “no fault” in Kentucky, policies covering MOTORCYCLES do not! If you purchase insurance in Kentucky and do not have “no fault” on your motorcycle policy, you are essentially carrying a $10,000.00 deductible! This is a complex legal topic and, if you buy insurance in Kentucky, you should discuss it with your agent, or your lawyer, to make sure you understand what you are buying and the limitations of your policy.

Are you carrying an Umbrella?

Do you carry any type of excess or umbrella insurance? These types of policies are designed to go over the top of all other policies and only come into play in extraordinary occurrences in which all other available insurance is used up and you still have losses. An umbrella policy is usually written with large policy limits - $500,000.00 or more. You are required to carry certain minimum policy limits for underlying coverage. I advise ALL of my motorcycling clients to consider an umbrella policy, particularly if you own a home and have significant assets. They are typically very inexpensive and, in that once in a lifetime situation, can save your financial life! Consult your insurance professional for details.

Real Life Insurance Example

So here’s a real-life example of insurance coverage in action. My client, a physician who rides all the time, suffered a dangerous neck fracture when a motorist backed out of a driveway directly in front of him. He needed surgery to fuse his neck at two levels. The motorist, unfortunately, carried Ohio’s pitifully low state minimum auto coverage - $12,500.00. The client’s medical bills were in excess of $80,000.00. His wage loss was in excess of $40,000.00 and growing.

Fortunately, the rider purchased excellent auto coverage which had $300,000.00 “underinsured motorist” policy limits and $10,000.00 in “medical payments” coverage. Even though he also carried excellent medical insurance, the “co-pays” for his surgery and treatment were extensive. He used the $10,000 from his medical payments coverage just to cover these “co-pays.” You can see how a bad wreck can you put in a HUGE financial hole very quickly!

In addition, my client utilized a disability benefit through his office that kept him afloat financially while he was off work completely for more than two months. Finally, he had wisely purchased an umbrella policy with $1.0 million limits. Since his claim has a value that exceeds his $300,000.00 “UM/UIM” limits, the umbrella policy will come into play to pay his claim. While he, like most of us, hoped he would never need it, the “once-in-a-lifetime event” happened to him! Fortunately, he paid attention to The BLS before he took a ride!

So there you go, The BLS about Motorcycles & Insurance in a [rather large] nutshell! Next month, we tackle another exciting topic – Estate Planning for the Motorcyclist!

For an initial consultation contact us at (513) 985-2500 or email us at info@phillipslawfirm.com or click Chat Now!® to get started immediately.
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