Massachusetts personal injury lawyer James M. Lynch discusses the shortcomings of motorcycle insurance coverage in Massachusetts.
Over the years at Lynch & Owens, we have handled many motorcycle accident cases and it has been our experience that the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists are the most careful and courteous motorists out there on the roadways today. Despite their caution, however, even the most careful motorcyclists sometimes cannot guard against the negligence of a random inattentive automobile driver. It is a constant theme during all of our initial consultations with our motorcycle accident clients that, when we review their own personal insurance coverage selections pages, just how unaware of how underinsured they actually are. Up to that point, motorcyclists generally only understand that the annual insurance premium that they pay is cheap in many instances but they don’t understand why. When we tell them they don’t have Personal Injury Protection benefits (PIP) available to them or their passenger, it is a revelation to them – partly because most people don’t fully understand what PIP is. PIP is found in Part 2 of the Massachusetts Automobile Policy (incidentally, motorcycle policies are written on a standard Massachusetts automobile policy) and it is compulsory coverage that must be maintained by all motorists, even motorcyclists; however, the extent of the PIP coverage available on a motorcycle differs greatly from that available on a passenger vehicle policy.
In automobile policies, PIP is intended to provide coverage to the driver, to passengers and to pedestrians who are injured in auto accidents. In addition to being compulsory in Massachusetts, PIP coverage is also “No-Fault” coverage – in other words, if the driver caused the accident, he/she is still covered by PIP. The coverage provided is a hybrid type of coverage: it can be used to pay for medical bills, for lost wages or a mixture of medical bills and lost wages. If it is used for medical bill payment, PIP is the primary coverage until the first $2,000.00 has been paid out for medical payments, following which private health insurance becomes primary. If there is no private health coverage, then up to $8,000.00 in PIP coverage is available.
Motorcycle PIP coverage, on the other hand, is so limited that it has almost no application in a typical motorcycle accident. Neither the operator nor the passenger is covered and only a pedestrian injured by a motorcycle accident is entitled to PIP coverage, and that happens very rarely. This coverage gap is a big part of the reason why motorcycle insurance rates are cheaper than auto insurance rates. It’s also a bit misleading because the motorcycle policy coverage selections page just looks like its automobile counterpart. Both show a premium paid for the PIP coverage but the premium for a motorcycle is about one-tenth than that for an automobile, so it is easy for a motorcyclist to mistakenly conclude that he/she has full PIP coverage when that isn’t the case.
Unfortunately, it takes an accident to discover that there won’t be any PIP coverage to help get the motorcyclist through the recovery period. What can a motorcyclist do to proactively address this? Nothing under PIP, so it has to be addressed through other more expensive insurance coverages, some of which have to be obtained outside the motorcycle policy. Medical Payments coverage (MedPay) is available under the motorcycle policy, but it is much more expensive than MedPay in passenger vehicle policies. Private health insurance, on the other hand, can completely address medical payment feature available under PIP. But neither MedPay nor private health coverage address the lost wage replacement feature of PIP, however. For that coverage, a motorcyclist has to buy a policy of personal disability insurance. Note, however, that a motorcyclist has to be careful to answer all questions truthfully on the application for a long or short term disability policy. Not surprisingly, there usually is a section on the disability insurance application designed to identify risky pastimes like skydiving, rock climbing and, yes, motorcycling. So it is important that a purely recreational motorcyclist discloses that activity with the understanding that motorcycle track racing will be excluded from disability coverage.
The bottom line to all of the above is that, when putting your motorcycle on the road, a motorcycle owner has to do a careful review of his/her coverage with the insurance agent and to give careful thought to making sure he truly is fully covered before getting out on the roadways.