Michigan Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits: What You Should Know

Motorcycling can lead to severe and life-changing injuries, and you need to know how to reach financial recovery in the event of a wreck

If you're a motorcyclist who was injured in an accident with a car, you might already know that some drivers, police officers, and even judges sometimes assume that the motorcyclist was to blame. Because of Michigan's negligence laws, it's important to know how to protect yourself.

When's your next adventure?

In between the 3,288 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, there are farms, mills, wineries, and other attractions… not to mention gorgeous lake views. In particular, Michigan motorcyclists love Tunnel of Trees Road in the Straits of Mackinac, the East Coast Cruise along Lake Huron, and Copper Harbor Run on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

While recreation is important, it's also crucial to be aware of the risks.

Facing facts: Nationwide, there were nearly 5,000 motorcyclists killed in accidents in 2018. In 2017, 28% of motorcyclists who were killed were drunk. That tells us that nearly a third of these motorcyclists could still be alive today if they weren't drinking and driving.

However, if you're a motorcyclist injured in an accident, it's important to understand how the Michigan legal system treats liability (fault) and insurance. Those are the main factors that will determine how much money you can recover to pay for your injuries.

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Michigan insurance and liability laws

First, these are the basics for how you would recover damages after any vehicle accident — motorcycle or otherwise. Before we get into laws and rules specific to motorcycles, it's good to know the background for how a Michigan personal injury financial recovery works.

Personal injury lawsuits

In every personal injury lawsuit, there's at least 1 plaintiff (injured person), at least 1 defendant (the person or entity that caused the injury), and an injury that costs money. At the most basic level, you must have those 3 elements.

A personal injury lawsuit must also include the following in order to establish negligence:

  1. Duty, which is a responsibility to another person. Every road user has a duty to every other road user, which is to avoid causing injury.
  2. Breach, or when the defendant fails to uphold their duty.
  3. Causation, which means that the defendant actually caused the plaintiff's injury.
  4. Damages, or the amount of money the injury cost the plaintiff.

The civil court system seeks to provide a plaintiff with damages that cover any financial costs so the plaintiff isn't paying out of pocket for the defendant's negligence.

Damages can include:

  • Medical treatment that includes surgeries, hospital and doctor visits, prescription medication, etc.
  • Ongoing therapies, prosthetics, or other long-term treatments
  • Lost wages
  • Property loss
  • Wrongful death if you lost a family member in a motorcycle accident
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Pain and suffering and other emotional distress

You can't just run out and file a lawsuit after an accident, though. Your first path to compensation after a motorcycle accident is to file a claim with your own insurance company.

That's because Michigan is a no-fault insurance state.

For any automotive accident (including motorcycle wrecks), a driver must first file a claim to their own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. This benefits you because you don't need to prove fault, and avoiding that step can make the financial recovery process faster.

A motorcycle crash can result in serious injuries, however. Unfortunately, medical bills can add up quickly.

Facing facts: The U.S. government estimates that the average cost of a 3-day hospital stay is $30,000. Treatment for a broken leg can cost around $7,500.

That means your insurance might not cover the full extent of your expenses. If that happens, your insurance would file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver's insurance company for the remaining amount of damages.

If that's still not enough, or if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, you might need to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to recover the full amount of your damages.

Michigan modified comparative fault rule

If you can't receive enough compensation through a settlement with your own insurance company, there will be a situation where fault needs to be determined and allocated among the parties.

Each party likely bears some percentage of fault. Even if one driver clearly caused the accident, it might be found that the other driver could have braked sooner, could have swerved out of the way, or could have slowed down or sped up to avoid a collision. If that happens, it's possible that the insurance companies or court will determine that the at-fault driver is 90% at fault and the other driver is 10% at fault, for example.

If that happens, the court or insurance company would reduce the amount of damages you receive by your percentage of fault. In other words, your damages would be reduced by 10% if you're 10% at fault.

Michigan's modified comparative fault rule says that if your percentage of fault is 51% or higher, then you can't recover any damages in an accident.

Why do motorcycle accidents lead to more severe injuries than 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.

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 because the motorcyclist might not 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 a nearby motorcyclist.
  5. Driving under the influence. A motorcyclist or vehicle driver who is intoxicated is very dangerous, both to their own safety and others'.
  6. Enjuris tip: 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Lane splitting. This practice of riding a motorcycle in between lanes of traffic is illegal in Michigan. Lane sharing, on the other hand, is legal in Michigan. Motorcyclists may ride 2 abreast in a single lane.
  9. Enjuris tip: Find out where lane splitting is allowed in the U.S.
  10. Sudden stops. Either an abrupt stop or a rear-end accident can result in a motorcyclist being thrown from their bike.
  11. Left-turn accidents. Often, left turn accidents happen because a driver has misjudged the speed or distance of an oncoming vehicle or motorcyclist.
  12. Motorcycle defects. If a part on a motorcycle fails, it can result in an accident because the motorcycle's brakes, tires, motor, or other systems don't function as they should.

Michigan motorcycle laws

Motorcycle helmets

A motorcycle operator is permitted to ride without a helmet if:

  • They are 21 years old or older
  • They have at least $20,000 in motorcycle personal injury protection benefits
  • Have held a motorcycle endorsement for 2 years or have passed a motorcycle safety course

A motorcycle passenger is permitted to ride without a helmet if:

  • They are 21 years old or older
  • They have at least $20,000 in applicable medical benefits in addition to the motorcycle operator's insurance

Motorcycle-related civil infractions

  1. A motorcycle must have a registration plate properly attached to the rear of the vehicle.
  2. A parent or guardian may not permit a minor to violate motorcycle laws.
  3. An operator must sit on a permanent and regular attached seat and may not carry more passengers than the motorcycle is designed to fit. The motorcycle must have footrests or pegs for each person.
  4. The operator must be able to ride with both hands on the handlebars and is not permitted to carry any package or bundle that would prevent doing so.
  5. A motorcyclist may not block or impede the normal flow of traffic (or pedestrian traffic).
  6. A motorcycle may not be operated on a limited-access highway if the motorcycle has less than a 125-cubic-centimeter engine.

Enjuris tip: Preparing to ride? First, consider reviewing Michigan's Motorcycle Laws for specifics on motorcycle equipment.

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.

What to do after a motorcycle accident

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

  1. 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 might 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 (VIN); along with their vehicle's make, model, and year.
  4. Enjuris tip: You should also take notes or photographs of the scene, including weather conditions, traffic signs or signals, and other factors that might have contributed to the accident.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

How motorcycle bias works against you

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.

Here are 3 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, it also demonstrates that you're concerned for your own safety and you know the best practices for motorcycling.
  3. 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, 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.

A clean driving record can matter in a courtroom if you're ever involved in a lawsuit — it's always best to follow road rules and be respectful of other drivers.

If you're in an accident and have suffered an injury, a Michigan motorcycle accident lawyer is your best bet for recovering financial compensation. They'll help you handle the insurance company and know when and how to take the next steps if necessary to get the money you need to move forward.

Did you know that motorcycle accident law varies by state?

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