Motorcycles, by their very design, are less safe than automobiles and other motor vehicles in which the passenger is completely enclosed. That’s why the chance of serious injury is much higher in motorcycle accidents. 20% of passenger vehicle accidents result in injury or death, compared to 80% for motorcycles.
The injuries that occur from motorcycle accidents are also typically more severe and costly and can include paralysis, which can require hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat in just the first months after the incident and potentially many millions of dollars over a person’s lifetime.
Understanding the specialized insurance laws for motorcycles and the varied laws in the U.S. regulating motorcyclists can be highly complicated, but it is important that riders know their rights and obligations.
Why Are Motorcycles More Dangerous Than Cars?
Cars simply offer better crash protection and result in fewer injuries and deaths. A motorcyclist is 28 times more likely to be injured than someone traveling the same distance in a car. Motorcycles are smaller and lighter than cars, lack a reinforced box with seatbelts and airbags to shield the occupant, and have only two wheels instead of four or more.
The two-wheeled design of a motorcycle makes it highly maneuverable but also more vulnerable to road hazards and inclement weather conditions. Two wheels provide less surface area to grip the road than four, which is especially an issue during emergency braking and swerving. Road hazards that would be of lesser consequence to a car — such as small debris, uneven surfaces, or wet pavement — are a greater threat to motorcyclists.
Their smaller size and the fact that they are often lower to the ground than other vehicles also make motorcycles less visible to other motorists, particularly at intersections. For these reasons, the skill level and attentiveness required to operate a motorcycle is much greater than for other vehicles which adds a further element of risk.
Common Motorcycle Accident Injuries
- Head and brain trauma
- Dislocated or broken joints
- Bone fractures
- Spinal cord and neck injuries
- Soft tissue damage (i.e. road rash)
- Facial disfigurement
There is also a type of injury specific to motorcyclists called “Biker’s Arm.” It is characterized by nerve damage suffered during a fall that can cause permanent arm paralysis or limited arm movement.
Many motorcycle accidents involve collisions with other cars and trucks. The motorcyclist almost always suffers greater injuries in these events. 98% of multiple-vehicle collisions where one party was on a motorcycle result in at least some injury to the rider. 45% result in a serious injury to them.
Protective Equipment Laws
Helmets are the most effective means a motorcyclist has of protecting themselves from a traumatic head injury, reducing the risk of death by 37%. However, laws vary by state as to what protective equipment a motorcyclist is required to wear while riding. In New Jersey, for example, riders of any age and experience must wear a helmet, shatter-proof eye protection, and abrasion-resistant clothing (jackets, pants, over-the-ankle boots, and full-fingered gloves).
Pennsylvania, by contrast, does not require a helmet for anyone over the age of 21 if they have at least two years of riding experience or complete a safety training course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Specific protective clothing is not required by Pennsylvania law, but eye protection is.
Determining Fault in a Motorcycle Accident
The standard for determining liability in a motorcycle accident is called negligence, which means that the individual who failed to take reasonable and expected precautions given the circumstances is responsible for the event and any injuries or property damage that occur as a result. Negligent behavior can occur by act (e.g. speeding or running a red light) or omission (e.g. not checking mirrors before merging into traffic or not wearing a helmet if the law requires one).
Many motorcycle accidents are the result of negligent driving on the behalf of a car or truck. 42% of fatal motorcycle accidents involved a four-wheeled vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was traveling straight. The driver of the car or truck often never even saw the motorcycle until it was too late.
Other Potentially Liable Parties
In addition to other drivers, liability for motorcycle accidents can extend to certain employers, such as those that hire and manage fleets of vehicles and drivers. In limited situations, government agencies can be held responsible if they fail to properly design or maintain a roadway or construction site. Motorcycle manufacturers can also be sued if a defective design in their product caused an accident and injury.
Some states, including Pennsylvania, will make a determination as to what percent each party was responsible for the accident. Any damages awarded will be adjusted up or down based on that finding. Thus, if a motorcyclist is found to be 10% responsible and is awarded $100,000 for their injuries and property damage, their final award will be reduced to $90,000.
What to Do if You’ve Been in a Motorcycle Accident
- Call for medical attention. Even if you are unsure if you have been injured at that moment, it is possible to have latent issues that won’t immediately manifest.
- If you can, collect as much information from the scene as possible. Take photographs of the accident and the damage to all vehicles, as well as road markings, the condition of the road, skidmarks, and road signs.
- Collect contact information (phone number, driver’s license number, insurance information, etc.) from any individuals involved in the accident, and ask for contact information from any potential witnesses to the event.
- Say as little as possible to anyone else at the scene. Never admit fault or apologize for damage. Those statements can be used against you in later proceedings.
- File a police report with the local law enforcement office closest to the accident.
Statute of Limitations and Damages
Rules vary by state, but generally an individual harmed in a motorcycle accident has two years from the date of the event to file a claim. The damages that they can potentially receive to compensate them include payments for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
If the motorcyclist was killed in the accident, their surviving family members may be able to sue for medical and funeral expenses, and potentially file a wrongful death suit.
Get Expert Legal Guidance
Rules of the road and insurance laws in your state may be very different for motorcycles compared to automobiles. It is crucial to consult with an experienced injury lawyer.
If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, contact Pond Lehocky Giordano for a free consultation to determine if you qualify for compensation. Call 1-800-568-7500 or fill out the form on this page.
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