It’s just another day in paradise. You’re on your morning commute or on your Saturday morning ride when some driver decides to make a right (or left) turn into you and your
18-lb. bike with their 3,000+-lb. car. Good-bye paradise.
After the Crash
As you untangle yourself from your bike, you take inventory. No blood. You can move your legs and arms. Nothing seems broken. Some serious road rash, a few scrapes and abrasions, but all-in-all, it looks like the body survived the bike crash without much damage. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about your bike, which is bent and mangled and missing pieces. What do you do now?
The first thing you do is you do NOT tell the other driver or any witnesses that you’re okay. You don’t really know that yet. It can take several hours to a few days before the full implications of the crash on your body can emerge. So just in case, skip the part where you reassure the driver of the motor vehicle who hit you.
Your second action step is to gather all the usual crash scene information: Complete contact information – including the driver and any passengers and witnesses; insurance information; and registration information. Then you’re going to take as many photos as possible from as many angles as possible. Photos of the car and bicycle before anything is moved. Photos of the bike as it relates to various landmarks, such as street corners, curbs, signs, and so on.
Most California cities only send the police out to traffic crashes if a person is injured. You can call, but it’s likely you’ll have to wait at the scene until they have someone they can send. I’ve heard reports of people waiting hours before they gave up on anyone coming.
What you are going to do is go to the local police or sheriff station to make a police report. The sooner the better and, ideally, the same day. This is either before or after you go to an urgent care and have yourself checked out medically. Yes, you should do this. After all, did you bump your head?
Do You Need a Bicycle Crash Attorney?
If you suffered no injuries in the bicycle collision, you probably don’t need a bicycle crash attorney. More than likely you will be able to handle this on your own with the involved insurance agency.
If you’re unsure, feel free to contact me for a FREE, no-obligation consultation. You’ll be able to share with me the specifics of your situation and I can give you your legal options. I’m also happy to give you a few tips on how to deal with the insurance company if it tries to give you the run-around.
Dealing With Insurance Adjusters
Before you enter the fray, two cautionary notes about insurance adjusters:
- Insurance adjusters are not your friend, regardless of how nice they are. Their job is to pay you as little of the insurance company’s money as possible. Expect the first offer to be a low-ball offer.
- Most insurance adjusters have little experience with dealing with bicycle property damage claims. They won’t know the difference between a $12,000 carbon bike and a $90 bike from Target. In order to get fair compensation from the company, you are going to have to prove your bike’s worth.
The Bicycle Insurance Claim Process
So the first thing you need to do is call the insurance company and file a claim. Let them know that you’re collecting evidence and will submit it as soon as possible. Be very careful what you say to the insurance adjuster. Your call is probably being recorded and your statements WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU, if possible. (Put nothing on social media for the same reason.)
Take your crashed bicycle to a reputable bike shop (at least two), for an inspection and a damage estimate. It’s possible for your bicycle to have structural damage that cannot be seen by the naked eye but is revealed while you’re riding it weeks later.
Do NOT get your bicycle repaired or replaced until your claim is resolved. Before you make repairs, offer to make the bicycle available to the adjuster so they can inspect it themselves.
In most situations the bike shop will include a phrase in the damage estimate warning of structural damage that compromises the bike’s safety. This makes the bike unsafe and so it should be considered a total loss.
By law, the insurance company is responsible for paying for the repairs to your bicycle. If the bicycle is totaled, they must pay you the market value of your bicycle. If your bicycle is no longer manufactured, the insurance company is required to pay you for the closest similar model, even if it costs more than your bicycle was worth.
If you’re in a car crash and total your 1998 Volvo, the insurance company is not required to buy you a new Volvo. Similarly, if your bicycle is totaled, the insurance company is not required to buy you a brand new bicycle. It IS required that your totaled bicycle is replaced with one that is of the same kind and quality OR you are reimbursed for the fair market value. And this is where the problems begin.
As I told you, insurance adjusters are not very familiar with bicycles. The more expensive a bicycle you have, the more problems you are going to have convincing the adjuster that your bicycle is worth a whole lot more than what they’re offering you. They may even refer you to some websites that claim to be the Kelly Book for bikes. Let me be clear: there is NO Kelly Blue Book for bicycles, regardless of what a website claims.
Again, do your research and follow these steps:
- Get a copy of the police report.
- Find your receipt for your bicycle and other major purchases (such as after-market additions, the clothes you were wearing, your “Go-Pro,” etc.), that you have invested into the bicycle. Some insurance companies will accept credit card statements that show the purchase. You may have to go to the original bike shop where you bought it. Don’t feel bad. They are hoping you’ll buy your next bicycle from them.
- Go to reputable bike shops and websites – such as Craigslist or eBay – to determine the market value of a like bicycle. Market value is the price a seller would sell you a similar bicycle for.
- Include the claim number the insurance company gave you when you opened the claim and submit COPIES of everything you collected. (NEVER SEND ORIGINALS.) You will need the claim number when you call or write them. After about a week, give a call and make sure they received everything and ask if anything else is needed.
Don’t Give In
Insurance companies move slower than molasses. As long as they can they will hold onto their money. Expect to have to make weekly calls to follow up on the progress. Expect to be given a low ball offer. Keep negotiating. They hope to wear you down.
They even may deny your claim, saying that the police report or their investigators determined the bicycle crash was your fault. If you truly are partially responsible for the bicycle crash, remember that California has comparative negligence. That means you may be held responsible for a percentage of the liability, but the insurance company must pay you the rest of money minus the percentage of your liability. Were you really at fault? Don’t give in to easily.
The Court Of Last Resort
It’s unlikely that your claim will settle quickly. It could take a year or more. And if the claim doesn’t settle at all, most cyclist’s final recourse will be Small Claims Court. In California, Small Claims Court can hear lawsuits that are $10,000 or less. There is a statute of limitations by which time you must file your lawsuit or you lose all rights to bring suit.
If you have questions about this process contact me. I am always happy to talk to another bicycle lover, and there is never a charge for a consultation.