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Guide to Motorcycle Accidents & Your Claim

Motorcycle riders, accidents

Stubborn stereotypes can limit compensation for motorcycle riders after an accident. See how you can get a leg up!

While more than eight million Americans find motorcycles a thrilling ride, an accident can be even more dangerous than in a car and more complicated to resolve financially.

If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident you may assume that the process will be similar to one in a car. You are suffering from injuries and probably overwhelmed with medical treatments and bills. You might contact your insurance company, or the other driver's insurance, and expect to receive fair financial compensation for your medical costs.

However, there remain stubborn stereotypes among many non-riders that motorcyclists are criminals, or that they exude reckless behavior on the roads. If a motorcycle accident case goes to court, these types of attitudes could be a disadvantage for plaintiffs.

Juries are typically unfavorable to motorcycle riders involved in accidents, particularly if the plaintiff has any potential liability in the case. Similarly, insurance companies sometimes pay out less compensation to motorcycle drivers than car drivers.

The unique circumstances and serious injuries that can be caused by a motorcycle crash make it important for you to find a lawyer experienced in motorcycle accidents.

Compensation in motorcycle cases will differ by many factors, including if the motorcycle driver was partly at fault. In many states, drivers may be eligible for partial compensation if they are determined to be less than 50 percent at fault for an accident.

Fault, damages, time limits and state laws

While some accidents are caused by motorcyclists, many riders are seriously hurt by careless auto drivers or by conditions on the roadways that are more hazardous for bikes than cars.

If you are in an accident, keep the following factors in mind as you consider what to do next, and whether you will pursue legal action against the other driver.

Negligence Claims

According to information on motorcycle accidents on DMV.org, a private company that provides information on departments of motor vehicles across the country, if you are in a motorcycle accident caused by another driver, it will probably be affected by the law of negligence.

Negligence means that the other driver was careless and that his or her actions caused your injuries, which are serious and have caused you to suffer damages.

However, it is important to remember: if you were not following all your state's motorcycle laws at the time of the accident, the amount of your settlement or verdict could be less. This is true even if the fault was mostly with the other driver.

For example, if your state is a comparative negligence state you may only be awarded damages according to the percentage of the other driver's fault in the crash. If the judge or jury find that he or she was responsible for 75% of the crash and you were responsible for 25%, you will only be awarded 75% of your damages in the case.

Determining who's at fault in the motorcycle accident

After a motorcycle accident the first step that your personal injury attorney will take is to determine who was liable for the accident.

Any lawyer you are talking to about possibly representing your case will want to know the following:

  • Were you being ‘reasonably careful' when riding?
  • Were there witnesses to the accident who will testify that the accident was caused by the other driver?
  • Did the police come to the scene and was a police report filed?
  • Could the motorcycle accident have been easily avoided?
  • Was the weather clear?
  • Was it day or night?

If your attorney determines that the other driver likely is liable, he or she will then go to the next step in your case...

Determining motorcycle accident damages

Damages will be assessed by asking questions such as these:

  • How severely were you injured?
  • Did you miss time from work?
  • How much in medical expenses have you incurred to date?
  • Have you reached maximum medical improvement or are you still undergoing treatment?
  • Will you still be able to work in your current job?
  • Did you endure significant mental and physical suffering?
  • How much damage was done to your personal property?

Once these questions are answered, your attorney will be able to start to assign a potential value to the case.

How damages are valued

Determining the amount of damages is the same as with any other personal injury case. There are two types of damages to calculate:

  • Special damages: These are damages that can be easily calculated, including property damage, medical costs and lost time at work (past and future). These are relatively simple for the court to calculate, for the most part. For future lost earnings, your attorney will bring in an economist to state their expert opinion.

  • Non-economic damages: Damages that cannot be easily calculated, such as pain and suffering. There are no precise guidelines for the judge or jury to follow.

Motorcycle injuries can often cause unique and severe pain and suffering. You may have been thrown from your vehicle and hit a tree or road sign. Or skidded along the road, enduring extensive burns and abrasions to your skin.

Enjuris now offers a pain and suffering journal which can help you document your suffering and medical treatment, which could help you get fair financial compensation in your case.

Enjuris tip: Dig deeper: The NHTSA performed a study of Costs of Injuries Resulting from Motorcycle Crashes

Different values

Determining the exact dollar value of your motorcycle personal injury case will come down to whether you settle out of court or go to trial. (What's the difference?)

The settlement value is how much you would ‘settle' for. The advantage of going this route is that you will get your money faster. The down side is that you will probably receive less money.

On the other hand, the trial value is how much you and your attorney think you would get at the end of a trial.

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The difference between these values comes into play when you are not sure if you would prevail in a lawsuit. The amount of potential settlement normally reflects how likely it is that you will win. So, if the value of the case at trial is $100,000, but you think you have just a 50% chance of winning, the settlement value is $50,000.

Should you settle or sue?

This determination must be made by you and your attorney after careful consideration. Many potential lawsuits are settled before they go to trial. But it comes down to the specific facts of the case.

If it is clear the other driver is at fault, it is likely that he or she, as well as the insurance company, will want to settle out of court. However, if fault is not as clear cut, there is a chance that the defendant will want to go to trial and hedge their bets.

The other major factor to consider is this: How willing are you to wait for compensation?

If you have substantial injuries, you probably have medical bills that need to be paid. If you are missing work due to your injuries, you also want compensation as soon as possible.

Statute of limitations

Most states have a statute of limitations for car and motorcycle accidents. After this time has passed, you can no longer file a lawsuit for compensation. FreeAdvice Legal maintains a list of personal injury statute of limitations by state, including the legal code and link to the state's documentation.

Therefore, you should not delay if you think that you are going to sue for your injuries. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to months for your attorney to investigate the case and gather evidence.

As you are considering your legal options in your accident, it is worth reviewing the motorcycle laws in your state. If you were obeying all laws at the time of the accident, you have a stronger legal case.

Motorcycle laws by state

Each state has its own laws that apply to motorcycles. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) summarizes motorcycles laws.

Many states require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, although laws vary. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers a handy map of all helmet laws in the country.

Whatever the laws are in your state, you would be strongly advised to always wear a helmet. In 2014, 38% of national motorcycle accident deaths involved riders who did not wear a helmet.

Eye protection is also mandatory in some states for motorcyclists. In those states, riders must wear goggles, eyeglasses, or a helmet that has a visor. AAA has more information about state-by-state requirements. See our guides:

Additional motorcycle laws that may be in effect in your state are:

  • No passing/overtaking a car in the same lane.
  • No sharing a lane with a car or truck. (Although it is legal to co-ride in the same lane with another motorcycle in some states.)
  • Ensure that your bike has footrests for passengers.

In 2015, 4,976 people died in motorcycle crashes, and 88,000 motorcyclists were injured. While you hope it never happens to you or a loved one, if you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, it is critically important for you to find a quality attorney who has experience with cases like yours and knows the specific laws of your state.

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