By Bill Winingham and Jon Noyes
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Americans who biked to work rose 60 percent and showed the highest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau. In Indianapolis, this number doubled. One can only assume that this figure has continued to rise because Indianapolis has increased the bike lanes on its roads from two miles to more than 90 miles and added about 900,000 linear feet of sidewalk between 2010 and 2015. However, walking and biking do have their pitfalls. In 2014, 130,000 people who were injured or killed in automobile accidents in the U.S. were not occupying a vehicle when the accident occurred. Of the 32,675 fatalities resulting from an automobile accident that same year, almost 20 percent involved non-occupants such as pedestrians and bicyclists. You might be surprised to learn that pedestrians and bicyclists are covered by their own automobile uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage if they are injured.
Indeed, it is one reason we have insurance. To own and operate an automobile in Indiana, one has to purchase automobile insurance. This insurance covers owners and operators when they negligently cause an injury when using an automobile, but, unless it is waived, also protects them when they are injured by a negligent driver who is uninsured or has an inadequate amount of insurance. The latter protection is known as uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. It activates to provide benefits to the insured up to his or her liability limits.
One of the lesser known benefits of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is that it does not require insureds to be inside an automobile. This is because most policies frame the coverage as applying when the insured is legally entitled to recover from an uninsured or underinsured motorist because of an accident, but they do not specify where the insured has to be when the accident occurs. Exclusions exist for when the insured is inside or alighting from certain vehicles — for example, there is no coverage when the insured is inside an uninsured vehicle that he or she owns — but not for when the insured is outside a vehicle. This serves the purpose of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, which is to allow insureds to protect themselves from motorists who choose not to purchase liability insurance or fail to purchase a sufficient amount of insurance.
As a result, pedestrians are usually covered by their uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance when they are involved in an accident with an automobile. Whether they are walking to work or going for a jog, insureds who are injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist are entitled to coverage. The insured does not even have to be a pedestrian. Coverage typically exists when the insured is sitting at home and an automobile crashes through the living room wall and causes injury or property damage. If the motorist is uninsured or does not possess sufficient liability insurance, the insured’s coverage will kick in up to his or her limits.
Bicyclists are typically covered as well. Similar to pedestrians, there are very rarely exclusions limiting coverage to particular modes of transportation. Bicycles, skateboards and scooters are not vehicles subject to insurance laws, nor are they specifically covered by policies common in the mainstream insurance market. Moreover, because the purpose of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is to put the insured in a position where the negligent motorist possessed at least as much insurance coverage as the insured, the insured will usually be covered if the event would have also been covered by automobile liability insurance. Thus, there is typically coverage regardless of whether the insured is walking, bicycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, or skiing.
Some people use golf carts to drive through their neighborhood and most use them on golf courses. Insureds operating golf carts and all-terrain vehicles when injured by uninsured and underinsured motorists are often entitled to make use of their coverage. Although there is often a coverage exclusion if an insured is using an uninsured automobile that he or she owns at the time of the accident, golf carts and all-terrain vehicles typically do not fall under the definition of automobiles. They are not built for use on public roads and are not subject to liability insurance laws. Therefore, insureds will often be entitled to coverage in these situations as well.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage even extends to individuals who are unable to operate a vehicle. This is because policies defined the term insured to include people who live with and are related to the named insured or are a ward or foster child of the named insured. As a result, the named insured’s spouse and children are almost always covered. Notably, whether family members such as children can drive is irrelevant. Both toddlers and teenagers are owed uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage when they are legally entitled to compensation from an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
In sum, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is very important coverage to anyone, but it is especially important when the insured is an avid walker or bicyclist. The insurance provides coverage to an insured and his or her family, and is one of the only means to protect against uninsured or underinsured motorists. As noted above, the insurance provides coverage during a wide range of actions involving those motorists. It provides automobile liability coverage even when the insured is not using an automobile.•
• Bill Winingham is a partner at Wilson Kehoe Winingham with an emphasis in civil litigation, including vehicle accidents, fires and explosions, products liability and cases against insurance companies for their lack of good faith in settling claims. Jon Noyes is an associate attorney at Wilson Kehoe Winingham. He focuses his practice on helping clients who have suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of automobile accidents, golf cart accidents, and defective products. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.