Category Archives: Insurance

Scooter Accidents in San Francisco Bay Area | Liability and Insurance Issues

Motorized scooter use in the San Francisco Bay Area is rapidly becoming a primary form of local transportation. Electric scooter on-demand rental companies such as Bird and LimeBike have infused the Bay Area with thousands of scooters to fill an ever-increasing consumer demand heightened by over-burdened and inadequate mass transportation services.  As a San Francisco pedestrian, bicycle and scooter accident lawyer, I see many liability insurance issues raised by the increased use of scooters.

By FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsAlong with this increased scooter use inevitably comes an increase in injury accidents involving scooters. Such accidents may involve collisions between scooters and pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, automobiles, or other scooters. Although scooters are prohibited by law from driving on sidewalks pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21235(g), news reports indicate that scooters are being ridden to a very large degree on sidewalks, raising the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and pedestrians. Unless local law otherwise more strictly prohibits, California State law allows scooters to be operated in bicycle lanes, and in fact mandates they be ridden in Class II bicycle lanes if such lanes exist, and where such bicycle lane does not exist the scooter may be operated on the road as long as the speed limit on the road is 25 mph or less. (CVC 21229, 21230.) Thus, scooter ridership also raises the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and bicycles, and scooters and motorists. San Francisco trauma hospitals have noticed an increase in scooter related serious injuries and are setting up a scooter-related injury tracking system, as reported by the New York Times.

Unfortunately, there are some significant gaps in liability and uninsured motorist insurance coverage for accidents involving scooters. In California, there is no requirement that motorized scooters (as distinguished from mopeds) be registered or that the scooter or scooter operator carry liability insurance. Based upon my research, I am not aware of any scooter rental companies which provide their users with any significant liability insurance. This would leave someone injured due to a collision with a scooter to look to the scooter operator’s homeowners or renters insurance, as is the case when someone is injured due to the negligence of a bicyclist, or perhaps to the scooter operator’s personal assets if they are substantial.

While pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter operators may utilize whatever uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance they may have on their motor vehicle policies should they be injured in an accident for which the operator of a motor vehicle is at fault, their UM/UIM coverage almost certainly will not apply when injured by the operator of a scooter. This is because California law requires only that insurers offer, in their motor vehicle policies, UM/UIM coverage for liability arising out of the use of a motor vehicle, and the Insurance Code limits its definition of “motor vehicle” to include only those vehicles which are required to be registered under California State law, and scooters are not required to be so registered. (California Insurance Code 11580.2, 11580.06.)

Another potential source of recovery for those injured in scooter accidents are the scooter rental companies or manufacturers where the accident was caused by a scooter’s mechanical defect or malfunction, or where the scooter was illegally rented to an unlicensed and un-permitted driver.  (An operator of a motorized scooter must possess a valid drivers license or instruction permit [CVC 21235(d)].)

Study Shows Hit-And-Run collisions injuries and deaths at highest levels

A recently released AAA study reveals a record amount of hit-and-run injuries and deaths, the majority of which are to bicyclists and pedestrians. This raises a confluence of issues related to a lack of adequate bicycling and pedestrian safety infrastructure, the prevention of DUI driving, public video surveillance, and uninsured motorist coverage.  According to AAA, there were 2,049 hit-and-run related fatalities in the United States in 2016, and 65% of those were bicyclists or pedestrians.  Twenty percent of all pedestrian deaths were hit-and-run related. The reasons that a driver may flee the scene often relate to the fact that many of the drivers are intoxicated with prior DUI records. The study notes that a large percentage of hit-and-run collisions occur in the hours between midnight and 4 a.m. when drivers are more likely to be intoxicated, it is easier to flee the scene due to lighter traffic, and there are fewer witnesses out at that hour.

Bicycle vs Pedestrian Injury Accidents – Insurance Coverage

Sometimes there are collisions between bicyclists and pedestrians which result in injuries, such as a recently reported collision between a bicyclist and teen pedestrian at Market and Third Streets in San Francisco.  I am often asked whether there is any liability insurance which may cover the bicyclist or pedestrian in such circumstances.  While motor vehicle liability or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage applies when a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured by a motorist, such insurance does not apply to a bicycle vs. pedestrian accident.  However, the bicyclist’s or pedestrian’s Homeowner’s or Renter’s liability insurance may cover the at-fault party in a bicycle vs. pedestrian accident.

