Washington Supreme Court Rules that People on Bikes are Pedestrians for Insurance Purposes

December 10, 2020

Today, after a very long fight, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that our client was improperly denied no-fault medical payments by his own car insurance company after he was doored by a driver and injured while riding his bicycle.

Our client purchased car insurance in California, but was living in Washington and was involved in a collision in Washington. His insurance said it provided coverage for him “as a pedestrian struck by [] a motor vehicle” and the policy did not define the word “pedestrian.”

Nevertheless, the insurer denied coverage based on definitions of “pedestrian” in dictionaries and the Rules of the Road in California and Washington that exclude people riding bicycles.

We asked it to reconsider, reminding it that people on bikes are frequently referred to as pedestrians, but it refused.

We then notified the Washington Insurance Commissioner of possible bad faith on the part of the insurer, but still the insurer would not budge. We then sued the insurance company.

Unfortunately, the trial court sided with the insurance company and dismissed our client’s claim on summary judgement. We then appealed, with the the appellate law firm of Talmadge/Fitzpatrick providing invaluable support in briefing and at oral arguments.

Sadly, the Division One of the Court of Appeals again sided with the insurance company and upheld the trial court’s dismissal. Worse still, other insurance companies began to use the Court of Appeals’ published opinion to deny other claims by people who were struck by cars while riding bicycles.

Today, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, noting what should have been controlling in the prior decisions:

The policy does not define “pedestrian,” but our legislature has defined “pedestrian” for purposes of casualty insurance in Washington as follows: “‘Pedestrian’ means a natural person not occupying a motor vehicle…”

The Court reasoned that the statutory definition of pedestrian in the insurance context controlled insurance coverage, rather than the definition of pedestrian in the Rules of the Road. It noted:

This court has long acknowledged that insurance policies . . . are simply unlike traditional contracts, i.e., they are not purely private affairs but abound with public policy considerations, one of which is that the risk-spreading theory of such policies should operate to afford to affected members of the public . . . the maximum protection possible consonant with fairness to the insurer.

The Court concluded:

Here, … an insured would expect to be covered when injured in a collision with an automobile whether the insured was walking, skateboarding, using a wheelchair, standing on a sidewalk, sitting on a park bench, riding a bike, or doing something else. The average purchaser of insurance would expect to be covered by this policy when injured by an automobile. Accordingly, we hold that McLaughlin’s injuries are covered by his insurance policy.

Our client was doored more than three years ago and, while we were able to resolve his liability claim some time ago, his own insurance company has still not honored its “no-fault” coverage.

This clear decision by our Supreme Court finally brings this matter to a close. And, because we kept at it– all the way to the Supreme Court– we now have a strong precedent that will prevent insurance companies from denying no-fault benefits to people injured on bicycles.

We appreciate the support of Cascade Bicycle Club, United Policy Holders, and the Washington State Association for Justice Foundation who all filed amicus briefs supporting our client’s position and helped achieve this win for people on bikes.