Ah, motorcycles. They get you outdoors, they put you in touch with the earth, they give you freedom. They also can be superbly dangerous, which is why you see motorcyclists wearing leather jackets and helmets when it’s 80 degrees out, to cut down on the road rash if the rider finds his body suddenly skidding across the road.
The insurance industry long ago figured this out. They deem motorcycles as inherently dangerous vehicles. And it’s not because they are poorly made, or that motorcyclists are bad drivers – it’s because they offer you no protection from injury in an accident – no airbags, no roll bars, no insulation. When you get knocked off your bike, going even 20 mph, chances are you’ll get badly hurt. As a result, motorcyclists (and moped and ATV drivers) are not covered under Article 51 of the New York Insurance Law.
What is Article 51?
Article 51 (no, not Area 51 – but that could be a fun blog – maybe call it “types of collision coverage to buy when traveling at the speed of light”) is known as the No-fault Insurance Law. Typically, this law provides compensation to people injured in car accidents, including pedestrians and bicyclists, entitling them to up to $50,000 in benefits for medical treatment, lost wages, and travel expenses, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. It’s a huge benefit to injured folks.
But the insurance industry gets something in exchange for this benefit. They figured out a way to cut down on personal injury lawsuits or, at least make those suits have a smaller chance at success. So, when someone is hurt in accident, under Article 51, they must prove that their injuries meet New York’s “serious injury threshold” if they want to recover money in a personal injury lawsuit. The victim can do this in several ways: he can show he suffered a fracture, or needed surgery, or missed 90 out of 180 days from work on doctor’s orders, or died (this last one obviously helps your family, not you). These are the guaranteed ways to prove your injury is serious – there are other methods, but these are the only ones that consistently pay benefits.
Why aren’t Motorcyclists Covered?
Happy to answer you. You can see a hundred commercials that say “Nationwide is on your side” or “You’re in Good Hands with Allstate”, but they aren’t, and you’re not. Let’s be real – these are publicly traded companies and they make billions of dollars a year. Why? Because they have actuaries and underwriters on the payroll, analyzing risk, to make sure they collect a lot more in premiums then they pay out in damages and benefits.
How would that work with No-Fault and motorcycles? So, Geico says to themselves if a motorcyclist hits a car, she will be badly injured and probably need all $50,000 of the No-Fault benefits – that would cost us money and BE BAD FOR GEICO – the gecko is literally crying. Then they look at the serious injury threshold, where with car drivers they typically benefit. The car driver, in the fender bender, only suffered a stiff neck. That is not a fracture, doesn’t require surgery and won’t keep him out of work long term, so the odds are he won’t successfully meet the injury threshold and the carrier won’t have to pay out money – THAT’S GOOD FOR GEICO (and the gecko is gleeful). * side note to the reader, I do the alliteration mostly to entertain myself, so laughs are not required, but would be appreciated.
But the motorcyclist – well, she flipped over the handlebars, and then over the car, landing upside down on her back, suffering a fractured ankle and compression fractures in her spine. She definitely meets the threshold, so if she was a participant in Article 51, then she’d get the No-Fault benefits PLUS have a successful lawsuit. BAD FOR GEICO. So they say “let’s send lobbyists to the state law makers and get them to nix motorcyclists from Article 51 – it will save us a ton of money and then all of our board members and shareholders can put in a bigger pool. . . plus it gives the insurance folk less paperwork, which frees them up for squash and drinks at the club. No, I’m not a Geico hater – Chubb, the Hartford, Travelers – they all do this, although Chubb is based in Zurich, so they probably play more soccer and less squash.
The Pros and Cons of Motorcyclists and Article 51
Well, on the positive side, while motorcyclists don’t get the $50,000 in benefits, they clearly have fewer restrictions when suing for damages, since they don’t have to meet the injury threshold. Again, typically their injuries would meet the threshold anyway, but even if their injuries are not considered serious, based on New York’s serious injury threshold, they can still pursue a lawsuit without the limitations.
On the negative side, as stated, Article 51 does not protect the rider when they are at fault, unless the accident specifically involves the motorcycle hitting a pedestrian. Then the pedestrian is covered.
How the Motorcyclist Can Protect Himself with this Newly Absorbed Knowledge?
The only way you can protect yourself, and in some instances you simply can’t, is to buy more comprehensive insurance. The best thing to do is ask your insurance broker or call your carrier directly, express your concerns and see what they recommend. I would suggest the following areas to explore:
- Liability: under the liability portion of your policy, I would purchase “guest passenger coverage”, which provides protection to your passengers;
- Collision: Increase your collision coverage, which will pay for damages to your bike;
- Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM): increase this portion as much as you can within your financial limits – if a bad injury is inevitable in a motorcycle accident, UM/UIM helps if you are in an accident with someone with either no insurance or insufficient insurance to cover your damages. Depending on the limits you purchase, this can also help to cover costs related to property damage and injuries;
- Medical Payments: this coverage can help cover medical expenses.
Get the coverage. Then go for a ride, have fun and be safe. It’s beautiful out.