Huge damages awards fuel demand for cycling insurance in Japan

JIJI

Horrified by the huge court damages being awarded over bicycle-related accidents, cyclists in Japan are rushing to buy exclusively designed liability insurance.

Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc. has concluded 400,000 new bicycle insurance contracts since fiscal 2017 kicked off in April, surpassing the 300,000 or so contracts signed the previous year.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. said it posted year-on-year growth of 30 percent in the category in fiscal 2016, while Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. said it logged 20 percent growth the same year.

The brisk figures, however, also reflect governmental efforts to promote the insurance, people familiar with the matter said.

In once instance, the Kobe District Court threw cold water on cyclists across the country in July 2013 when it ruled that the mother of a fifth-grade boy who crashed his bicycle into a woman, knocking her out, had to cough up about ¥95 million in compensation.

Bicyclists also shuddered when the Tokyo District Court awarded ¥47 million in damages to a rider who hit and killed a woman at a pedestrian crossing.

In the wake of those rulings, the Hyogo Prefectural Government in October 2015 set the first ordinance in the nation obliging all cyclists in the prefecture to get bicycle insurance.

Although the ordinance does not stipulate penalties for violators, a survey of some 4,000 cyclists showed that 65 percent were insured as of June this year, versus 60 percent a year earlier, Hyogo officials said.

The prefectural governments of Osaka and Shiga followed suit in 2016.

Demand for cycling insurance is expected to rise further because the Kyoto prefectural and municipal governments, and the municipal government of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, will make the cycling insurance mandatory in April next year, people familiar with the matter said.

A Sompo Japan official recommended the insurance to all cyclists, saying, “Everyone who rides a bicycle has the risk of causing an accident.”