Motorcycle Accident section contains information and resources if you or a loved one have been involved in a motorcycle accident. Here you'll find helpful information about motorcycle accidents and the law -- including helmet laws, fault issues, and product defects and recalls – as well as tips on protecting your legal rights and what to expect after a motorcycle accident
Motorcycle riders are in a unique position on the road. They enjoy the freedoms that come with their chosen form of transportation, but they are also left exposed to dangers not met by automobile drivers and other motorists. The lack of any substantial protective barriers between a motorcycle and the road, as well as the difficulty that other motorists may have in anticipating and seeing a motorcycle, leave riders prone to serious injury in the event of an accident. Motorcycle riders, therefore, must be aware of their legal rights and remedies if they are involved in a traffic accident. The insurance laws in your state may be very different with respect to motorcycles versus automobiles; consequently, it is very important to consult with an attorney regarding the applicable laws in your state.
The Risks of the Road for Motorcycle Riders
The risks that motorcycle riders face, and the need to protect their rights of recovery after an accident, become readily apparent through a review of the following statistics:In two-thirds of motorcycle accidents involving another vehicle, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle rider's right of way and caused the accident. Motorcyclists are about 26 times more likely to die in a crash than someone riding in a passenger car, and are 5 times as likely to be injured. Per mile traveled in 1998, motorcyclists were about 16 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die, and about 3 times as likely to be injured, in a motor vehicle crash.
Some of the unique problems faced by motorcycle riders on the road include:Visual Recognition: Motorcycles make smaller visual targets, which are more likely to be obscured by other vehicles, or by road and weather conditions. This is an issue especially at intersections, where approximately 70 percent of motorcycle-versus-vehicle collisions occur.Road Hazards: Hazards that are minor irritations for an automobile can be a major hazard for a motorcycle rider. These include potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris, or other objects on the roadway, ruts, uneven pavement, and railroad tracks.Speed "Wobble" Accidents: Especially at higher speeds, the front end of a motorcycle may become unstable and begin to shake or "wobble." This problem may be due to a misalignment of the front and rear tires of the motorcycle. If an accident is caused by such a high-speed wobble, the manufacturer of the motorcycle might be held financially responsible for any resulting injuries, under a product liability theory.Riding Skills; Familiarity: A motorcycle requires much more skill and physical coordination to operate than a car. Many motorcycle accidents are caused in whole or in part by a rider's lack of basic riding skills, or failure to appreciate the inherent operating characteristics and limitations of the motorcycle. Determining Legal Responsibility for a Motorcycle Accident
Like most motor vehicle accident cases, motorcycle accident claims are almost always governed by the legal concept of negligence. Go here to learn more about the law of negligence and personal injury.
Defective Motorcycle Design or Manufacture
Motorcycles lack crashworthiness and occupant protection. Unlike a car, a motorcycle is lightweight; it has no door, no roof, no airbags, and no safety belts. A motorcycle is less stable than a car because it only has two wheels. Although several factors can contribute to a motorcycle accident, especially operator inexperience and failure to appreciate the limitations of a motorcycle, a defect in a motorcycle's design or manufacture should be considered as a potential cause of an accident, especially one where only the motorcycle rider is involved. An experienced personal injury attorney will be familiar with any relevant product liability issues or recalls involving certain motorcycle models, and can help determine whether you have a claim against the motorcycle manufacturer.
Getting Legal Help for a Motorcycle Accident
If you or a loved one have been injured in a motorcycle accident, the most important step in protecting your legal rights is to meet with a skilled attorney to discuss your case. Issues in your potential claim, including compliance with traffic laws, motor vehicle regulations, medical treatment issues, and liability determinations, all require the expertise of an attorney who is experienced in the area of motorcycle accident liability. In light of legal deadlines for filing injury claims, meeting with an attorney to evaluate your case as soon as possible is recommended.
A helmet is by far the most important and most effective piece of protective equipment a motorcycle driver or passenger can wear. Helmets save lives by reducing the extent of head injuries in the event of a traffic accident. A helmetless motorcyclist involved in an accident is three times as likely to suffer a brain injury as a motorcyclist wearing a helmet, and a large number of motorcyclists die each year because of head injuries sustained in accidents. Because of this danger, motorcycle operators and passengers in many states are required by statute to wear safety helmets.