We Mourn Pedestrian Konstaninos “Gus” Vardakastanis killed by Hit-And-Run Driver

Our office mourns the death of Konstaninos “Gus” Vardakastanis, the owner of a number of San Francisco markets, who was killed this morning by a speeding hit-and-run driver as he walked across Jerrold Ave near the SF Produce Market.  As one of his numerous admiring customers, I knew Gus as extremely hard working, family-loving, and forever wanting to please his customers in any way he could.  Our family and entire neighborhood are saddened.  He will be missed very much.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists Injured in Hit And Run – Insurance Coverage And Reporting Requirements

Highway 1 Wrong-Way Driver Crash Kills Uber Passenger Christmas Morning

As reported by local news media, a Toyota Corolla driven on the wrong side of Highway 1 near Paloma Ave in Pacifica collided head-on with a Nissan Altima driven by an Uber driver at approximately 2:30 a.m. on 12/25/15.  The collision caused the untimely and tragic death of Jason Gilbride, age 25, of Pacifica, who was the Uber passenger, as well as the driver of the Corolla.  The Uber driver is reportedly severely injured and hospitalized at San Francisco General Hospital.

As I have described in a previous blog entry, Uber provides its passengers with $1 Million of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in addition to the mandated $1 Million of liability insurance.  Thus, regardless of how fault for this accident is attributed, there are substantial insurance proceeds available to compensate the Uber-related victims of this horrific accident and their families, albeit never enough to truly compensate them for their devastating loss.

Recourse For Three San Francisco Bicyclists Injured by Hit And Run SUV on Scott Street on 4/2/15

As reported by ABC News and other news media, three bicyclists and two cars, one parked, were struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV being wildly and recklessly driven by an unidentified hit-and-run driver.  The collisions occurred on 4/2/15 in San Francisco, first on Fell Street (car rear-ended) and then three bicyclists were hit on Scott Street while the SUV was driving on the wrong side of the road.  One of the bicyclists is reported to be in critical condition.  The SUV has since been found but the driver not yet publicly identified.

As a lawyer who specializes in the representation of injured bicyclists, I have written extensively in the past on the fact that bicyclists and pedestrians can recover compensation for their injuries (or death) even if both the driver and the motor vehicle that caused the injuries were never identified.  If the hit-and-run driver is identified, the injured bicyclists can also recover punitive damages based on the driver’s felony hit-and-run violations. However, punitive damages are not payable by the driver’s or car owner’s auto insurance, but rather from the driver’s personal assets. And, of course, the bicyclists can recover from the driver’s and car owner’s auto insurance for all of their compensatory damages, including economic, bodily, and psychological injuries.  If there is inadequate insurance available, injured parties may also receive some compensation from the public Victims Compensation Fund as well as restitution paid by the driver as part of the criminal proceedings.

Update 4/29/15:   The driver, Bianca Lopez of Fremont, age 25, has been arrested and charged with felony hit and run.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists Injured in Hit And Run – Insurance Coverage And Reporting Requirements

Many pedestrians and bicyclists are injured in hit and run accidents in the Bay Area each year. For example, this week, a man was critically injured by a hit and run driver while walking in a crosswalk at Lombard and Steiner Streets in the Marina District of San Francisco. Most people think that, if the driver or owner of the car at fault is not identified or found, there is no source of insurance compensation for their injuries other than their own medical insurance. However, this is not the case where the pedestrian or bicyclist has uninsured motorist coverage under an auto insurance policy. Yes, that’s right, uninsured motorist coverage (which includes UNDERinsured motorist coverage) covers you as a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorist, sitting in a lawn chair, jumping on a pogo stick, whatever, if you are injured by a motorist.

bicycle and pedestrian accident attorney stresses importance of insurance protectionAs a lawyer who represents injured pedestrians and injured bicyclists throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, I lecture and write on this topic in an effort to spread the word, not only to benefit those who have already been injured, but also to encourage people to increase their uninsured motorist coverage in case they or a family member are ever in such an accident. I explain how it all works in an article I have written on the subject. I encourage all to re-examine their auto or motorcycle insurance coverage in this light, and am happy to answer (free of charge) questions you may have.

