Autonomous Motion

Bicycling & The Law

Legal advice for cyclists

Big city bike lanes can be a mess. I know the basics of riding safe, using signals, wearing protective gear and blinkers. What I’ve needed to know is what to do (and remember to do) if the unthinkable happens. In addition to stolen bikes, BUIs and helmet regulations, this guide breaks down hard data on various kinds of accidents, explains how they happen, what sort of people (age/behavior) are involved, and therefore, what you can do to avoid them. The explanations regarding insurance and various scenarios are so clear you could easily consult the book after an accident, instead of relying on your insurance company to lay out all the options or blindly start paying for legal advice. A “cycling attorney,” author Bob Mionske is not only a bike rider and a lawyer, but his practice specializes in representing cyclists in personal injury cases, defective gear, and more. The book lives up to his rep.

-- Steven Leckart 04/17/09


Automobile policies are not the only source of insurance coverage for cyclists to consider; homeowner's or renter's policies will cover cyclists in some types of accidents. For example, what if a can of soda is thrown from a passing car and injures the cyclist? Courts have gone both ways on this type of assault. Some courts have found that your automobile insurance coverage applies, some have said no. But if a passenger tosses an object out the window that causes you to crash, then the passenger's homeowner's insurance can come into play. (However, no insurance policy in the world covers intentional or "criminal" acts, and if the act of throwing an object at a cyclist is deemed a criminal act, then there may be no coverage available.)

Recovering Your Stolen Bike

Scenario 2: You find your bike advertised online

In addition to seeking criminal charges and the return of your bike, you can pursue the seller for damages in civil court... If there is an online record of the transaction -- for example, on eBay -- you will be able to subpoena the stolen bike from the new, unsuspecting owner. But in the rare event that the police won't help, you should buy your bike back before it's sold to someone else, unless you know for certain that you can can subpoena the bike later. Here are the steps you should follow:

1. Preserve a copy of the ad listing your bike for sale.

2. Buy your bike back. Use a cashier's check or money order, and bring a friend or friends who are willing to serve as a witness.

3. Get a receipt.

Now you can take your evidence -- including the original police report and your original proof of ownership -- to a prosecutor and ask that criminal charges be filed... If you want to pursue civil charges against the seller, you should consult with an attorney.

Most cases involving cyclists getting "doored" revolved around who bears the liability -- usually, the motorist, a passenger, a cab company, a passing motorist, or the cyclist. These cases are all just typical negligence cases, with different outcomes based on different sets of facts. However, there is one case that every cyclist should be aware of, and it concerns insurance issues. In Government Employees Ins. Co. v. Herring, the cyclist was doored and injured. The motorist did not report the accident to his insurance company. He explained: "I didn't think it was my fault in the accident and I didn't think that my insurance company was involved in it. Being a parked vehicle that was run into, I regarded it the same as if somebody had run into a tree or something, a fixed object. I didn't realize that my insurance was involved at all."

Because the motorist didn't report the accident to his insurer, the insurer denied the claim, and the court upheld the insurer. This left the cyclist unable to be compensated by the driver's insurance, and like many people, the driver didn't have the means to pay for the cyclist's injuries. Eventually, the cyclist was compensated by his own auto policy's coverage for uninsured motorists. But he could have easily have lost out altogether, because he didn't report the accident to the driver's insurance company either. The less to take away from this case is that if you are injured in a dooring accident, you must make sure that both insurers -- the driver's insurer, and your own -- are notified within the time limits of the respective policies.

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