Any collision between a car and a bicycle is, first and foremost, a threat to the physical safety of the bike rider. After many years of decline, traffic fatalities of all kinds are on the rise – with increased smartphone use one likely culprit – and bicyclists are increasingly at risk.
In 2016, 840 bicyclists were killed on U.S. roadways, the highest number since 1991; in New York State, the average annual bicyclist death rate is about 45. Many more riders are injured, some seriously, not to mention the damage done to their bicycles during the collision.
Let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones: You walk away from a collision unharmed. Your bike, however, is another story: The frame is bent or cracked. The wheel is twisted out of shape. The derailleur is mangled. Who’s going to pay? How about the driver’s auto-insurance company?
Right to Compensation For Your Bicycle Accident
Assuming the bicycle accident was the driver’s fault—in full or in part—you should be able to recover a settlement from his or her insurance company. And if you are unhurt and seeking compensation only for the damage to your bike, you should be able to do it without the help of an attorney.
If your bike can be salvaged with repairs, by law you are entitled to be compensated for the cost. If it has been “totaled,” you are entitled to the replacement value of the bike, even if the same model or a comparable one now costs more than yours did when you bought it. The driver’s insurance company might try to convince you otherwise, or bully you into settling for a “depreciated” value of your bike. Don’t fall for it.
Insurance Claim Preparation
The process of filing a bike accident insurance claim begins at the scene of the accident, when you make sure to call the police and have them file an accident report. You can get insurance company information directly from the driver; it also should be on the police report.
Take photos of the bike from all angles that will help document the damage during the bicycle accident. Show the whole bicycle, as well as close-ups of damaged parts. If you’re considering repairing the bike, get estimates; if it’s totaled, try to get an original receipt for the bike. If you don’t have all of your important receipts stashed in a cigar box at home, the shop that sold it to you may have an original on file.
Filing a Claim
Now you are ready to call the driver’s insurance company and file a bicycle accident claim. Ask where you can submit your photographic evidence of damages, as well as the police report. Be prepared to answer questions about the crash; be careful of what you say, and don’t admit to any fault. Offer to show your damaged bike to an adjuster. Do not repair or replace the bike until the insurance claim is settled.
You will receive a claim number from the insurance agent, which you can use in follow-up calls to expedite getting answers to questions about the progress of your bicycle accident insurance claim. This could take a week or so.
Small Claims Court
If the insurance company drags out the process to the point of ignoring you, or comes back with an inadequate offer or a flat-out denial of your bicycle accident claim, you can take your case to small-claims court, provided your claim is $5,000 or less for city court, or $3,000 or less for town or village court. Make sure to sue both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, if they are not the same person.
In small-claims court, you can present your evidence to a judge. For more information on how to file, check out the New York State Unified Court System guide to small claims.
You should also be aware that New York is a “comparative negligence” state. This brings us back to the question of whose fault the accident was, and the defendant or their insurance company may argue that you were at least partly to blame for the bicycle accident. If your actions prior to the crash did involve negligence on your part, a small-claims judge is likely to reduce the award. If both parties appear to have been negligent, the judge will likely offer a judgment at 50 percent of the original bicycle accident claim.
Again, you may be able to complete this process without a lawyer’s help. However, if you have been injured, LaMarche Safranko Law, a personal injury law firm serving Albany and Upstate NY can help. Contact us online today or at (518) 463-7784.