Riding Across State Lines: A Legal Geography Lessonadvocatelogo2

by Richard Schroeder

On the open road with the sky blue and the asphalt and warm wind serving as peaceful reminders of why you ride a bike, nature offers us little distinction when crossing the border to another state.

Waukesha, Oshkosh, and Door counties and Madison, Wisconsin are great destinations for a spring ride. As an owner of a bike registered in Minnesota, you are probably familiar with our state’s requirements for insurance and how, under the law, a motorcycle is sometimes given unique distinction. However, crossing the border often brings you under a different set of laws that could affect you and your bike should an accident occur.

Before discussing how Minnesota and Wisconsin differ on accident-related law, I’ll echo that advice given to you by everyone from your insurance agent to your mother. FULLY INSURE YOUR BIKE AND YOURSELF. Who knows what lies ahead? You may find higher premium coverage is as valuable as a case of bottled water in the desert. Your agent can explain all the available coverages and their costs.

Besides being dangerous and painful, accidents are messy. Paperwork, complex insurance laws and policies only add to the hassle of doctor visits, motorcycle repairs and the countless other ways your life turns upside down. As a fully insured owner, you essentially have a partner on your bike at all times&emdash;one that will come in handy when your bike comes into contact with another vehicle.

Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin does not require its residents to carry insurance on their vehicles. However, Wisconsin does have a financial responsibility law, which may require someone without insurance to post a bond or proof of financial responsibility should they be found at fault for causing damages in an accident.

If your motorcycle and another insured vehicle are involved in an accident in Wisconsin, you generally have three years in which to assert and settle a claim or file a lawsuit against the at fault party. This is different from Minnesota law, which gives you six years to bring such an action.

If you, an insured rider, were involved in an accident with an unidentified uninsured driver on Wisconsin roads, your Minnesota-issued motorcycle insurance policy would protect you. Because the other driver is uninsured, you may have up to six years in which to bring an uninsured motorist claim for your injuries and damages caused in the accident.

Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin law requires “contact” between an uninsured vehicle and you or your bike before a claim can be made. In either case, your attorneys will have to prove that the other driver was “at fault” in causing the accident.

Accidents also occur when something comes off another vehicle (debris, a trailer, etc.) and strikes your motorcycle. As with any accident, a complete and immediate investigation is necessary to protect yourself and preserve any claims you may have in the future. While it may not seem important at the time, jotting down license plate numbers, witnesses and locations is a good idea. Calling state and local police departments is a must no matter how the accident occurred.

In Minnesota, it is unlawful to operate any motor vehicle without liability insurance. However, an uninsured motorcyclist riding Minnesota or Wisconsin roads assumes personal and financial risks. In either state, if you are found at fault for an accident, you may be responsible for a host of damages for both you and any other injured parties. This could result in the garnishing of your wages to satisfy any judgments that may be entered against you for the damage you caused.

While we all believe that we ride responsibly, you never know how the other driver is going to perform. That is the best reason for motorcycle owners who enjoy roads in Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere to ride responsibly and to carry the proper motorcycle insurance coverage to protect them against those who don’t.

There are other nuances to riding safely in Wisconsin. In the next column, I will spell out other rules of the road in our neighbor to the east and points west, south and north.


Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, product liability and small business law.

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.


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