A motorcycle crash can result in serious injuries, and you might need to file a lawsuit to recover the full costs
On August 14, 2019, the Maryland State Police released a stern warning to the public:
In a roughly 2-week period, troopers responded to 6 fatal motorcycle accidents across the state. They said that was a steep uptick in motorcycle fatalities, as compared to earlier that year. (source)
The fatal crashes involved:
- A 44-year-old man from Harford County who lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a light pole on Bel Air Road.
- A Baltimore County man who crashed in Rosedale while traveling the ramp from Golden Ring Road to the inner loop of I-695. Troopers reported that he failed to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic and struck a vehicle on its passenger side, then was ejected from the motorcycle and struck by another oncoming car.
- A 26-year-old Prince George's County man whose motorcycle collided with a car on Central Avenue at Watkins Park Drive in Largo.
- A 34-year-old man whose motorcycle crashed near I-695 and Maryland Route 2 in Glen Burnie.
- A motorcyclist who died after losing control of the bike, traveling across a grassy median, and then striking 2 other motorcycles on the ramp from Harry S. Truman Drive to Central Avenue in Upper Marlboro.
- A 61-year-old man who crashed his motorcycle on the inner loop of I-695 between North Point and Merritt boulevards in Baltimore County.
Sadly, Maryland's concerning motorcycle accident rate isn't unique.
There were nearly 5,000 motorcyclists nationwide who were killed in 2018 and about 82,000 injured. Of those motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents in 2018, 28% were riding without valid motorcycle licenses and 39% were alcohol-impaired.
What these statistics tell us is that it's important to be familiar with Maryland motorcycle laws, understand how to legally and safely share the road with other vehicles, and know your rights and responsibilities as a motorcyclist.
Maryland motorcycle laws
Motorcycle laws are important for a few reasons. First, when all road users follow the rules, it helps keep everyone safer. Second, the laws can protect you from liability if you're involved in an accident with another person or vehicle.
Maryland motorcycle license requirements
To operate a motorcycle, you must obtain a Class M license. In order to do this, you must complete these steps:
- Motorcycle safety course. You only need to complete a course if you're under age 18, but it's recommended for all riders. If you complete the course, then you're not required to take the remaining 3 steps.
- Knowledge test. You must receive 85% or higher on a 25-question test in order to pass.
- Learner's permit. If you're under 21, you must be accompanied or supervised by someone over 21 and who has a motorcycle license for at least 3 years.
- Skills test. Your skills test will demonstrate your ability to maintain ordinary and reasonable control of a motorcycle.
In addition to a helmet and eye protection, your motorcycle must come equipped with the following features:
- 2 brakes
- 1 or more headlights
- Red rear light
- Red brake light
- White light illuminating the license plate
- 2 mirrors
- Footrests for both the operator and passenger
- Handlebars that are not higher than 15 inches above the seat
Maryland helmet laws
All motorcycle riders or operators must wear an MVA-approved helmet or one with a factory sticker or label from the Department of Transportation.
Motorcyclists are also required to wear eye protection that includes goggles, a helmet shield, or impact-resistant glasses (unless their motorcycle has a windscreen).
Lane splitting is the practice of riding in between lanes of traffic. Lane splitting is illegal in Maryland, though 2 riders are permitted to share a single lane.
A motorcycle may not overtake or pass a vehicle in the same lane, drive between lanes of traffic, or drive in between rows of vehicles.
How motorcycle accidents differ from car accidents
Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than being in a car because a car's steel frame is designed to protect drivers and passengers in a crash. When a motorcyclist is in a crash, they are usually thrown from the bike, which commonly results in more serious injury.
There are 3 major differences that make motorcyclists more vulnerable in an accident:
- Frame protection and safety features. In addition to the frame of the car protecting the occupant from being thrown, it can also protect passengers from debris. Additional car features like airbags and seat belts are meant to prevent serious injury or death. Further, the car's weight and bulk increase its crashworthiness.
- Braking power. When a motorcyclist must brake suddenly, the bike can spin out of control. A car has a stronger braking system than a motorcycle.
- Steering control. A motorcycle's steering mechanism is more sensitive than a car's. Therefore, if the rider is startled or needs to make a sudden move, it's easier to oversteer or swerve out of control.
