Understand how motorcycle helmet laws affect your personal injury case
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, there are more than 154,839 motorcycles registered and more than 365,450 qualified motorcycle operators licensed in Missouri.
Motorcycle enthusiasts have plenty of places to ride in the Show-Me State, from the famous Route 66 to Route 185 (affectionately known as "The Wing of the Dragon").
At Enjuris, we want you to be safe and we want you to understand your legal options in the event of an accident. With that in mind, let's take a look at Missouri motorcycle accidents.
Are motorcycles more dangerous than cars?
Motorcycles are considered more dangerous than cars for a number of reasons:
- Motorcyclists are not protected by steel cages and airbags
- Motorcyclists are typically thrown from their motorcycles in an accident
- Motorcycles are hard to see and are more likely to get lost in a blind spot
But how much more dangerous are motorcycles than cars?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are approximately 29 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a crash and 4 times more likely to be injured.
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When looking at the statistics above, keep in mind that there are far more cars traveling far more miles than motorcycles.
To get a better sense of how motorcycle accidents compare to car accidents in Missouri, consider the following percentages:
- 5.32% of motorcycle crashes are fatal, compared to just 0.51% of car accidents
- 76.42% of motorcycle crashes result in injury, compared to 27.34% of car accidents
Motorcycle license and insurance requirements in Missouri
To operate a motorcycle in Missouri, you must have a Class M motorcycle license or permit, or a driver's license with an "M" endorsement.
To obtain a license, you must pass a knowledge test and an on-motorcycle skill test.
In addition to a valid license, Missouri law requires motorcyclists to carry liability insurance. Liability insurance covers the damages sustained by the other vehicle and occupants in an accident that you cause up to the coverage limits. If the damages exceed your coverage limits, you will be personally responsible for paying those damages.
The minimum level of liability coverage required by state law is:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury
- $50,000 per accident for bodily injury
- $25,000 per accident for property
In addition, Missouri law requires motorcyclists to carry uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 for bodily injury per person and $50,000 for bodily injury per accident. Uninsured motorist coverage helps cover injuries you or your passenger sustains in an accident caused by an uninsured motorist. Uninsured motorist coverage does not cover property damage.
Rules of the road: Missouri motorcycle laws
Generally speaking, motorcyclists have the same rights and duties as motor vehicle drivers in Missouri. However, there are a handful of motorcycle-specific laws you should know:
- Helmets. Every person under the age of 26 must wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle.
- License. It is unlawful to operate a motorcycle without an appropriate license. It's also unlawful to knowingly allow someone to operate a motorcycle without an appropriate license.
- Lane splitting. There is no statewide law against lane splitting in Missouri, although local ordinances may prohibit the act.
- Equipment. Every motorcycle must be equipped with a headlamp, 2 rear lights, and a rear reflector.
- Passengers. Motorcyclists must not carry passengers unless the motorcycle is designed to carry the passenger. There is no minimum age requirement for passengers.
Recovering damages after a motorcycle accident in Missouri
Missouri has a fault-based insurance system. In short, this means the party who is responsible for the accident is responsible for paying any damages caused by the accident.
In fault-based insurance systems, you have 3 options to recover damages following a motorcycle accident:
- File an insurance claim with the at-fault party's insurance company,
- File an insurance claim with your own insurance company (in this case, your insurance company would seek reimbursement from the at-fault party's insurance company), or
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party (in this case, the at-fault party's insurance company is required to defend the at-fault party so long as there's potential coverage).
Regardless of which option you choose, you'll need to prove that someone other than yourself was at fault for the accident.
In most cases, establishing fault means proving the elements of negligence:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care (all motor vehicle drivers owe all others on the road a duty to exercise reasonable care),
- The defendant breached their duty of care, and
- The breach was the legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries.
Though motorcycle accidents are usually caused by a motorcyclist or a motor vehicle driver, that's not always the case. There are a couple of other parties who may be liable for your accident:
- Property owners. Premises liability laws in Missouri require property owners to maintain their property free of dangerous conditions. If a motorcyclist is injured as a result of a dangerous condition on someone's property, the property owner may be held liable.
