How your motorcycle insurance could get you in trouble
By: William E. Pinkston with Jon Russelburg
When the weather gets warm, it’s time to dust off your motorcycle, blare “Born to be Wild” from your speakers and hit the open road. But, before you start a new season on two wheels, you should know how insurance laws differ for motorcycle riders in Kentucky.
KENTUCKY NO-FAULT ACT
The Kentucky Motor Vehicle Reparation Act, more commonly referred to as the No-Fault Act, sets out insurance policies that most Kentucky drivers must acquire to legally drive an automobile. KRS 304.390 sets up two systems to potentially get you paid if you’re involved in a car accident: The right to basic reparation benefits, and tort liability.
KRS 304.30-030 requires all liability insurance companies to provide $10,000 in coverage for the right to basic reparation benefits. Each person in Kentucky has the right to basic reparation benefits protecting them from the first $10,000 in medical and other costs. These benefits are required to be paid without regard of fault in an accident. That $10,000 is the minimum amount required to insure most motor vehicles. But, for motorcycle riders there is a catch.
Motorcycle riders don’t technically enjoy the same right to basic reparation benefits. Insurers in Kentucky must make basic reparation benefits available to motorcycle riders, but no operator or passenger of a motorcycle is entitled to that right. That $10,000 of coverage is optional to motorcycle riders, but mandatory for all other street-legal motor vehicles. Before locking in your motorcycle insurance to the cheapest possible payment, make certain you know if you have accepted or rejected basic reparation benefits. KRS 304.39-040.
Automobile drivers can opt out of the right to basic reparation benefits, only if they have rejected the limitation upon their tort rights. KRS 304.390-060 states that any person who registers, operates, maintains or uses a motor vehicle is deemed to have accepted a partial abolition of tort liability, unless they expressly reject it. Kentucky law sets the minimum coverage of tort liability at $25,000 for all damages arising out of bodily injury sustained by any one person, and $50,000 arising out of bodily injuries from all persons as the result of one accident. For instance, if you had a two-car accident, your insurance would protect you from the first $25,000 in liability if the other driver brought a legal claim against you.
Motorcycle riders are required to accept the same tort liability coverage, but not the basic reparation benefits. For cars, this coverage covers drivers and passengers of vehicles. However, that same coverage does not cover motorcycle passengers. KRS 304.39-060(c).
UNINSURED AND UNDERINSURED
Insurance companies provide a few optional buy-ins, most notably coverage that protects you from uninsured or underinsured motorists. This coverage can work in many ways. For instance, if you are hurt in an accident while driving any car, and the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, your car insurance company could pay for you injuries if you opted into that additional coverage. Although, there are a few loopholes for insurance companies.
In 1977, the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that insurance companies are allowed to contractually exclude a motorcycle from the definition of “uninsured vehicle.” The Court stated that motorcycle riders, as a class, are among the highest risk groups conceivable and therefore the exclusion of such a class is reasonable. 551 S.W.2d 574.
In a 2021 case, a motorcycle rider was injured when she hit a horse and buggy. Her insurance company did not approve her claim under the uninsured motorist provision of her motorcycle coverage, arguing that a horse-drawn carriage is neither a motor vehicle or a trailer of any type. The Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that a horse and buggy operates as a single unit, with the buggy functioning as a crew compartment, like a sedan, and is not a trailer. The Court affirmed the insurance company’s claim denial. 626 S.W.3d 518.
Insurance coverages are full of intricate details, possibly none more so than motorcycle coverage. For more information on insurance law, contact the Denton Law Firm at (270) 450-8253.
William E. Pinkston’s last motorcycle was a Harley Davidson Sportster 1200. Jon Russelburg currently rides a Suzuki V-Strom DL650.