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If you’re cycling and collide with a car, can you be found at fault?

July 15, 2022
5 mins
An older man rides his bike in the city

One of the first things a driver should do after a collision — beyond checking to see if anyone is injured — is exchange insurance information with all parties involved. After all, driving without insurance is illegal in Canada, and even the mildest collisions can cause damage.

But what recourse does a cyclist have if they are involved in a collision?

While cyclists aren’t required to carry auto insurance, they face the possibility of far more serious injuries or damage than drivers in a collision. They aren’t protected by airbags, seatbelts, or the bodywork of a car — and the price tag on a good bike can easily hit a thousand dollars or more. Still, cyclists can be considered at fault for a collision.

Rules of the road same for vehicles and bikes

“The rules of the road apply regardless of whether you’re in a car or you’re on a bike,” says Anne Marie Thomas, director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “If you are riding your bike and you cause a collision, you can be considered at fault.”

Last March, Ben Bollinger, a Vancouver cyclist, was struck by a driver who ran a stop sign. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia sent Bollinger a $3,700 bill for car damage. (ICBC announced two months later that it would no longer do so for crashes where a cyclist or pedestrian suffered severe or catastrophic injuries).

Yet according to David Shellnutt, managing partner at The Biking Lawyer LLP in Toronto, cases where a cyclist hits a car and is considered at fault are rare. “If I get 1,000 calls a year,” he says, “one is maybe like this.”

Regardless of who is found to be at fault, cyclists have several different avenues to cover collision-related injuries or damage.

How auto insurance can cover a bike-related injury

Many cyclists also hold driver’s licences and, therefore, have auto insurance. All car insurance policies are required by Ontario law to have Statutory Accident Benefits Coverage and they take effect regardless of whether the policyholder is on two wheels or four at the time of the collision.

“You are covered whether you’re a pedestrian hit by a car, or a cyclist hit by a car,” Thomas says. In fact, Shellnutt notes many cyclists are unaware they even have accident benefits.

These benefits cover lost wages or salary, compensation for someone too injured to live independently, caregiver and rehabilitation costs, medical expenses, and death or funeral expenses. Most importantly, these benefits kick in regardless of who is at fault in a crash.

What happens if a cyclist doesn’t have auto insurance coverage, though? They can make a claim with the driver’s insurance company for accident benefits.

Can home or tenant insurance cover a cyclist’s liability expenses?

Of course, some cyclists don’t have driver’s licences – and therefore, don’t have auto insurance with accident benefits. However, if a cyclist has tenant or home insurance, the liability portion of their policy could cover injuries or damage sustained by the driver in a collision. Shellnutt notes these policies may offer protection in the event a driver decides to go after a cyclist for compensation.

According to Prezler Injury Lawyers, a major Ontario personal injury firm, home insurance can protect insured people “against significant personal liability and making sure that an injured third party can obtain compensation for his or her injuries.”

However, home or tenant insurance cannot be used to cover the policyholder’s own injuries or damage to their bike in a crash. It specifically covers damage or injury caused to someone else.

Accessing the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund in Ontario

If a driver strikes a cyclist and there isn’t any insurance available (i.e. the driver fled the scene or was driving without auto insurance) there is one more avenue to pursue. A cyclist could apply to the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund.

According to the Government of Ontario, the Fund is specifically for people injured in a car collision “where no automobile insurance exists to respond to your claim.”

“They provide accident benefits as any insurance company would,” says Shellnutt. “You can [apply to the Fund] for the John Doe driver in a hit-and-run scenario up to $200,000 maximum.”

That figure includes accident benefits in case of injury, death and funeral benefits, and compensation for personal injury or property damage — but not for vehicles. Anyone applying must have been injured or have property damage of more than $100 due to the collision.

What cyclists should do immediately after a collision

After a collision, a cyclist’s first priority should be to assess any injuries. Once that’s done, they should get the insurance information and ID of everyone involved. Taking photos of any damage and injuries is also very important for the insurance claim process.

Unfortunately, Shellnutt says he has seen cases where drivers deny any liability and say they don’t have to provide insurance information. That is illegal under Ontario law. If you’re a cyclist and find yourself in that situation, Shellnut advises you to “get their licence plate, contact a lawyer, and the police.”

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Brennan Doherty

Brennan Doherty is a Toronto-based writer. His work has appeared in Toronto Star, VICE, the National Post, and elsewhere. Once upon a time, he called Calgary home.

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