Top 10 causes of motorcycle accidents
- Inexperienced driving. Inexperience can be a factor in any kind of accident, but inexperienced motorcycle riders are even more likely to have accidents.
- Dangerous road conditions. Potholes, debris, poor lighting and unclear signs can increase the likelihood of an accident.
- Car doors. A driver opening their door in the path of an oncoming motorcyclist can cause a crash if the motorcyclist doesn't have enough time to react and move out of the way.
- Unsafe lane changes. A driver might not check their blind spot or signal when changing lanes and cause an accident with an oncoming motorcyclist.
- Driving under the influence. An intoxicated motorcyclist is dangerous, both to their own safety and others'. Alcohol isn't the only substance that causes crashes. Illegal and prescription drugs can also impair a motorist's driving ability and reaction time.
- Speeding. Speeding causes all kinds of accidents because a speeding driver is less likely to see and react to other drivers in time to avoid a collision.
- Lane splitting. This practice — riding a motorcycle in between lanes of traffic — is illegal in Massachusetts.
- Sudden stops. An abrupt stop or a rear-end accident can result in a motorcyclist being thrown from their bike.
- Left-turn accidents. Often, left turn accidents happen because a driver has misjudged the speed or distance of an oncoming vehicle.
- Motorcycle defects. If a part on a motorcycle fails, it can result in an accident because the bike's brakes, tires, motor, or other systems don't function as they should.
Why is alcohol such a major factor in motorcycle injuries?
It takes more skill and coordination to operate a motorcycle than a car. Although operating any motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is dangerous, anything that impairs a motorcyclist's ability to maneuver the bike will significantly increase the risk of injury or death.
Liability for a Maryland motorcycle accident
Knowing motorcycle laws and road rules is relevant in Maryland because of how the state assesses damages and liability.
Maryland’s at-fault liability law
Maryland is an at-fault state, which means that determining who caused the accident is an important step towards securing compensation to either party. An at-fault state is also known as a “tort” state. That means the financial costs of any accident or injury are covered by the insurance policy belonging to the person who is at fault, or liable, for the crash.
If you’re injured in a motor vehicle accident in Maryland, there are 3 ways to pursue compensation:
- File a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
- File an uninsured motorist claim on your own insurance policy if the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance.
Maryland’s pure contributory negligence rule
If you had any fault at all for an accident, you can’t recover damages from the other party in a lawsuit.
When to file a motorcycle injury lawsuit
If you're in an accident and it's clear who was liable (at fault), and their insurance covers the extent of your injuries, receiving compensation might be straightforward.
However, even if the defendant's insurance company agrees that the defendant is at fault, they still might not provide the full amount you need to cover your expenses. Or, if your injury is very serious, the defendant's insurance policy might not provide enough coverage. If insurance falls short, your next step is to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Insurance should cover expenses that include medical treatment and lost property. But if your accident is severe and you wish to recover non-economic damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress or other things not covered by insurance, then you'll need to file a lawsuit to recover other types of damages.
But be sure not to delay too long, as the statute of limitations might expire and make it impossible for you to recover compensation.
Types of personal injury damages in Maryland
Damages refers to financial compensation you can receive after an accident.
This might include:
- Medical treatment. A personal injury award almost always includes the cost of medical care, both to repay what you've already spent on care and to pay for estimated future treatment. Your lawyer will work with experts like doctors, accountants and actuaries to determine what your future medical needs will entail and what they're likely to cost. Medical treatment costs can include doctor and hospital visits, prescription medication, assistive devices, rehabilitative therapies, and any other costs related to your physical recovery.
- Lost income. You can also claim salary and wages as a loss from an accident. This might include time you had to take off from work following your injury, a reduction in wages if you had to return to a different job than the one you had before the accident, and loss of earning capacity. Loss of earning capacity is the difference between what you would've earned for the remainder of your lifetime and what you will actually earn because of the accident.
- Property loss. If you're filing a lawsuit because of a motorcycle accident, the cost of replacing or repairing your bike would be included under property loss. You're entitled to the fair market value of any property lost.
- Emotional distress. Emotional distress damages compensate a plaintiff for the non-physical effects of an injury. This might include fear, anxiety, sleep disturbances, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other psychological conditions that arise following a trauma or serious injury.
