Even if a motorcyclist was partly at fault, they might still recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 56,882 motorcycles registered in Montana in 2017. The amount of registered motorcycles has gone up every year since 2002 when there were only 18,334.
Unfortunately, more motorcycles on the road means more potential for accidents. What's more, motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclist deaths occur roughly 28 times more than fatalities in other vehicles.
If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident in Montana, whether it’s as a motorcyclist or as a motor vehicle driver, it’s important to understand the laws governing motorcycles and the damages that might be available.
Motorcycle accident statistics
In the United States, a total of 5,172 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2017. While motorcyclist deaths had been declining since 1980, the number of deaths have been steadily increasing since 1998. In 2017, the number of deaths were more than double the number of deaths in 1997.
In Montana, there were 373 motorcycle crashes in 2017 (the last year for which data is available). The severity of those crashes breaks down as follows:
|Motorcycle Crashes & Injury Statistics (2017)|
|Crash Severity||Number of Crashes||Percentage of Total Crashes (Motorcycle and Car)|
|Serious Injury Crash||94||14%|
|Other Injury Crash||199||4%|
|No Injury Crash||56||1%|
What are the causes of motorcycle accidents in Montana?
There’s a stigma against motorcyclists in the US. When a motorcycle accident occurs, people (including insurance companies) are quick to blame the motorcyclist. But motorcycle crashes aren’t always the fault of the motorcyclist.
Common causes of motorcycle accidents that aren’t the fault of the motorcyclist include:
- Being struck by flying objects (such as cigarettes, pebbles, and insects)
- Windblast from larger vehicles
- Being struck by a vehicle following too closely
- Being struck by a vehicle’s extended mirror
- Being struck by a merging vehicle
- Poor road conditions
- Mechanical failures
In general, older motorcyclists sustain more serious injuries than younger riders. A Brown University study found that declines in vision and reaction time, along with a preference for larger bikes (which tend to roll over more easily), are the reasons behind this statistic.
Other common characteristics of motorcycle crashes in Montana include:
|Common Motorcycle Crash Characteristics in Montana (2017)|
|Characteristic||Number of Crashes||Percentage of Total Motorcycle Crashes|
|Motorcycle speed over 35 miles per hour||192||51%|
|Friday noon to Sunday noon||133||35%|
|Impaired motor vehicle driver||51||13%|
Montana motorcycle safety laws
Motorcyclists, like drivers of motor vehicles, must follow all the Montana traffic laws. In addition, Montana has some motorcycle-specific laws. Compared to many states, these laws are pretty lax. Here are the highlights:
- All operators and passengers of a motorcycle under the age of 18 must wear a helmet
- Another person may not ride on a motorcycle unless the motorcycle is designed to carry more than one person, in which case a passenger may ride upon the permanent and regular seat if designed for two persons or upon another seat firmly attached to the rear or side of the operator.
- No more than two motorcycles may be operated side by side in a single traffic lane.
- Aside from certain rare exceptions, motorcycles must be operated with lights on at all times.
- Aside from certain rare exceptions, a license is not valid for the operation of a motorcycle unless the holder of the license has completed the requirements listed in Montana Code Annotated 61-5-110.
Montana statute of limitations
In Montana, a personal injury lawsuit based on a motorcycle accident must be filed within 3 years of the date of the accident. If this deadline is missed, your case will likely be dismissed and you won’t recover any compensation for the accident.
Motorcycle insurance requirements
Motorcycle insurance isn’t required in Montana. However, if you opt to purchase coverage, your policy must meet the same minimum coverage requirements that apply to motor vehicles.
Fault in motorcycle crashes
Montana has a fault-based insurance system. This means that if you get into an accident in Montana, you’ll have to show that the other driver was negligent in order to receive compensation.
- Duty. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the plaintiff and defendant requiring the defendant to exercise a certain standard of care so as to avoid harming the plaintiff. The law requires all drivers (including motorcyclists) to exercise “reasonable care” while operating a motorcycle or motor vehicle so as not to harm other people on the road.
- Breach. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached the duty of care. A breach occurs when the defendant fails to meet the standard of care required.
- Causation. The plaintiff must prove that the injury was caused by the defendant’s breach.
- Damages. The plaintiff must prove that they actually suffered some sort of injury (whether it’s a physical injury or an injury to their property).
Examples of actions that might result in a motorcyclist or motor vehicle driver being found negligent include:
- Reckless driving
- Changing lanes into a motorcyclists path
- Following too closely
What happens if both you and the defendant are partially at fault?
Montana follows the modified comparative fault theory. Under this theory, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by a percentage that reflects their own degree of fault – so long as that percentage doesn’t exceed 50%.
If your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, then you can’t recover ANY damages.
What damages are available in a motorcycle accident?
The latest data from the Government Accounting Office shows that motorcycle crashes cost $16 billion in costs such as emergency services, medical costs, property damage, and lost wages.
In Montana, there are three types of damages available to a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit:
- Economic damages (medical expenses, wage loss, etc.)
- Non-economic damages (pain and suffering)
- Punitive damages (money damages intended to punish the defendant)
Economic damages are fairly objective and easy to calculate. The most important thing you can do for your case is to keep track of your expenses. This means saving all of your medical bills and receipts.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to prove than economic damages. But again, keeping good records can help.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases. In Montana, punitive damages are only available in cases involving fraud or “actual malice.”
A defendant acts with actual malice if the defendant:
- Has knowledge of facts that create a high probability of injury to the plaintiff, and
- Intentionally proceeds to act despite the high probability of injury.
Resources for motorcycle safety
Motorcycle safety should be a top priority in Montana. Do your part by taking a look at the safety resources below:
- VisionZeroMT “Motorcycle Safety” website
- Montana State University Motorcycle Rider Safety Training
- Montana Department of Transportation: Traffic Safety Problem Identification
- National Motorcycle Safety Foundation
- Montana Code Annotated: Vehicle Operating Requirements