Mandatory Helmet Laws
Despite a lack of support among some motorcyclists, a number of states have enacted statutes requiring the use of protective equipment when riding a motorcycle. Some of these laws require that a motorcycle rider and/or his or her passenger wear equipment such as goggles or face shields, but most common (and most controversial) are those laws that require the wearing of a helmet.
Mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle operators and their passengers have, for the most part, proven to be an effective strategy in both increasing helmet use and reducing head injuries and fatalities in motorcycle accidents nationwide. But, while having an unmistakably positive effect on the overall safety of motorcycle riding, helmet laws have been met by resistance in the motorcycling community.
The most vocal opposition to helmet laws has come by way of challenges to the legality of the laws themselves. Although in some cases, specific language in helmet statutes has been successfully attacked on constitutional grounds, the principle of requiring motorcyclists and their passengers to wear safety helmets has consistently been upheld as constitutional.
Failure to Wear a Helmet
In a personal injury action brought by an injured motorcyclist, the opposing motorist may raise an issue with regard to the motorcyclist's own negligence. A motorcyclist's legal recovery might be barred, or reduced, as a result of his/her contributory negligence in causing the accident. In defining what constitutes contributory negligence, there is an important distinction between negligence contributing to the accident and negligence contributing to the injuries sustained. An act or omission that merely increases or adds to the extent of the injuries suffered by the motorcyclist will not itself defeat a legal recovery.
In a number of states that have enacted mandatory helmet statutes, the laws either: (1) provide only for criminal penalties, or (2) do not state what effect a violation has on the determination of whether a motorcyclist was negligent. Thus, in these jurisdictions, and in those that do not have helmet laws, the effect of a motorcyclist's failure to wear a helmet on the determination of his negligence is unsettled. In such states, the failure to wear a helmet may be found to constitute negligence on the part of a motorcyclist, or may be relevant to the issue of injuries and damages where it appears the failure to wear a helmet was a substantial factor in bringing about the motorcyclist's injuries.
In some states, the failure to wear a helmet as required by a statute is treated as any other possible act of negligence on the part of a motorcyclist, such as traveling at an excessive rate of speed or failing to use turn signals. In such states, when the failure to wear a helmet contributes to the motorcyclist's injuries, it is deemed a proximate cause of his injuries and it may serve to bar or limit his or her recovery. However, when the failure contributes in no way to the motorcyclist's injuries, it is not a proximate cause and it has no effect on the motorcyclist's ability to recover.
Not all jurisdictions have laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and some courts have held that evidence of an injured motorcycle rider's failure to wear a helmet is inadmissible in the rider's personal injury lawsuit. It is extremely important to discuss the facts of your case with an experienced personal injury attorney who understands the relevant helmet and evidentiary laws that will apply in your case.
One of the most common consumer product defect issues faced by the public is that of safety recalls of motor vehicles, including motorcycles. Safety recalls are usually instigated by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the vehicle manufacturers themselves, in response to a discovered defect in a vehicle or a component of a vehicle. Thus, it is important to understand the procedure that is followed in vehicle recalls, and the respective responsibilities of those involved.
Manufacturers' Duties and the NHTSA
Whether a safety recall is conducted by the vehicle manufacturer, or is ordered by the NHTSA, the manufacturer must file a public report describing:The safety-related defect or noncompliance with a federal motor vehicle safety standard; The involved vehicle/equipment population; The major events that resulted in the recall determination; A description of the remedy; and A schedule for the recall.
Motor vehicle manufacturers have a duty to attempt to notify owners of recalled vehicles or vehicle equipment. For vehicle recalls, this means that manufacturers merge their own records of vehicle purchasers with current state vehicle registration information. For equipment recalls, in situations where state registration records do not exist, manufacturers are obligated to notify their distribution chain and known purchasers of the recalled equipment.
Importantly, even if you do not receive a notification of a recall, if your motorcycle or other item of equipment is the subject of a safety recall, the manufacturer is obligated to provide a free remedy.
Under federal law, safety problems must be remedied without cost to consumers. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) monitors each safety recall to ensure the manufacturers provide owners safe, free, and effective remedies according to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, and other federal regulations. The NHTSA also releases monthly lists of motor vehicle safety recalls. These lists identify the make and model of the vehicle or equipment involved, with a brief description of the safety problem. The NHTSA publicizes the recalls to alert consumers about safety problems, and encourages them to take action. However, the agency urges owners to wait until they receive notification from the manufacturer before contacting their dealers to schedule any necessary repair work. This is because not all vehicles of a particular make and model may be subject to the recall.
