David Hay - Bike LawyerDavid Hay - Bike Lawyer
Many motorists choose to carry the minimum liability insurance coverage. This is to save money, though the difference between minimum and maximum Third Party Liability coverage is often less than $100 annually.
In British Columbia, the minimum liability coverage is $200,000. However, in some jurisdictions in the United States, for example California, a driver can insure a car with a policy that provides only $15,000 in compensation for each person the driver injures.
As a cyclist, staying away from underinsured motorists on the road is a crapshoot. Fortunately, in British Columbia anyone with a driver’s license, owner's certificate for a vehicle,or anyone living in a household of such a person, is entitled to $1 million in underinsured motorist protection ("UMP"). However, UMP is considered a fund of last resort and only available to injured cyclists if they have exhausted private insurance, CPP benefits, EI benefits and any other source of deductible funding.
The provision of mandatory UMP benefits to BC motorists discriminates against cyclists who do not have a driver’s license, insure a car or live in a household of someone who insures a car.
For cyclists to be treated equally, mandatory benefits ought to be provided to all users of the roadway who are injured at the hands of negligent motorists. This is not the present scheme.
The unfairness is not abstract. If you are unlucky enough to be injured at the hands of a negligent motorist who also happens to be underinsured, and you do not meet one of the preconditions for mandatory UMP coverage, you may find yourself facing a situation where your damages far exceed the driver's insurance coverage. Unless the driver has assets, the present scheme results in no recovery of losses, including significant future income loss and care costs.
It seems we have no social standard of what is adequate insurance protection. However, it does not follow that motorists and their insurers ought to escape responsibility for the arrangement of adequate coverage and at the same time create car oriented pre-conditions to protection against underinsurance.
Rather than a scheme which insists on motorist oriented preconditions, simple residency in the jurisdiction ought to suffice. It must be remembered that it is not always a coincidence that drivers with inadequate coverage tend to be the most careless drivers driving the most unreliable and unsafe cars.
Many jurisdictions in the United States, including California, Oregon and New York, allow drivers to carry even less coverage than in British Columbia. The social acquiescence in inadequate insurance coverage perpetuates the myth that driving is a fundamental right versus a luxury. The establishment of better minimum limits and the removal of impediments to UMP protection would represent two very civilized steps forward towards a better and more cycling-oriented world.
David Hay is a litigation lawyer and partner at Richards Buell Sutton LLP. He has a special interest in bike injury law and can be contacted at 604.661.9250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.