Guide to Massachusetts Motorcycle Accident Injury Lawsuits

Is the motorcyclist always at fault in an accident?
Definitely not.

Motorcyclists have rights, in addition to responsibilities. But sometimes those are overlooked because of biases against motorcyclists. Here's how to advocate for your rights if you're a motorcyclist, and how a victim of a motorcycle accident can get compensation in the Commonwealth.

Motorcycles have a fatality rate that's 26 times higher per mile than passenger vehicles. That's according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also reminds us that wearing a motorcycle helmet can decrease your risk of dying in a crash by 37%.

Motorcycle safety is a serious concern in Massachusetts, as the statistics show.

In 2018, there were 59 Massachusetts motorcyclist fatalities, which accounted for about 16% of traffic-related fatalities in the state that year.
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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:

  1. Frame protection and safety features. In addition to the frame of the car protecting the occupant from being thrown, it also can protect passengers from debris, and 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Facing facts: More than 80% of all motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to the motorcyclist. About 43% of fatal motorcycle crashes involve alcohol. (source)

Top 10 causes of motorcycle accidents

  1. Inexperienced driving. Inexperience can be a factor in any kind of accident, but inexperienced motorcycle riders are even more likely to have accidents.
  2. Dangerous road conditions. Potholes, debris, and poor lighting or unclear signs can increase the likelihood of an accident.
  3. Car doors. A driver opening their door in the path of an oncoming motorcyclist can be dangerous if the motorcyclist doesn't have enough time to react and move out of the way.
  4. Unsafe lane changes. A driver might not check their blind spot or signal when changing lanes and cause an accident with an oncoming motorcyclist.
  5. Driving under the influence. A motorcyclist who is intoxicated is very dangerous, both to their own safety and others'.
  6. Speeding. Speeding causes all kinds of accidents because any speeding driver is less likely to see and react to other drivers in time to avoid a collision.
  7. Lane splitting. This practice — riding a motorcycle in between lanes of traffic — is illegal in Massachusetts.
  8. Sudden stops. Either an abrupt stop or a rear-end accident can result in a motorcyclist being thrown from the bike.
  9. Left-turn accidents. Often, left turn accidents happen because a driver has misjudged speed or distance.
  10. 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.

Massachusetts motorcycle laws

Massachusetts motorcycle helmet law

All motorcycle riders in Massachusetts are required by law to wear a DOT-approved helmet. This law also applies to any passenger or rider in a sidecar. The operator must also wear eye protection like goggles or a protective face shield unless the motorcycle has a windscreen or windshield.

There are penalties for failure to wear protective equipment. If you're riding a motorcycle without the required personal protective equipment, you can be fined $35 for a first offense with an insurance surcharge that can last 6 or 7 years. You can be fined $75 to $100 for a second offense, along with additional insurance surcharges.

Safety equipment that can protect you from a motorcycle injury
  • Safety goggles or other eye protection can help avoid traumatic scrapes to the eyes. They could also prevent an accident from happening by protecting you from becoming temporarily blinded by dust or debris.
  • Leather or ballistic nylon clothes are durable and resistant to scrapes and act as an additional layer of skin.
  • Protective gloves can prevent scrapes or cuts to the hands.
  • Boots or durable footwear can provide traction while riding and also protect feet from abrasion during sudden braking.

Motorcycle driver licensing requirements

To drive a motorcycle in Massachusetts, you must have a motorcycle license or an endorsement on your driver's license. You may only operate your motorcycle outside of Massachusetts if you're permitted to do so under the laws of that state.

You don't need a motorcycle license to register a motorcycle, but you need it to drive the motorcycle.

To obtain a Massachusetts Class M motorcycle license, you must be at least 16 ½ years old and possess a learner's permit. You may apply for the learner's permit at age 16. You also must have passed the Class D knowledge test and Class M exam. A motorcyclist who is under 18 years old is classified as a junior operator.

If a motorcyclist is less than 18 years old, they must meet these requirements in order to get a Class M motorcycle license:

  • Motorcycle learner's permit for at least 6 months
  • Clean driving record for at least 6 consecutive months prior to their road test
  • Licensing fees paid
  • Completed driver's education course
  • Passed Massachusetts rider education program basic course
  • Passed riding skills evaluation
  • Consent by a parent, legal guardian, social worker, or boarding school headmaster

The basic rider course is about 15 hours with 5 hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of hands-on motorcycle instruction.

If a motorcyclist is over age 18, they must meet these requirements:

  • Class M permit for 6 months
  • Has not had a permit or operator's license revoked
  • Clean driving record for 6 consecutive months

Motorcycle equipment requirements

The motorcycle's handlebars must not be higher than the operator's shoulders when the operator is properly seated. The bike also must have proper lights, brakes, rearview mirrors, fenders, mufflers, and a secure seat.

Massachusetts also requires that a motorcycle may not exceed 82 decibels of sound when traveling 45 miles per hour or below. If traveling above that speed, it must not exceed 86 decibels.


