Articles
Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

In Time for Spring: Bike Law 101

What lawyers should know about the rules of the road and bike-relevant insurance law

Springtime is finally around the corner. The melting of snow triggers a typical Minnesotan desire in both young and old to put some air in the tires, find a helmet, and jump on our bicycles for a ride. This makes perfectly good sense in that Minnesota boasts more bike trails than any other state around (especially more than our neighbors to the east!).1

Speaking from experience as a son who watched his dad ride his bicycle nearly year-round to and from work each day and then later grew up to become a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer litigating cases on behalf of injured bike riders, I have some information for you to consider this spring prior to taking that first ride. It will be especially helpful if your experiences are similar to my dad’s, who in his over 30 years of riding has encountered everything from quicksand (so he claims) to erratic drivers to run-ins with parked cars.

Rules of the road

It will come as news to some that Minn. Stat. §169.222 (2017) governs how we ride our bicycles.2 The Legislature has granted these riders all the same rights—and duties—applicable to the drivers of motor vehicles and motorcycles.3 That’s both good and bad. It means bike riders can use the same roadways as motor vehicles, but also that bicycles need to obey all the same traffic laws, such as stopping at stop signs (even when no one is watching!). Additionally, here are some other specific, yet often forgotten, rules for riders:

  • In most situations, the bicyclist “shall ride as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway” (assuming no designated bicycle lane or other exception, such as preparing for a left turn at an intersection).4
  • No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district unless permitted by local authorities.5 In Minneapolis, sidewalk riding in business districts is prohibited, and that includes Downtown, Uptown, and the University of Minnesota/Dinkytown.6
  • A person operating a bicycle (lawfully) upon a sidewalk shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal when necessary before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.7
  • Carrying anything that prohibits the driver of the bicycle from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bar is not allowed.8
  • Although it’s a wise decision, Minnesota law does not mandate that a rider wear a helmet. 
Insurance claims

Even assuming that, like my dad, you are a considerate and law-abiding rider, there is still probably going to come a time when you are going to have an adversarial experience with a motor vehicle. In St. Paul during 2017, for example, there were 99 bicycle/motor vehicle crashes with 72 causing injury and one resulting in a fatality.9 These crashes could have been caused by a variety of circumstances: It might be a car door being opened right in front of you as you are riding in a bike lane; it could be a situation where a motor vehicle attempts to make a U-turn, doesn’t see you, and knocks you off your bike; or it could be a situation where a driver rolls down his or her window and yells at the bicyclist for riding in the road (always a personal favorite of mine). 

Whatever the cause, if you are injured by a motor vehicle while riding your bicycle, there are two important and applicable types of insurance coverage to be aware of:

• No-fault benefits. Since January 1, 1975 the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act, Minn. Stat. §65B.41 – 65B.71, has governed all motor vehicle insurance policies. As such, a bicyclist suffering physical injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident, regardless of whether he or she was at fault, will have access to no-fault benefits.10 That carries with it medical coverage and wage loss benefits, among others, from any policy under which the bicyclist is an insured.11 However, what happens if the injured bicyclist is not an insured under a motor vehicle policy? For example, what if someone relies solely on a bicycle for transportation (as is becoming more and more common) and does not own (or for that matter insure) a motor vehicle? What then? 

Fortunately, subdivision 4 of Minn. Stat. §65B.47 states that a person without insurance who is not the driver or occupant of a motor vehicle at the time of the injury (i.e., a pedestrian, bicyclist, etc.) may go to the insurance policy covering any involved motor vehicle.12 Even assuming the bicyclist is at fault, that rider can access no-fault benefits from any of the policies covering the involved vehicles. This means, for example, that even if you turn your bike directly into the path of a motor vehicle simply because you are not paying attention and thereby cause an accident, your medicals will still be paid. 

