The Explainer: Grand theft Eddy
It finally happened to me. For years, I was the one who was always methodical about locking my bike up and even renting a bike storage locker near my office. Last month, I decided to take my racing bike to work and, after a nice 25-mile detour through the hills, I stopped for coffee, ran in to get a cup and – you guessed it – my beautiful Eddy Merckx was gone.
I reported it stolen. I have homeowner’s insurance. I have “bike lock” insurance, the policy that came with my lock when I bought it. I admit that the bike wasn’t locked when I went to get coffee, so I didn’t even try to contact those guys, but my insurance agent is squawking about the size of my claim. She didn’t complain when I asked about coverage when I bought the thing, but now, all of a sudden, the first words out of her mouth were “$9500 … for a bike?!?”
Anyway, I filed the claim and haven’t heard anything for a couple of weeks now. This morning, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a bike that looked like mine. I called the police and they seem to be taking their sweet time about getting over there. Should I go for it?
What happens if it is mine?
First off, great name. One of my favorite people in the entire world is named Annika and, after building up a really nice BMC hardtail for her, I am constantly lecturing her about the risks of “I’ll-only-be-a-minute” thinking when it comes to parking her bike. I will forego the opportunity to lecture you on that, although I do reserve the right to use your story as an example for my Annika, who also happens to be my 12-year-old daughter.
So, you’ve raised a couple of interesting questions. First, the insurance thing and then whether you should just go ahead and investigate the possibility that the Craigslist bike is yours.
Let’s start with the insurance question. I am going to guess from the tone of your letter that you are a fairly thorough person and that you have maintained a reasonably good file on your bike, including receipts, credit card records, serial numbers and other things connected with your sizeable purchase. If not, go ahead and contact the retailer from whom you’ve purchased the bike and try to get as much documentation as you can. You might also want to contact the retailer to get an estimate as to the replacement value of your bike.
If you have a copy of your insurance policy, take a look and see if it specifies whether the insurer is going to offer “actual” or “replacement” value for the bike. The actual value may be lower, once the insurance company takes the bike’s age, history of use and other factors into account. You, on the other hand, want to claim the replacement value of the bike, meaning the cost you will ultimately have to bear to be “made whole” again … putting yourself in the same spot you were before your bike was stolen. If the policy doesn’t specify, push them on covering replacement costs.
The difference between actual and replacement values may be small in this case, largely because – at $9500 – I have to assume this is a relatively new bike.
As for your agent’s reaction, it’s really irrelevant what she thinks when you make the claim. If you haven’t already provided documentation as to the bike’s value – actual or replacement – then do so as soon as possible. You should hear from them soon. If not or if your claim is denied or their offer is substantially less than the value of the bike, go back to your policy. That policy is a contract and it includes certain rights and responsibilities for both parties. From the sounds of it, you’ve lived up to yours – starting with paying your premium and filing a claim. Their responsibility is to pay you in the event of a loss.
Most policies have some provision that allows for dispute resolution, so that if you don’t like the offer, you can follow an additional procedure to address your concerns. That could involve mediation or arbitration. You may also have the option of filing suit against your insurance company, claiming breach of faith on their part. You paid your premium, they took your money and when push comes to shove, they didn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I would be careful, though. A lawsuit involves hiring an attorney. That means either a pricey hourly fee, or a contingency fee – meaning you will give up between 25 and 40 percent of whatever settlement you receive. Sure, lawyers are helpful, but try to exhaust all of the available remedies before you bring one into this thing.
Of course, all of that may be moot if you find out that the Craigslist seller is offering your bike for sale to the public.
I am answering your question in this column, but as you know, I’ve already sent an email hoping to dissuade you from heading there yourself.
My strongest advice is to keep bothering the police. This is a serious crime. We’re not talking about a little kid’s $99 WalMart special here. If you’re making a $9500 insurance claim, you’re well over the limit of this being a felony in all jurisdictions. Remind the police that this crime involves some serious money and strongly encourage them to investigate.
On a side note, I am not sure where you live, so I can’t really offer an assessment of the police and their willingness to get involved. Man, where I live, we have tons of cops, with five law-enforcement agencies with arrest powers in our little community of less than 30,000. We have local police, the County Sheriff’s Department, the Highway Patrol, University Police and, for good measure, Game and Fish. I once had a client arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol. He was a 19-year-old college student, carrying a Coors Light across campus. Because he ran, there were eight cops, two bikes and five police cars involved by the time everything was over. I suspect those guys would jump at the chance to make a real arrest involving a felony theft. But, alas, I digress.
Let’s assume that the cops don’t respond … or don’t respond quickly enough to satisfy your concerns. Don’t go over there.
Okay, I admit, it has worked for people to go over and simply retrieve their stuff. Last November, a young woman in Boulder, Colorado, spotted her recently stolen bike on Craigslist and went over, pretending to be an interested buyer. She asked if she could take a test ride, the seller said yes and she rode away and then called the cops.
Look, I don’t advise you to do that, but if you do opt to go, don’t go alone and, if it turns out to be your bike, don’t confront the thief directly. If he’s dumb enough to let you go on a test ride, hey take advantage of the situation and ride away. You’d better make damn sure it’s your bike, though.
If he – or she – has already sold the bike, it’s time to get law enforcement actively involved no matter what. Don’t try to play detective and track it down on your own.
On a final note, if the Craigslist bike turns out to be yours and if you manage to recover it with – or without – the assistance of law-enforcement, contact your insurance company immediately. If the claim is in process, either put a stop to it or ask to amend the claim to reflect recovery of the bike, while still seeking compensation for any damage or other losses you may have suffered. Check the bike thoroughly. Are there parts missing? Is anything broken? Will components need to be replaced or repaired? All of that is insured, as are any missing items that were attached to your bike when it was stolen, such as (and I doubt this is the case with your bike) racks, panniers and the contents of those panniers.
Again, I advise against going over to check out the bike in person, but if you choose to ignore that, remember the words of Sergeant Esterhaus: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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