A Guide to Understanding Bike Damages Claims in New York
Our firm gets several calls or e-mails each week from New York cyclists involved in a crash, where their bikes were damaged or totaled. They call for advice on whether they need to hire a lawyer to pursue a property damage claim when a negligent driver causes damage to their bike. If the cyclist was injured in the crash, then our firm can and will help. It is our normal practice that while representing cyclists in their personal injury claim, we will gladly and aggressively pursue the claim for damage to their bike as well. This is a service that we provide free of charge when handling the underlying personal injury lawsuit.
If the cyclist was thankfully not injured in the crash, but wants to pursue a property damage claim, they most likely do not and will not need the assistance of a lawyer.
Handling the property damage claim should be relatively simple. By law, you are entitled to be compensated for the cost of repairs. If the bike was totaled and cannot be repaired, you are entitled to be compensated for the replacement value of your bike. Do not let the insurance company tell you that you should settle for a "depreciated" value of your bike. There is no such thing as a "Kelly Blue Book" for bikes.
It is our position that if a bike is no longer manufactured, and the closest or similar model costs more, the company is responsible to pay the increased replacement cost. They normally don't agree, but this remains our position, and we suggest you do the same. It's not your fault that your perfectly good bike is now trashed. Why should you have to pay more to replace it? Also, BEFORE you have any repairs performed, offer to make the bike available for the insurance company to inspect themselves.
If you were involved in a crash, we always suggest speaking to lawyer FIRST. Most lawyers, like our firm, offer free consultations. We also suggest contacting a lawyer before speaking to an insurance company. The statements you make to an insurance company are usually recorded. The adjuster may act warm and friendly, but remember that they are not your ally. The innocent statement you make may be detrimental to your claim later on.
Here our suggestions in how to handle property damage claim:
- Get the Police Report. This will give you all the contact information you need, and hopefully the driver's insurance information as well. If there is a witness on the report, contact the witness and ask that he or she provide you with a statement.
- Locate the driver's insurance company using the police report. A link to looking up insurance companies in New York is here: http://www.newyorkbikelawyer.com/Bike-collision/How-to-Identify-Insurance-Co-s.aspx
- Take pictures of your bike. The pictures should show the whole bicycle, as well as the individual parts that were damaged. We also suggest taking photos of serial numbers or other identifying labels or inscriptions.
- Get one or more estimates for the repairs. If the bike is totaled, try to obtain your original purchase receipt. Most bike shops are very helpful in this task, as they hope you will return to their shop to make your new purchase. If you can't get the original receipt, some insurance companies will accept a credit card bill. Internet searches are also helpful in obtaining the original and replacement costs of the Bike.
- Document other damages that you will claim. Did you make improvements to the bike such as bags, water bottle cages, bike computers? Was your clothing or were other items damaged in the crash? If so, you are entitled to be reimbursed for these items as well.
Once you have compiled all your evidence, you'll need to call the insurance company and file a claim. Do this as soon as you can. You should be provided with a claim number. Use this to identify your claim when calling and writing. After you send them the documentation, give them some time. Insurance companies are notoriously slow. Give them a call and ask if they received everything, and if they require anything else. Expect a call back within 2-3 weeks. They will usually tell you that they are completing their investigation and need more time. If you don't hear from them, call again to follow-up on the claim.
If the insurance company continues to ignore you, tries to lowball you, or flat out denies your claim, you can file a "Small Claims" lawsuit. If you are suing a NYC yellow taxi cab, plan on being ignored and move forward with the Small Claims suit right away. Each county in New York has a small claims court. In New York State, Small Claims Courts can hear disputes up to the amount of $5,000.00.
Links to the Small Claims Courts in New York City are here:
Small Claims Court is specifically for people with cases that might not warrant hiring a lawyer. Small claims courts are generally more informal, and often have relaxed rules surrounding evidence to make it easier for people to seek legal relief without representation by an attorney. When filing your Small Claims case, remember to sue both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, as in New York State, the owner is almost always responsible for the driver's actions. The owner is the one who holds the insurance policy for the car. You and the Judge will want a representative of the insurance company present in Court to be able to settle your claim.
The Defense of Comparative Negligence in New York
Be prepared. The insurance company or the Small Claims Judge may tell you that they will not pay the full claim and will reduce the payment buy what they consider to be your "comparative negligence" in contributing to the crash. New York State is a "comparative negligence" State. A simple description of how comparative negligence works is the following:
2 cars have an intersection collision and one of the drivers were injured. That driver sues the other. At trial, a jury finds them equally responsible for the crash. If the jury awards $100,000.00 to the injured driver, that verdict is then reduced by 50% for that driver's comparative negligence in contributing to the crash, and the judgment entered for the driver is now only $50,000.00.
There are all types of scenarios that may create comparative negligence, so do not be surprised if this defense is raised and the full value of your claim is not paid.
These are some simple guidelines provided by NewYorkBikeLawyers.com, Flanzig and Flanzig, LLP. Nothing on this page should be construed as legal advice, nor does the use of this page create and attorney client relationship. The advice on this page offers a general overview of property damage claims in New York, however each case is specific, and the guidelines may not be applicable to your particular claim.
As always, we suggest contacting an attorney with any legal claim before taking action on your own.
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