Bicycle accident litigation is about money. If you are injured while riding your bicycle due to someone else's negligence you may look to the person at fault to compensate you for your harms and losses. In Illinois, an injury victim may be compensated for his or her medical bills, lost wages, loss of a normal life, disfigurement and pain and suffering. Most of the time, monetary compensation will come from the at fault person's insurance. (I have settled cases that involved compensation from a defendant's personal assets, but that is rare. Frankly, most people do not have significant cash assets to contribute to settlement.) Which insurance policy or policies may the injured bicyclist look to? Here is an overview of the three most common scenarios that tend to arise in bicycle cases:
1. Bicyclist injured by insured motorist. This one is a no-brainer. If you are injured by a negligent motorist you are entitled to compensation from his or her motor vehicle insurance policy. The driver's policy will generally have two separate provisions that may provide the injury victim with compensation. First, you may look to the "medical payments" provision of the driver's policy. That provision will usually provide for a relatively small amount of coverage for medical expenses incurred regardless of who was at fault for causing the accident. Additionally, you may look the the policy's liability coverage provision for compensation. To receive compensation under that provision you will need to demonstrate that the driver was negligent in causing your injuries. All Illinois drivers are required to have motor vehicle coverage in an amount not less than $20,000.
2. Bicyclist injured by uninsured or inadequately insured motorist. Though Illinois law requires motorists to have insurance coverage, many do not. Also, if the injuries sustained are very severe, or if the incident resulted in the cyclist's death, the motorist may have coverage that fails to fully compensate the victim or the victim's family. In those instances, if the injured bicyclist has his or her own motor vehicle insurance policy, or is covered under another family member's policy, the cyclist may look to the uninsured or underinsured motorist provision of that policy. This is permitted even though the victim was riding a bicycle and the accident did not involve his or her own motor vehicle. Generally, your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage protects you even when you are injured by a motor vehicle while a bicyclist or pedestrian.
3. Bicyclist injured by another bicyclist. Most serious bicycle related injuries arise from tangles with motor vehicles. However, bicyclists certainly do, on occasion, cause serious injury to fellow cyclists due to negligent conduct. My own experience suggests that that is especially true along Chicago's crowded lake front bike path during the very busy summer months. Under this circumstance, the injured cyclist may look to the at fault cyclist's homeowner's or renter's insurance policy for compensation. The applicability of homeowner's coverage is not a given, and will depend on the specific wording in the policy. (For those interested in an in depth analysis of the matter please see the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in United States Insurance Company v. Schnackenberg, 88 Ill.2d 1, 429 N.E.2d 1203 (Ill. 1981)).
Of course, many bicyclists will look to their own medical insurance to cover them, if they are lucky enough to have it, in the event of an injury. Doing so is perfectly fine and will not preclude also looking to the at fault party's insurance for coverage. Bare in mind, though, that your medical insurance provider will probably look to be reimbursed for a portion of the amounts it paid toward your medical bills once you are compensated by the other party's insurer.
It is worth noting that bicycle accidents can and do arise from negligently placed roadway barriers or negligent roadway design or maintenance. In those instances, the injured bicyclist may look to the party responsible for the design and/or maintenance of the road, path or trail for compensation. Consideration of when and how the cyclist may recover in that circumstance will be covered in a later post.