Given how short our summers tend to feel, it’s not surprising that many of us grab our bikes as soon as warmer weather arrives. Besides being an environmentally friendly form of transportation, it’s also a great way to fit exercise into our busy schedules. Unfortunately, despite efforts by many municipalities to make streets more bike-friendly, cyclists are still at a major disadvantage when sharing the road with motor vehicles. In my practice as a personal injury lawyer in Ontario, some of the most devastating injuries we come across involve cyclists struck by cars.
If you’ve been involved in an accident with a motor vehicle while on a bicycle, it’s important to treat the accident the way you would treat any car accident. Police should always be called to the scene in accidents involving cyclists. At the very least, you should get the licence plate, driver’s licence and insurance information of the drver who struck you. If you’re involved in a hit and run situation, try to get the contact information of a witness who can provide evidence of what happened.
As a cyclist, you’re entitled to Accident Benefits (also called “No-Fault Benefits”), regardless of whether or not you have your own automobile insurance, and regardless of who’s at fault for the accident. If you’ve been injured, you may have the right to one of the following weekly benefits through Accident Benefits:
1. Income Replacement Benefits: for those employed or self-employed and unable to work as a result of the accident
2. Non-Earner Benefits: for those who do not qualify for income replacement benefits and suffers a complete inability to carry on a normal life
3. Caregiver Benefits: for those who serve as a caregiver to their family members and are unable to do so due to the effects of the accident
In addition, you may qualify for medical rehabilitation benefits, attendant care benefits, lost education benefits and housekeeping benefits.
If you, your spouse or your parents have automobile insurance, you should submit your claim for Accident Benefits through that insurer. You can also submit your application to the insurer of any of the vehicles involved in the accident. If no party involved has insurance, or if the vehicle fled the scene, you may make a claim through the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund, which is a fund created by the government to handle such claims. Any insurer that receives an application for Accident Benefits must respond, and the issue of which insurer has priority for your claim can be sorted out at a later time.
If you have your own automobile insurance, you can purchase optional benefits or top-up the limits of the basic benefits, which can benefit you even if you are injured as a cyclist. For example, the current basic income replacement benefit is capped at only $400 per week. Without topping up your benefits, you may find that the amount is too low to cover even basic expenses should you be injured. Having separate medical insurance and long-term disability insurance may also help offset some of the risk.
If you’re not at fault for the accident, you can potentially sue the at-fault driver for your injuries and losses, going above and beyond what you can claim through Accident Benefits. However, as a cyclist, there are certain precautions you ought to take.
Always wear a helmet and ensure that you have functioning lights and that you’re not wearing dark clothing, especially in low visibility conditions. Besides greatly increasing your chances of serious injury, by not following these precautions, you may be found to have contributed to your own injuries, which may reduce your award for damages. However, keep in mind that this doesn’t disqualify you from receiving Accident Benefits.
By: Simmy Yu