A recent hit-and-run driver case in the Geneva NY area has some people wondering whether a downed cyclist or pedestrian will get more insurance compensation if the guilty hit-and-run driver is caught. The answer is probably not. Why?
First, in my experience representing Central New bicyclists and pedestrians in hit-and-run cases, hit-and-run drivers usually carry minimal insurance. They are usually irresponsible (that explains why they take off), have poor-paying jobs, and no real assets. All they can afford, or want, is the minimal coverage, which is $50,000 in “no-fault” and $25,000 in “bodily injury” (also called “liability”) insurance.
Since this is the minimum insurance, everyone who owns a car in New York has at least that, including injured cyclists or pedestrians who own a car, or whose family member he or she lives with owns one. The injured cyclist/pedestrian automatically gets at least this minimal coverage from their own (or family member’s) auto insurance if they are victims of a hit-and-run and the driver is not caught.
In other words, if the hit-and-run driver is not caught, the cyclist or pedestrian’s own auto insurer (or their family member’s) “stands in the shoes’ of the hit-and-run driver and must provide no-fault insurance (up to $50,000 in medical and lost wage payments) and, at a minimum, $25,000 in “liability” coverage (coverage for pain and suffering and any lost wages or medical expenses beyond the $50,000 no-fault limit).
If he hit-and-run driver is caught, his insurance will become the primary insurer. It will pay the $50,000 maximum no-fault benefits instead of the bicyclist’s or pedestrian’s own auto insurer. So that’s a wash to the injured cyclist or pedestrian. The same is true with liability coverage. If the hit-and-run driver is never caught, the injured cyclist’s or pedestrian’s own auto insurer provides a minimum of $25,000 in “uninsured motorist” benefits. If the driver is caught, the driver’s $25,000 liability insurance kicks in, and the pedestrian/cyclist’s own auto carrier is off the hook for this amount. The coverage to the injured cyclist/pedestrian is still the same. Again, it’s a wash.
Some smart cyclists, realizing their hobby is somewhat dangerous, load up on something called “SUM” (supplemental under-insured motorist) coverage. Read about SUM at this prior blog post. If the cyclist or pedestrian has, let’s say, $100,000 in SUM coverage, and the hit-and-run driver is caught, and the coverage on his car is only $25,000, then the cyclist gets $100,000 — $25,000 from the guy’s insurance, plus $75,000 from his own SUM policy (plus the no-fault benefits). But if the hit-and-run driver is never caught, the victim still gets $100,000 — all from his own SUM policy (plus no-fault). Again, a wash.
The only way the cyclist or pedestrian will actual benefit financially from the hit-and-run driver getting caught is if it turns out the hit-and-run driver has more liability coverage than the cyclist/pedestrian has. For example, if the hit-and-run driver has $100,000, and the cyclist or pedestrian has only $25,000 in SUM, then cyclist/pedestrian gets the $100,000 (plus no-fault) whereas he would have gotten only $25,000 (plus no-fault) had he not been caught. But that, in my experience, is not likely to happen.
Cyclists, be safe. Protect your family. Load up on SUM coverage. It’s a bargain. Just a few extra dollars a month. Far, far cheaper than, say, a disability insurance policy.
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