Obtaining Recall Information
Consumers can get up-to-the-minute information on safety recall campaigns, or information on the recall history of a particular make and model of car, truck, motorcycle, or child safety seat, by calling the NHTSA's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline, 1-888-327-4236, or by accessing NHTSA on the Internet at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. The Hotline also can be used to report safety problems.
Q: I was in a traffic accident when a car turned left in front of me while I was riding my motorcycle. Who is at fault? A: A car making a left turn is almost always liable for a collision with a vehicle coming straight in the other direction. Exceptions to this near-automatic rule can apply if the vehicle going straight was going well over the speed limit, or ran a red light.
Q: What does "comparative negligence" mean when determining who is liable for a traffic accident? A: Comparative negligence apportions fault among the drivers involved in an accident based on their degree of carelessness that contributed to the accident. Where a motorcycle is concerned, a common example of comparative negligence might be where the motorcycle's headlamp, brake light, or tail light is out, especially if the accident happened at night.
Q: Will my health insurance coverage or paid sick leave from work limit my recovery for my motorcycle accident? A: If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, whether you paid for medical care out of your own pocket or your health insurance covered it is not relevant; neither is whether your lost time at work was covered by sick leave or vacation pay. Keep in mind, however, that your own health insurance carrier may require that you reimburse it, out of your settlement or award, for some or all of the amounts it has paid to treat your injuries.
Q: What should I do if I am involved in an accident on my motorcycle? A: If you are unable to immediately meet with an attorney, it is important that you do not admit any fault or sign anything (i.e. any forms from an insurer) in order to preserve your rights. If possible, you should take photos of any injuries or damage to your motorcycle. Keep copies of any medical records or bills, and make records of any related expenses.
Q: I ride a motorcycle recreationally, usually only on weekends. Do I have to wear a helmet? A: Depending on where you live, you may be required by law to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, regardless of how often you ride. Many states have enacted mandatory helmet-use laws for motorcycle riders and their passengers. Call your local Department of Motor Vehicles to find out whether your state has such a helmet law.Q: I was injured in a motorcycle accident, but I wasn't wearing a helmet. Can I still recover damages from the other driver? A: Even if your state has a mandatory helmet law, your failure to comply with that law will probably not prevent you from recovering for your injuries if someone else caused the accident. Depending on where you live, the issue may be relevant to the amount of damages you will recover, if it is shown that your failure to wear a helmet contributed to your injuries.
Q: How do I know if a motorcycle helmet is acceptable under my state's helmet law? A: When shopping for a helmet, or if you have one already, look for a Department of Transportation label on the helmet (it will read "DOT"), which is the manufacturer's certification that the helmet conforms to federal safety standards.
Q: I ride a motorcycle and I don't understand how the state can legally tell me I have to wear a helmet. Is that really something they can do? A: Helmet laws have been deemed valid in many courts as a reasonable exercise of state power, justified by the state's interest in protecting the safety of motorcycle riders and other motorists, and in keeping insurance and health care costs low.
Q: Must I tell the police if I am involved in a traffic accident? A: Generally, if a traffic accident involves a death, personal injury, or property damage above a specific amount, you must notify the police, who will usually make a written report of the incident.
Q: If I get into an accident on my motorcycle, should I get a lawyer to help me? A: You should definitely enlist an experienced lawyer's help to determine whether you have a legal claim for damages. Issues in your potential case, including compliance with traffic laws, motor vehicle regulations, medical treatment issues, and liability, all require analysis by an attorney who is experienced in the area of motorcycle and motor vehicle accident liability.
The American Motorcyclist Association A member organization pursuing, protecting and promoting the interests of motorcycle enthusiasts.
The Hurt Report: Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures An influential 1981 study of factors that cause motorcycle accidents and injuries.
Insurance Institute For Highway Safety Features vehicle ratings, safety facts, publications, and more.
Motorcycle Consumer News An advertising-free, multi-faceted resource for the motorcycling web public.
Motorcycle Riders Foundation A Washington, DC based Motorcyclist rights organization.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Provides information on motorcycle rider training, operator licensing, government relations, rider courses, riding gear, and motorcycle safety.
Motorcycle Safety Program From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
National Agenda For Motorcycle Safety Provides a look at motorcycle safety today, and a blueprint for the future.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Provides crash statistics and articles about motorcycle accidents, product safety, and passenger safety
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