It is important to keep in mind that most Uninsured Motorist Insurance polices have strict accident reporting requirements. Typically, one involved in such accident must report it to the police within 24 hours (call the police from the scene and file a written report) and report it to their insurance company within 30 days (I recommend reporting to the insurance company IMMEDIATELY). Failure to do any of the above may result in the denial of your claim. Also, you will need to provide your insurance company with evidence of the collision, so do not repair your own vehicle until your insurance company has been given an opportunity to inspect it. Also, provide as much information as you can regarding the offending vehicle as well as the contact info for any witnesses. Look around for video surveillance cameras which may have captured the incident. Call an attorney for advice ASAP.

Update:  On 9/3/14, a 20-year-old bicyclist was injured by a it and run driver at Oak and Stanyan Streets in SF near Golden Gate Park.

Update: A bicyclist was killed by a hit and run driver on June 17, 2013 in San Jose. The bicyclist, 55-year-old Glenn Arnold Earnest, was hit from behind along the Taylor Street over-crossing of Highway 87. Although the police have a general description of the vehicle, as of 6/26/13 the driver had yet to be identified.

Update: A 63-year-old pedestrian was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver in Gilroy on 6/21/13, and as of 6/26/13 the identity of the driver remains unknown.

Update: The entire Bay Area saw a marked increase in hit and run accidents in the last half of 2013 causing death and serious injuries to bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. In many of these cases the identity of the offending motorist has not been determined, further underscoring the need for everyone to carry high limits of uninsured motorist coverage.

Update: Police arrested a man in a hit and run accident seriously injuring a pedestrian on January 17, 2014 at the intersection of Trousdale and Martinez drives.

Update: A man was very seriously injured on February 5, 2014 by a hit-and-run driver at Van Ness and Grove in San Francisco.

Update: On 2/16/14, a male pedestrian was killed by a hit-and-run driver near The Woods Drive and Snell Avenue in San Jose.

Update: On 5/6/14, a pedestrian and car occupant were injured in San Francisco’s Marina District when the driver of a stolen car crashed into them and a building and then fled on foot.

Update:  On 10/19/14, a hit-and-run driver injured two pedestrians, a 50-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman, at Turk and Mason Streets in San Francisco.

Motorcyclists Are Vulnerable By Being Under-Insured

In the course of representing motorcyclists injured in traffic accidents, I have found that bikers tend to carry very little motorcycle insurance. The reasoning employed by many bikers in choosing to purchase low levels of insurance is based on their belief that, in a crash with a car or truck, they are likely to inflict little damage on the other party.

Failure to maintain high levels of liability insurance often harms the biker since an underinsured biker tends to carry inadequate amounts of uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, a standard part of all motor vehicle liability policies. UM coverage provides a source of recovery if the at-fault driver of the other vehicle is either uninsured, has very low limits of liability insurance (quite common, unfortunately), or the accident is a hit-and-run and the other driver is never identified. The biker’s own UM coverage steps in the shoes of the other party to compensate the biker for his or her damages (medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, etc). However, most insurance companies do not permit one to have UM limits that are higher than one’s personal injury liability limits. Since motorcyclists tend to have more serious injuries than car drivers, it is that much more important for bikers to carry high limits of UM insurance.

Other important reasons for motorcyclists to carry high limits of liability insurance include that it is the socially responsible thing to do and it also protects their assets in case the motorcyclist is deemed to be partially or wholly at fault for causing injury to a motorist, passenger, bicyclist, pedestrian or other person. A motorcycle can cause very serious injuries or death even to occupants of a much larger vehicle by not only colliding with the vehicle, but also causing the vehicle to collide with other cars, trucks, bicyclists or pedestrians.