Harley-Davidson knows how to put on a party! In late June, I had the good fortune to attend Harley-Davidson’s 95th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee and walked away with a new outlook on life (but no new Hog tempting as it may have been). It was a feast for people watchers, motorcycle enthusiasts and lovers of two-wheeled culture. There was music, food and ambiance in abundance. Motorcycle riders have never received this much positive attention…ever.
Unfortunately, it was a feast for the thieves, as well. According to the Milwaukee Police, 14 bikes were reported stolen during the week leading up to the three-day event. Festival lore was created from the telling and retelling of the tale of the couple from Iowa whose Harleys were stolen just outside of the entry area of a motel while they were checking in!
My new outlook on life has as much to do with enjoying life to the fullest (an attitude fully endorsed by Harley-Davidson, Inc.) as it does realizing that thieves lurk in the bushes, coveting the unattended Harley. If you have never had to file a theft claim on your bike with your insurance company, now is a good time to review the essentials about theft prevention, insurance and dealing with loss and grief.
While I have toiled in the trenches as an insurance adjuster, I wanted to check facts about bike claims with Dan Lancette of Affiliated Insurance Brokerage, a 30-year veteran of the motorcycle business. Whether filing a claim for theft or damage, it is vital that you have documentation of the investment you have in your bike. Receipts for accessories, chrome and performance toys speak volumes to an adjuster. Pictures are definitely worth a thousand words. Take them and keep them!
Lancette also said that common policy caps range from $15,000 to $30,000. “It’s not uncommon to have a bike worth more than $15,000 once you’ve invested in some accessories. If you’re covered on a $15,000 cap policy, it could mean a loss on your investment if a claim ever had to be filed.”
According to Dan Lancette, it’s important to check your policy annually for the cap of coverage, and also which accessories might require additional insurance in order to be covered. “Even some of the new Harley-Davidson dealer-installed accessories exceed basic coverage of non-stock items,” he said.
The insurance should be in place before an owner takes possession of the bike. Lancette said he has seen many owners reporting a legitimate theft on a bike that has not been officially reported to the insurance agent.
We discussed the plight of the Iowa couple, and he offered these observations:
Parked & Secure
When traveling, ask the motel/hotel reservations clerk whether there is dedicated motorcycle parking or whether a motorcycle can be pulled right up to the front door to be locked. Don’t assume that even in your own garage your bike is safe. Lancette has had clients whose Harleys have been stolen from custom-built brick enclosures attached to their garages.
Invest in an alarm system with the attitude that you get what you pay for. At best, these are deterrents to “honest thieves” who are looking to take a bike for a joy ride. Alarms can be disarmed pretty quickly by the professional theft rings that vacuum Harleys for quick export overseas.
The speed with which a claim will be processed is dependent on who the insurer is. Some companies handle claims more quickly than others. In the case of a theft, an insurance company will usually wait 30 days to settle the claim. Make sure the police are called no matter where your bike is stolen.
Lancette believes that insurance companies handle motorcycle settlements pretty well. They understand that each bike has probably been changed by its owner. While they are committed to settling a claim for “actual cash value,” an adjuster will arrive at that figure after calls to dealers to determine the worth of the bike and the documented accessories .
Remember that you are the consumer and you have rights under your policy. Request copies of all your documents in your insurance claim file. It is your claim and your file. Beware of all claims forms, releases or waivers. Understand fully the documents you are asked to complete and sign. If you feel you are being pressured for a signature, ask for more time and seek legal advice immediately. Most attorneys will review these at no charge.
I’ve had clients in the past who were caught between their bank loan payoff and the insurance settlement. Do your best to engage your banker and insurance adjuster in an honest discussion of your situation. You may have to research the market value issue more extensively to persuade the adjuster to increase the settlement amount. Information and documentation can be obtained from dealers, bike club publications and the Internet.
Remember–an adjuster’s chief goal is to keep to a minimum the insurance company’s outlay of cash on any claim. Your immediate concern should not be future premium rates, but rather the timely and fair resolution of your present claim.
Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Licensed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Mr. Schroeder handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, and product liability.
This column is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any certain facts or circumstances. Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly encourages readers to consult legal counsel on any specific legal questions or matters.