By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer
I have been practicing personal injury law for over 20 years – never have I seen more injustice than what I have witnessed since committing my legal practice to the representation of injured cyclists.
When it comes to transportation, Canadian provinces have lauded the growth of cycling. They promote cycling as a way to reduce green house gasses, promote health, and limit traffic congestion. But when it comes to bike crashes caused by irresponsible motorists, both the publicly and privately funded insurance companies are fundamentally biased against cyclists.
A few weeks ago I resolved a case involving an experienced cyclist riding in a pace line with three other excellent riders. Suddenly and without warning a motorist backed out of his driveway directly into the bike lane. The first cyclist swerved and avoided the collision. Unfortunately, the second in line was unable to make the same maneuver and forcefully collided with the back quarter panel of the car. He suffered a concussion and a variety of fractures.
We sued the driver and his insurance company, as expected, denied the claim. Their position being that the cyclist in front avoided the collision and the fact that the second cyclist was unable to stop was evidence that he was riding “too close” to the first cyclist. The response was not only unsatisfactory, it was unsustainable. The litigation continued for over two years before the insurance company finally admitted responsibility on behalf of the motorist and paid a settlement. But the experience was excruciating for everyone involved. The amount of time and effort that it took to prove what should have been an obvious claim was excessive.
There are a number of reasons for the manner with which insurance companies treat cyclists. First and foremost, if a cyclist is hit by an insured motorist it costs the insurance company money. If they deny the claim at the outset many cyclists will simply give up, saving the insurance company a financial payout. Secondly, the rules of the road are made for cars. In many instances antiquated provincial rules of the road do not fit the manner with which the roads are used by cyclists. For instance, a cyclist riding to the right of vehicles backed up for traffic may be deemed a “lane splitter” and told that she is responsible if a motorist cuts her off or makes a right turn. Finally, many of the people in charge of the big insurance companies are totally and unequivocally out of touch with reality. They have a firm belief that roads are for cars and therefore their insured should not be responsible if they hit a cyclist.
The only answer to this level of stupidity is to approach every bike crash with conviction and determination. The civil court system was created to ensure fair and just determination of claims. The insurance companies defending motorists cannot be trusted to take a fair-minded approach. If you are in a car/bike crash, contact a lawyer before you approach an insurance company to make a statement. There are many amazing lawyers and most will take the time to provide you with a free consultation. That extra step may save you a whole lot of trouble should you find yourself dealing with an unresponsive or downright underhanded insurance company.
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Whether at fault or not, if you are involved in a crash with a car in Ontario you are entitled to Accident Benefit insurance coverage.
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