- Manufacturers. Product liability laws require that manufacturers avoid letting defective products hit the marketplace. If a motorcyclist crashes as a result of a defective product (such as a defective brake system), the manufacturer of the product may be held liable.
Missouri, like some other states, has adopted the legal doctrine of pure comparative negligence. Under this doctrine, a plaintiff who's partially responsible for their accident may only collect damages in proportion to the defendant's degree of fault. For example, if you're 30% responsible for your motorcycle accident, you can only recover 70% of your damages from the defendant.
Jacob's motorcycle collided with the SUV. The SUV went on to strike the pumps at a nearby Texaco gas station, causing them to ignite.
Jacob was rushed to the hospital but died shortly after his arrival. A subsequent investigation found that the driver of the SUV, Murrell Ferguson, was intoxicated.
In addition to criminal negligence charges, a civil wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Murrell Ferguson by Jacob's family.
Missouri motorcycle accident statute of limitations
When you're involved in a motorcycle accident, you only have a certain amount of time to file a personal injury lawsuit. This time limitation is called the "statute of limitations."
In Missouri, the statute of limitations for most motorcycle accidents is 5 years. If your loved one was killed in a fatal motorcycle crash, then you have 3 years to file a wrongful death claim.
In other words, you have 5 years from the date of your motorcycle accident to file a lawsuit or your lawsuit will be FOREVER BARRED.
There are a couple of situations in which the 5-year statute of limitations may be longer or shorter. It's always a good idea to talk to an attorney as soon as possible following an accident to make sure you don't ruin your chance of recovery.
Frequently asked questions about motorcycle accidents
What are the most common motorcycle accident injuries?
According to the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, common motorcycle accident injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Lower extremity injuries
- Chest injuries
- Abdominal injuries
- Rib fractures
- Road rash
What damages can I recover after a motorcycle accident in Missouri?
Missouri allows motorcycle accident victims to recover 3 types of damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident (pain and suffering, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and are typically only available if the defendant acted willfully.
What immediate steps do I need to take after a motorcycle accident?
Missouri's hit-and-run law requires that you take 4 immediate steps after a motorcycle accident:
- Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident (or as close to the scene as possible),
- Provide your name, address, motor vehicle number, and driver's license number to any person involved in the crash,
- Render reasonable assistance to anyone injured, and
- Report the accident to the local police (if someone suffered an injury or died, the other driver was uninsured, or more than $500 of property damage was sustained).
If it's safe to do so, you should also collect any evidence (witness contact information, photographs of the scene and any damages, etc.) that may help your insurance claim or lawsuit down the road.
When is a motorcyclist considered legally drunk?
The legal limit for motorcyclists is the same as it is for motor vehicle drivers in Missouri.
Under Missouri Revised Statute § 577.012, you can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) without any additional evidence if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.08%. This is called a "per se DWI."
If you're under the legal drinking age of 21 years, the legal limit is even lower (0.02% or greater).
What's more, you can be charged with a DWI if you operate a vehicle while in an "intoxicated condition." This is called an "impairment DWI."
To establish an impairment DWI, the prosecution has to prove the following 3 elements:
- Impaired ability. The defendant's ability to operate a motorcycle was impaired.
- Presence of the substance. The presence of alcohol, a drug, or a controlled substance was in the defendant's body at the time of the alleged offense, and
- Causation. The presence of the substance caused the impairment.
Do I need to hire an attorney after a motorcycle accident?
Insurance companies and jurors tend to have a negative bias against motorcyclists. What's more, motorcycle accidents tend to result in significant injuries. For these reasons, it's usually a good idea to hire an attorney to handle your motorcycle accident claim.
If you're not sure whether or not you need a lawyer, at the very least you should schedule a free initial consultation. Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingent fee basis (meaning they don't get paid if you don't get paid), so the lawyer should tell you honestly whether you have a valid claim and need an attorney.
Find a Missouri motorcycle accident attorney near you using our free online directory.
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