However, what if all the involved vehicles are uninsured? Is the bicyclist out of luck? No. For such bicyclists, Minn. Stat. §65B.63 and 65B.64 may come to the rescue, as they require an insurance company be assigned to provide basic no-fault benefits. This “Assigned Claims Plan,” however, does exclude no-fault coverage for certain uninsured claimants. So it’s not applicable in all situations, but is certainly a viable option to many who do not own a motor vehicle or reside with someone who does.13

• UM (uninsured motorist) and UIM (underinsured motorist) benefits. These types of coverage are triggered when a motor vehicle operator negligently injures a bicyclist and either has no liability coverage (uninsured) or not enough coverage to cover the harm caused (underinsured). Unlike no-fault benefits, these types of coverage are only available to riders who are named in an auto policy of their own or who reside with a relative who is an insured.14 Furthermore, consumers can purchase different sums of these types of coverage. It goes without saying that no one—including pedestrians, bicyclists, or other motor vehicle operators—can depend on the tortfeasor to either have insurance or to have enough. By purchasing adequate coverage (the state minimum UM/UIM coverage is $25,000/$50,000, but we recommend purchasing much more), the injured party is able to elect the amount of coverage that will be available to him or her if injured due to the negligence of a motor vehicle operator.15

The importance of bicyclists having proper UM and UIM coverage is three-fold: 

First, a bicyclist injured by a motor vehicle is more likely to sustain serious physical injuries than occupants of a motor vehicle due to the lack of physical protection. In other words, bikers don’t simply get hurt, they get really hurt. 

Second, UM coverage provides specific insurance coverage for “hit-and-run” accidents and even “phantom vehicle” situations, which occur when a bicyclist is injured even though no physical contact occurred between the vehicle and the bicyclist and the driver of the vehicle subsequently fled the scene.16 That means, in theory, that if someone is riding lawfully and is run off the road by a negligent driver who fails to stop, the injured biker would have a viable UM claim. 

Third, as any avid rider will tell you, our driving culture in Minnesota has not evolved enough for us to expect drivers to be consistently looking for riders and pedestrians. As such, bicyclists are at risk for injury. At least for now, that’s just the reality. While that risk cannot be avoided, at least a person can provide himself or herself with an opportunity to be appropriately compensated should that risk come to fruition. This, of course, is done by having proper UM and UIM coverage. (If you don’t know your coverage, a conversation with an insurance professional about coverage options is a must.)

Enjoy the season

In a place where a blizzard can come on Halloween and snow can last until early May, we Minnesotans cherish our outdoor time. Maybe that’s why our bike- riding community has grown so much in recent years and our beloved state continues to be a national leader regarding ridership and accessibility. So enjoy it! But whether it’s around the Minneapolis lakes, on Highway 61 along the North Shore, or even in your own neighborhood, be safe. Obey the rules of the road. Be attentive. And most importantly, prepare yourself for those occasions when things don’t go your way. And finally, if you come across my dad, tell him that the statute of limitations has expired on his claim against the quicksand he encountered riding home to 21st Avenue in St. Cloud all those years ago.


ANDREW RORVIG is a trial lawyer at McEllistrem Fargione Landy Rorvig & Eken P.A. He tries cases, teaches at UST law school, and is raising two boys in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul (his adopted hometown). He is the co-editor of the Minnesota State Bar Association  Minnesota Motor Vehicle Deskbook.  


Notes

1 Dan Gunderson, Peddling Minnesota’s bike trails, Minnesota Public Radio (9/5/2001).

2 Minn. Stat. §169.222 (2017).

3 Id.

4 Id. subd. 4(a). 

5 Id. subd. 4(d).

6 Minneapolis Ordinance § 490.140.

7 Minn. Stat. §169.222, subd. 4(d).

8 Id. subd. 5.

9 Pedestrian and Bike Crash Data – City of St. Paul (last visited 2/12/2018), available at https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/police/pedestrian-and-bike-crash-data-city-st-paul. 

10 Minn. Stat. §65B.41 – 65B.71.

11 Id.

12 Minn. Stat. §65B.47 subd. 4(c).

13 See Minn. Stat. §65B.64, subd. 3.

14 The no-fault statute defines the term “insured” at Minn. Stat. §65B.43 subd. 5. Generally, an “insured” under the statutory definition includes both the named insured in the policy and any resident relative of the named insured unless that relative is “identified by name in any other contract” of motor vehicle insurance complying with the No-Fault Act. 

15 Minn. Stat. §65B.49, subd. 3a.

16 Halseth v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 268 N.W.2d 730 (Minn. 1978); Heldt v. Truck Ins. Exch., No. C7-94-1009, 1995 WL 1496 (Minn. Ct. App. 1995).

Leave a Reply

Articles by Issue

Articles by Subject