Written By Chris Dolan and Aimee Kirby
This week’s question comes from Ellen, who asks: On Halloween night, my son, who is 15 ½, was riding an E-bike that my husband and I purchased for him. Everyone in our town has these, and the kids ride them to school and to practice for sports. While my son was in his costume and riding his E-bike with his friends, he struck an adult crossing the street in a crosswalk. Somebody called the cops and an ambulance. My son said he wasn’t paying attention, had his head turned talking to his friend and didn’t see the man step into the crosswalk at night. The next day the officers that showed up at the scene told us the man he hit had a broken leg. My son also received a citation because the E-bike we purchased should have only been ridden by someone 16 and older.
About three months after the accident, we received an attorney’s letter saying we were being sued. I am concerned we will get sued, and the coverage I assumed applied does not apply because the bike is motorized. I also want to take responsibility for what my son did, as it is his fault. Can you give us any guidance?
E-bikes seemed to hit with popularity during COVID similar to the hoverboards and Segways that came before them. However, it appears that E-bikes have more staying power for commuters, teenagers, and the elderly that need assistance with cycling. The law has established three categories of E-bikes with age restrictions. The three categories are:
- Class 1 – Motorized bicycle that provides pedal assist up to 20 MPH
- Class 2 – Bicycles that can go up to 20 mph with throttle and pedal assist
- Class 3 – Motorized bicycle that provides pedal assist up to 28 MPH
Your son was issued a citation for operating the E-bike he had because California law requires specific age requirements based on the E-bike’s speed capabilities. However, your question is more about what insurance coverage may come into play if there is an injury caused by an E-bike.
There are two types of policies wherein you might find coverage for an E-bike. As you mentioned, your automobile insurance policy is the first type of coverage. These policies often require the vehicle to be listed on the insurance policy and the definition of automobile precludes E-bike coverage. The other insurance policy is a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Automobiles are usually precluded from the liability portion of these policies because they are considered “motor propelled” whereas a typical bicycle is often covered. E-Bikes can sometimes be motor propelled and sometimes self-propelled, depending on the make and model. These features may present an issue here, as well. Many people only realize their coverage needs once it is too late and an accident has already happened. Companies are starting to offer E-bike coverage or re-write their policies to include E-bikes. A new coverage option called Incidental Low Power Recreational Motor Vehicle Liability Coverage was introduced in 2022 to allow coverage of E-bikes under this endorsement. However, two exclusions entitled Non-owned Motorized Bicycles and Motorized Scooter Liability Exclusion and Motorized Bicycle and Motorized Scooter Liability Exclusion have also been introduced which would specifically exclude coverage.
So, call your agent with the police report describing the E-bike by make and model and see if coverage is available for this loss.