There are several issues motorcycle accident victims must be aware of when seeking injury compensation. Here we discuss what causes these accidents, how to determine fault and liability for injuries, dealing with insurance companies, filing claims for compensation, and when you should hire a personal injury attorney.
Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
The most frequent causes of motorist-related accidents are:
1) Motorist error
Motorists often fail to detect motorcycles riding very close to them. Many motorists either don’t see the motorcyclist, or when they finally do, it’s too late to avoid a collision. Motorist errors include:
- Distraction (cell phones, texting, loud music, etc.)
- Driver inexperience
- Reflex delay (elderly drivers, handicapped)
- Road rage
2) Motorist traffic law violations
Traffic violations are a major cause of motorcycle accidents. They include:
- Failure to yield right of way
- Illegal lane changes
- Failure to heed traffic signal
Common Motorcycle Injuries
Like passenger car injuries, motorcyclist injuries fall into two categories. There are hard injuries and soft tissue injuries. While motorcyclists share some common injuries with other motorists, there are some injuries unique to motorcycle accident victims.
Hard injuries include:
Second- and third-degree burns from the motorcycle engine, exhaust, and manifold
Unlike car engines, which are under the hood and separated from drivers by a firewall, motorcycle engines are fully exposed. The average temperature of a running motorcycle engine is about 230 degrees. When a car hits a motorcyclist and knocks him off his bike, the only thing between the rider’s skin and the engine block is his jeans or leather chaps. In an accident, that’s just not enough to stop a rider from receiving second- and third-degree burns.
Spinal cord injuries, internal bleeding, brain trauma, and other organ damage
The force of impact in many motorcycle crashes is sometimes severe enough to traumatize one or more of a motorcyclist’s organs. Motorcycle crash studies show that the force of impact when a motorcyclist gets thrown to the ground or into a solid object is the same at low speeds as it is at high speeds. Internal bleeding, collapsed and punctured lungs, and other internal damage are common injuries motorcyclists suffer in crashes.
Broken bones are common for motorcycle accident victims. This often includes fractures of the pelvis and wrists. These injuries usually occur because the rider’s first inclination when falling is to stretch out his hands to protect his face. When he does, he leaves his lower extremities fully exposed. Along with the rider’s hands, the most likely injuries are to the pelvic and hip areas.
Soft tissue injuries include:
Abrasions, contusions, and lacerations (scrapes, bruises, and cuts)
When a motorcyclist goes down, his motorcycle often drags him along the pavement. His arms, legs, and sometimes a piece of his clothing can catch on parts of the motorcycle. As the motorcycle drags him, he suffers what motorcyclists refer to as “road rash” or “road burn.” Remember that raspberry you got when sliding into second base? With road burn, you can multiply that slide by about 50 times.
Sprained or torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles
Many motorcycle accident victims suffer sprained and torn ligaments and muscles. The injuries occur primarily when the rider is about to fall. One of a motorcyclist’s first instincts is to hold on to his motorcycle. As he does, he exerts great effort in keeping it from falling underneath him.
During the struggle, the motorcycle ferociously pulls and twists his ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Because some motorcycles can weigh a thousand pounds or more, the struggle between the rider and the bike often results in the rider losing.
Although most people associate the word whiplash with car accidents, it can also affect motorcycle accident victims. The impact after an accident can snap the rider’s neck and back violently. The symptoms of whiplash often won’t appear for days. When they do, they can be debilitating.
Who’s at fault in a motorcycle accident?
Most motorist error and traffic law violations are forms of negligent driving. When a motorist is negligent and causes an injury accident, the law says he breached (violated) his duty of care (obligation) to the other driver. When negligence results in injuries to a motorcyclist, the motorcyclist has a legal right to seek compensation for his injuries and the related costs. Keep in mind that motorcyclists also have a duty of care to other motorists.
If a motorcycle accident case goes to trial, the issue of who breached his duty of care is usually the primary issue the jury must decide. Before a jury begins its deliberations, the judge will give the jurors several instructions about how they’re to base the verdict. The primary instruction will usually look something like this:
The motorcyclist and the motorist had equal duties of care to each other. Those duties were to:
- Keep a proper lookout for each other
- Comply with applicable traffic laws
- Use all reasonable means necessary to avoid an accident
Because the motorcyclist (plaintiff) filed this lawsuit, he has the burden of proof to show the motorist (defendant) breached his duty of care. That breach is an act of negligence. In this case, the defendant is counter-claiming, saying the plaintiff breached his duty of care to him, and his breach was negligence.
