IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR MOTORCYCLE AND TRIKE RIDERS TO REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE POLICIES NOW THAT THE RIDING SEASON HAS STARTED
I have been riding motorcycles, and more recently a trike, for 25 years. I am a member of the American Motorcycle Association, the North Star Chapter of Minnesota Wings, and the Gold Wing Road Riders Association. I enjoy riding as much as anyone does. I am also a personal injury trial lawyer and have represented many injured motorcyclists and trikers. I practice law primarily in Minnesota, which has similar but not always identical laws to other states. I draw on my experience when I say that one common theme stands out among injured motorcycle riders and trikes that I have represented:
They have not read their insurance policies and have no clue of some significant differences between coverages involving motorcycles and trikes when compared to automobiles.
It is important, and I encourage you to read and understand the contract language in your insurance policy BEFORE an incident has happened. The terms can result in less payment to you just because you are on a motorcycle or trike, not in an automobile. After a crash and injury, it is too late to make any changes.
Trikes are motorcycles by definition in Minnesota. Most automobile insurance policies do not automatically include motorcycles or trikes, unless there is a specific endorsement, and they are usually written separately. Most assume the policy they purchase is very similar, if not identical, to their automobile policy. This is a false assumption. There are some significant differences, and I will briefly point out the basic coverages:
Liability Coverage is for any acts of negligence of the motorcyclist or triker in causing an accident. I recommend high liability coverage of at least $250,000 to $500,000, plus umbrella coverage in the unlikely event the motorcyclists or triker causes a crash. This would include exposure to liability for your passenger.
Property Damage Coverage involves collision coverage for your motorcycle, damages to it (no matter who is at fault), as well as any property damage that may be caused to other vehicles or structures. Make sure that you have all of your accessories covered, or at least as much as the insurance carrier will allow to be covered.
Medical Pay or No-fault medical payments are not automatic in most states for motorcycles and trikes. In Minnesota, this coverage is not required by law to be included in motorcycle or trike policies; you have to ask for it – sometimes even insist on it. This coverage will increase the premium, and it is advisable to have as much medical pay coverage as you can afford just in case you are involved in an injury-producing collision. You should also have a group health insurance policy to cover additional medical care costs if you are injured in a crash.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage [UM & UIM] in my opinion could be the most important coverage you can buy to protect yourself from injuries, harms and losses due to the negligence of others. UM and UIM insurance is not required for motorcycles or trikes in most states. Uninsured motorist coverage provides payment for injuries and damages caused to the rider and passenger, if due to the negligence of another vehicle driver who does not have insurance.
Underinsured motorist coverage provides additional coverage over and above the liability policy of an at-fault driver of another vehicle if their negligence is the cause of the crash and the policy of insurance that they have for their negligence is not enough to pay for all of the damages caused to the motorcyclists or triker and passengers. You have to ask for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages specifically from your insurance agent or company and make sure that you have adequate limits. I recommend high limits of at least $250,000 to $500,000 per rider and passenger. You will pay the highest premium dollars for the lower coverage limits in the $25,000 to $30,000 range, and the amounts get progressively less for higher limits.
One example in Minnesota highlights why it is important for you to read the policy and understand how the policy is interpreted. In the case of Larry Benjamin Johnson vs. Brian Cletus Cummiskey, 765 NW2d 652 Minn. App. 2009), the Minnesota Court Of Appeals ruled that the policy of insurance written by Illinois Farmers Insurance for its insured resulted in less payment to their insured for underinsured motorist coverage that was part of the paid premium because of “limits less paid” language. A full copy of this opinion is on my law firm website by going to schwebel.com, attorney page Paul Godlewski.
Keep in mind, you can shop the market for insurance policies and rates- some insurers offer better coverages and lower premiums for motorcycles and trikes than others in the same market. There are insurance carriers that pursue and advertise aggressively to motorcyclists and trikers. I encourage you to read your policies. While this may seem tedious, you will regret not having taken the time to read the policy if you are injured in crash. Ask your insurance agent to sit down with you and interpret the policy language. Purchase the highest limits you can afford in the categories discussed so the proper coverage will be there for you and your loved ones in the event of an accident or injury.
Paul Godlewski is a partner in the Minneapolis Personal Injury Law Firm of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A. Paul is a certified Trial Lawyer by The National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1992. In 2008, he was named one of the Top 40 Personal Injury Attorneys by Minnesota Law and Politics and was a recipient of the 2008 Attorney of the Year Award sponsored by Minnesota Lawyer.