- Loss of enjoyment. You might be able to eat, sleep, and function, but can you enjoy your time? If you were an athlete disabled in an accident, or a musician who effectively lost the use of your hands, you might be suffering because you've lost a substantial amount of enjoyment in your life and could be eligible for a damage award.
- Loss of consortium. If a loved one was in an accident and lost the ability to provide love, affection, companionship, comfort, or even the ability to participate in household responsibilities and child-rearing, you might have a loss of consortium claim.
Occasionally, you can claim punitive damages for a Maryland car accident, but it's unusual for a court to award them. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant or serve as a deterrent against repeating the behavior that caused the injury. However, it's almost impossible to receive punitive damages for a personal injury because you'd need to prove actual malice and that's unlikely in a motorcycle accident.
How motorcycle bias impacts personal injury claims
Unfortunately, people don't leave their personal feelings, opinions and biases at the door, even when they serve on a jury or sit at the judge's bench. There's often a stigma that motorcyclists are reckless and irresponsible. As a result, certain people might think that a motorcyclist is more likely to be a risky driver or more likely to cause an accident.
Because of biases and stereotypes against motorcyclists, they're more likely to be presumed liable for an accident, receive lowball settlement offers, or even get reduced damage awards in a jury trial.
4 tips to combat bias as a motorcycle rider
- Be kind and courteous. After an accident, approach the other driver with courtesy, show concern for their condition, and don't immediately make accusations. You can be kind and courteous without admitting fault. Never say that the accident was your fault (even if you think it was, and even if you're trying to be nice). Admitting fault may come back to haunt you in a trial or during settlement negotiations. Let the evidence speak for itself, and don't make statements that might hurt you later.
- Always wear a helmet. Aside from wearing a helmet anytime you're on your bike for safety reasons (and because it's illegal not to in Maryland), doing so also demonstrates that you're concerned for your own safety and you know the rules and best practices for motorcycling.
- Obtain witness contact information. If there are witnesses at the scene, you don't need to take a statement right away, but it's a good idea to get their name and phone number so you or your attorney can reach them later. Their statements should be included in the police report, but your lawyer might want to reach out to them personally to bolster your case.
- Drive safely. It's important that you follow the road rules, avoid speeding, and demonstrate careful driving on your motorcycle before an accident happens. Avoid lane-splitting (which is illegal in Maryland), weaving in and out of traffic, or riding in a way that a witness might see as unsafe. If a witness sees you driving carefully and being respectful of other drivers before an accident happens, that witness could be your best ally in a legal case.
Along those lines, make it your habit to ride carefully and respectfully at all times while on your bike. Building a history as a good driver can help you if you ever end up in court. If you rack up speeding tickets or other violations and wind up in court, this history will not work to your advantage. If every motorcyclist rides responsibly and carefully, it also builds the public's goodwill and trust so that over time we can break down some of the bias that exists today.
What to do if you’re in a motorcycle accident (5 steps)
- Seek medical attention. Even if you "feel fine," or if your injuries seem minor, go to a doctor or hospital immediately. An accident can leave you in a state of shock that might make you numb to what your body is actually experiencing. There are also conditions (like whiplash or a concussion) that might not have immediate symptoms but appear later. It's essential to get an immediate medical evaluation because it can be much more difficult to secure an insurance settlement or win a personal injury claim if you wait too long.
- Call the police. Even if you believe there's no damage or injury, a police report can help you if the other driver later claims that you were at fault.
- Document the scene. Whether or not the police respond to the scene (if the accident is very minor, they might not), you should stop and get some necessary information. It's important to write down any involved drivers' names, addresses, and phone numbers, as well as their insurance information, vehicle information (including license plates and Vehicle Identification Numbers, or VIN), along with their vehicle's make, model, and year.
- Notify your insurance company. Even if you think you were at fault for the accident, it's important to report any collision to your own insurance company. Some insurers won't settle a claim if it's not reported within a specific time period. A "report" is different from a "claim." You might not be planning to file a claim, but you still need to let the insurance company know that the accident happened.
- Consult a Maryland motorcycle accident lawyer. In a "regular" car crash, an accident can often be resolved by the drivers' insurance adjusters negotiating a settlement. But a motorcycle accident is often more complicated for a number of reasons, including motorcycle bias. A motorcycle injury lawyer can help fight bias and ensure that you receive what you deserve. Motorcyclists have the same rights as car drivers and you deserve to recover damages, too.
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more