You must determine from the evidence whether there was a breach of duty of care and who breached it. If you believe both parties breached their respective duties of care to each other, you determine the comparative negligence of each party and award the percentage of compensation you believe the evidence warrants.”
The above jury instruction is an excellent way to understand what goes on in a motorcycle accident claim or trial. It addresses the issues of duty of care, breach of duty, and comparative negligence.
Evidence of Negligence
Let’s move on to how you can prove your personal injury claim. Like any other claim, you’re going to need evidence. Let’s look at how evidence is gathered.
As the judge said, when a motorcycle accident occurs and the motorcyclist files an injury claim or lawsuit, it’s up to him to establish that the motorist breached his duty of care and the motorcyclist did not contribute to the accident. If he can’t establish the motorist was 100 percent at fault, the motorcyclist is comparatively negligent and receives an award that deducts his percentage of fault.
Unlike cars and trucks where passengers are eyewitnesses to an accident and its causes, motorcyclists usually ride alone. Therefore, it’s the motorcyclist’s lone responsibility to meet his burden of proof by gathering as much evidence as possible about the motorist’s negligence.
If you filed a claim, there isn’t one specific type of evidence you need to find. Rather, you must amass different types of evidence, one piece at a time.
Important evidence in a motorcycle crash:
Keep your helmet and don’t alter it in any way. Make sure you photograph it at the scene. Wearing a helmet is an excellent way to prove you didn’t contribute to your own injuries. If you weren’t wearing a helmet and suffered head or face injuries, it’s difficult to convince a jury the motorist is solely responsible for your injuries.
If the police came to the scene, they will create a police report. In the report, the officers will make diagrams of the scene. They’ll also list the contact information for any witnesses. Also included is a notation about the weather conditions. If the motorist received a citation for speeding, failure to yield the right of way, etc., that will also be noted.
Use a camera or your cell phone to take photographs of the scene. Make sure you photograph your motorcycle as it lies on the ground. Especially look for the point of impact between your bike and the car. Photograph the car and its driver and passengers. Photograph paint that transferred from the car to your bike and vice versa. Photograph any other objects disturbed by the accident.
Witness statements are invaluable. The police may not have spoken with all of them. Even if they did, it’s unlikely the officers took down what they said. Make sure you take the names and contact information of all of them. Note what they saw, especially if they saw the motorist run the red light, fail to yield to you, etc.
Look for surveillance cameras close to the accident scene. Note their location on businesses, schools or city-owned property to photograph intersections or railroad crossings. Speak with whoever owns the surveillance cameras. Ask for a copy of the tape. If they refuse, your attorney can always subpoena them if a lawsuit becomes necessary.
Immediately write down your observations at the scene. If you don’t have a memo pad, use the back of an envelope or whatever is handy. Be sure to note admissions the motorist may make like, “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t see you.” Those admissions go against their interests and are valuable evidence at trial. They are often admissible as exceptions to the hearsay rules of evidence.
Photograph accident debris around the scene. Photograph parts of your motorcycle that were broken off during the impact, paint chips on the ground, etc. If the accident damaged a guardrail or a concrete abutment or wall, note it and photograph it.
Return to the scene
It’s important to return to the scene of an accident to photograph any changes made to the accident scene, especially if someone replaced stop signs or other traffic signals. That’s always an excellent contrast you can use in your favor in your claim, especially if you have photographs of the signals showing damage at the time of the accident.
If you want compensation for your injuries, you must have medical records to support your claim. If an ambulance took you to the emergency room, get copies of the paramedics’ notes. Also, get copies of your admitting chart. You also need the written diagnosis and prognosis of the emergency room doctor, and any test results from MRIs or CAT scans.
If you’re a motorcycle accident victim and your injuries are primarily soft tissue, you can probably handle your own claim without an attorney. In soft tissue claims, an attorney’s fees and extra costs for copies, postage, etc. can add up so that you get very little for your pain and suffering. If liability is clear, you should be able to handle a minor injury claim yourself.
If you’ve suffered hard injuries however, you really should hire a lawyer. Often, the costs in hard injury cases include massive medical bills, therapy, medicines, etc. On top of that, the insurance company may not willingly release the evidence you need for your case to succeed.
An attorney can use pretrial discovery (demanding all paperwork and photographs, etc. the other side has), depositions (recorded statements), interrogatories (questions the other side has to answer) and requests for admission to find out the at-fault driver’s past accidents, lawsuits, criminal record, and more. When you have hard injuries, an experienced attorney can usually get a lot more compensation than you could ever hope to on your own.
See an example of a motorcycle accident demand letter here.
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