Lane splitting is illegal in Massachusetts

Lane splitting is the practice of riding a motorcycle in between lanes of traffic. It is permitted in some states under certain conditions, but it is illegal in Massachusetts.

Common motorcycle accident injuries

  • Burns: Motorcycle engine parts can be very hot, and contact can cause 2nd- or 3rd-degree burns.
  • Fractures: A fracture is one of the most common injuries, as bones can break from impact with another vehicle or the road.
  • Head trauma: A blow to the head can cause a fractured skull, concussion, or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Internal injuries: Any injury to the organs (like lungs, spleen, kidneys, intestines, etc.) can result in bleeding or other complications.
  • Neck and spine injuries: Herniated discs, paralysis, cracked vertebrae, or death can be the result of a motorcycle-related neck or spine injury.
  • Road rash: Road rash injuries are scrapes or abrasions that happen as parts of the body are dragged along the road surface. Often, this affects a motorcyclist's arms, legs, hips and shoulders.
  • Soft tissue injuries: Sprains, strains, or other injuries to muscles, tendons or ligaments can cause serious and ongoing pain.

Enjuris tip: Some people believe that motorcyclists wear leather for style (to achieve that "biker look"). While that may be true for some, leather also serves a practical purpose in that it provides better protection against road rash and other injuries. Some leather apparel for motorcyclists is specifically designed for summer wear so it's not too hot.

What to do if you're in a motorcycle accident (5 steps)

Some people are under the impression that motorcyclists tend to be more reckless than the average car driver, or that they speed or take risky chances. Sometimes that's true, but often it isn't. A motorcyclist just wants to arrive safely at their destination, just like any other driver. But just like car accidents happen, so do crashes that involve motorcyclists.

If you're a motorcyclist involved in a wreck, here's what to do:

  • Seek medical attention. Even if you feel like you're not injured, or if your injuries seem minor, go to a doctor or hospital immediately. An accident can leave you in a state of shock that could 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 that appear later. It's essential that you get an immediate medical evaluation because it can be much more difficult to secure an insurance settlement or win a personal injury claim otherwise.
  • 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 still 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.

    Enjuris tip: Take notes or photographs of the scene, including weather conditions, traffic signs or signals, and other factors that might have contributed to the accident.
  • Call 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 Massachusetts 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. Both drivers and insurance companies can have "motorcycle bias." This bias means they might assume that just because you were on a motorcycle, you must have been driving irresponsibly or are at fault for the accident. A 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.

What is "motorcycle bias"?

While some motorcyclists are risky drivers, most simply enjoy the experience of riding. They follow the rules of the road, drive at reasonable speeds, and avoid drinking and driving.

But there can be a stigma that motorcyclists face in an accident — from other drivers, bystander witnesses, police officers, insurance adjusters, and even from judges and juries.

This can affect a motorcyclist in a lawsuit because of the potential for negative outcomes. 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

  1. Be kind and courteous. This should probably go without saying, but 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 settlement negotiations. Let the evidence speak for itself, and don't make any statements that might hurt you later.
  2. 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 Massachusetts), it also demonstrates that you're concerned for your own safety and you know the rules and best practices for motorcycling.
  3. 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 to bolster your case.
  4. 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 Massachusetts), 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.

Massachusetts accident liability and recovery of damages

If you're in a motorcycle or car accident, you turn first to your own insurance to recover damages. You can file a claim on your insurance policy for medical expenses, property damage, and other fees and costs.

You may file a personal injury lawsuit for a Massachusetts vehicle accident only if:

  1. The injuries cost you more than $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses, or
  2. The injuries are permanent and severe in a way that will affect your quality of life. This could include broken bones, disfigurement, lost hearing or vision, partial or complete loss of a body part, or death of a family member.

Then, does it matter who's at fault for a vehicle accident in Massachusetts?

Yes!


Massachusetts comparative fault rule

Massachusetts follows a modified comparative negligence standard of law. If you have to file a lawsuit for any personal injury in Massachusetts, you can recover for your injuries only if you're less than 51% at fault. If your allocation of fault is 51% or higher, then you can't recover any damages.

If you're 50% or less at fault, the amount of your damages would be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Enjuris tip: Massachusetts sets forth 18 circumstances when fault is presumed to be more than 50%.

Damages after a motorcycle accident

If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, you can recover damages that include:

  • Pain and suffering or emotional distress
  • Wrongful death (if you lost a family member in a motorcycle accident)
  • Medical treatment
  • Ongoing therapies and assistive devices
  • Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity
  • Property loss

A motorcycle accident could lead to complicated legal cases because of the severity of injuries in a motorcycle crash, bias issues, and liability questions. If you've been in an accident, consider contacting a Massachusetts motorcycle accident lawyer to receive the financial compensation you need and deserve.

Did you know that motorcycle accident law varies by state?

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