You are on your daily commute or your Saturday morning training ride when your worst nightmare becomes a reality and a negligent driver suddenly turns left in front of you.
Shortly after the impact you realize that with the exception of some road rash you are okay, but then you look around and see that your carbon fiber bike has been split into several pieces. How are you going to handle your property damage claim?
The law in many states dictates that the at-fault motorist is obligated to put you back in the same position you were in prior to the crash. If the cost to repair your bike is greater than the market value, then the at-fault driver's insurance carrier is on the hook to pay you the market value of your bike. If the cost of the repairs is less than the market value, then the carrier must pay for the cost of repairs.
Dealing With Insurance
Over the past five years I have handled 100-plus property damage claims and the common thread is that most insurance adjusters are used to dealing with motor vehicle claims and either have no experience or minimal experience handling bicycle damage claims. Generally, the insurance adjuster does not know the difference between a Pinarello Prince and a Wal-Mart special.
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In order to recover your damages, you will need to do your homework and be prepared to educate the insurance adjuster. As a starting point, I almost always take the position that the bicycle is a total loss. A 15- to 20-pound bicycle is not designed to withstand the impact with a 4,000-plus pound vehicle.
In the above example, the carbon fiber frame broke into several pieces and was an obvious total. In many cases, the damages are not so obvious and may not manifest themselves until much later. The first time I was hit, I thought my bike was okay until 10 weeks post-accident when both fork legs snapped off about two inches below the fork crown. There were tiny microscopic cracks/fissures that were not visible to the naked eye.
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Most of my clients are surprised to learn that the insurance company is not obligated to buy them a brand new bike. Keep in mind that if your 1992 Ford Taurus is totaled in a car crash, the insurance company is not required to buy you a 2011 Ford Taurus, but rather, must pay you the market value of your 1992 Ford Taurus just prior to the crash. Market value is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller in an arms-length transaction. Craigslist, eBay and a reputable bike shop can help you establish market value.
It is important that you photograph all damages and bring your bike to a reputable bike shop for a thorough inspection and damage estimate. In cases where the bike is not an obvious total, most shops will provide you with a statement that says something like "because of the nature of the impact, the structural integrity of the bike has been compromised, making it unsafe to ride and it should be considered a total loss."