Motorcyclists and other drivers share the road — and they both have rights to legal recovery after an accident in the Garden State
What inspires a motorcyclist?
Whether it’s the lure of the open road, the exhilaration of the wind whipping your face, the community of motorcyclists, or simply that it brings you joy for another reason, it’s an undisputed draw for many New Jersey residents. In fact, New Jersey has more than 150,000 registered motorcycles.
But more motorcyclists on the road also leads to more motorcycle accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the state of New Jersey report that motorcyclists are more than 28 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash and 5 times more likely to be injured than the occupants of a passenger car. There were nearly 12,000 crashes involving motorcycles in New Jersey between 2012 and 2016.
In 2016 alone, there were 2,200 motorcycle drivers involved in crashes and 69 motorcycle-related fatalities in the Garden State.
However, some of these crashes were preventable.
- Nearly 33% of motorcycle fatalities in 2017 involved riders who had consumed alcohol.
- 26% of motorcycle fatalities involved unsafe speed as a contributing factor.
- 24% of motorcycle fatalities involved driver inattention.
- 22% of people killed in New Jersey motorcycle crashes did not have the required motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license, which suggests that they were inexperienced riders.
- 40% of motorcycle fatalities occur at turns and corners and might be preventable by slowing down to maneuver a turn.
New Jersey motorcycle insurance requirements
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission defines a motorcycle as “any vehicle with attached motors,” which includes motorized bicycles and 3-wheelers. Just like passenger cars, a motorcycle owner must have the following minimum coverage:
- $15,000 for bodily injury per person
- $30,000 for total bodily injury per accident
- $5,000 for property damage
There are options for additional coverage if you prefer more protection than minimum requirements.
New Jersey also requires Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. If you’re injured in an accident, you can make a claim under your own PIP insurance policy to get immediate coverage for your medical treatment. But PIP might not cover the extent of your costs if you’ve suffered serious injuries.
Your insurance policy offers 2 options that affect your right to sue another driver for additional costs related to the accident:
- Unlimited right to sue: Allows you to retain the right to sue a person who caused an auto accident for pain and suffering for any injury.
- Limited right to sue: You can only sue the person who injured you in an accident for pain and suffering if your injury is one of the following:
- Loss of body part
- Significant disfigurement or scarring
- Displaced fracture
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent injury (where an organ or body part will not heal to normal function, even with medical treatment)
- Wrongful death
For most people, it’s recommended to select the option that would allow you to sue without limitation. Although your premium might be a little higher, it would provide more legal options in the event of a serious motorcycle wreck.
Liability in a New Jersey motorcycle accident
New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state. Your own PIP insurance policy pays for medical treatment-related costs regardless of whether you were at fault or the accident was the fault of the other driver.
However, that’s not the end of the story.
Many motorcycle accidents result in serious injuries, and they often have costs higher than what’s covered under your PIP insurance. If that happens, it’s going to be important to know who was liable for the accident.
New Jersey follows a modified comparative fault system (51% rule). In order to recover damages in any personal injury, you must be found to be less than 51% at fault for the accident.
When you file a report with your insurer, the company will conduct an investigation to determine fault. Your insurer will evaluate evidence including police reports, witness statements, drivers’ accounts, and other forms of evidence to assign a percentage of fault to each involved party.
If you were at fault for any part of the accident, the insurance company will reduce any compensation you’d receive from other drivers based on that percentage of fault. If you were mostly or completely responsible for the accident (51% or more), you cannot collect damages from the other driver’s insurance company.
How bias affects your legal claim in a motorcycle accident
Sometimes, it’s harder for a motorcyclist to reach a fair settlement after an accident than it is for the driver of a passenger car.
That’s because there’s a perception that motorcyclists are more likely to speed, take risks, weave through traffic, practice lane splitting, and drive irresponsibly. But, as motorcyclists know, most follow road rules, are courteous, and are just as concerned about their safety as anyone else.
Even so, this bias can affect how law enforcement, judges and juries, other drivers, and witnesses perceive an accident as being the motorcyclist’s fault.
Here’s how motorcyclist bias could affect the outcome of your claim:
- Presumption of liability. Since motorcyclists face a stereotype that they’re reckless on the road, police officers, insurance adjusters, and a jury will often assume that the motorcyclist is at least partially to blame.
- Low settlement offer. An insurance adjuster will often offer a motorcyclist a lowball settlement that doesn’t cover the extent of their injuries.
- Reduced damage award. In a jury trial, a motorcyclist might receive a smaller damage award compared to a car accident victim for similar injuries because the jury members have an implicit bias against the rider.
It’s not fair, but motorcycle bias happens. Here are ways to avoid (or reduce) the amount of bias you experience as a motorcyclist:
- Be kind. If you’ve been involved in a collision, show concern for the other driver’s condition. Don’t make accusations of fault, and be courteous. You shouldn’t apologize because an apology can come across as an admission of fault, but you can be concerned without being apologetic. If you’re in court and the other driver is on the stand as a witness, those first moments after an accident and their first impressions of your demeanor can make a big difference in their testimony.
- Wear a helmet. Every time. For one thing, it’s the law in New Jersey. But wearing a helmet also demonstrates that you’re concerned for your own safety, and that you’re aware of rules and best practices for motorcycling.
- Drive safely. A witness can testify that they saw you driving carefully, being respectful of other motorists, and traveling at a safe speed. That can help your case and demonstrate that you’re responsible and less likely to have caused an accident than someone who was speeding, weaving, or being otherwise unsafe.
New Jersey motorcycle laws
New Jersey requires a motorcycle endorsement license. If you already have a driver’s license, you may take a basic rider course in order to complete the requirements.
To get a New Jersey motorcycle endorsement after taking the basic rider course, you must:
- Provide course completion documents
- Apply for a motorcycle permit
- Be at least 17 years old (under 18 requires parent or guardian consent)
- Pass the vision test
- Pay the required fee
If you haven’t taken the basic rider course, you must have a motorcycle permit and be at least 18 in order to take the road test. You can get a permit by:
- Applying at your local MVC office
- Passing the MVC knowledge and vision tests
- Making an appointment for a road test
- Paying the required fee
Once you’ve received your permit, you must practice riding for at least 20 days before taking the road test. When you pass the road test and pay the fee, you can get your motorcycle endorsement.
If you don’t have a driver’s license, you can get a motorcycle endorsement after applying for a permit, practice riding for at least 6 months if you’re under age 21 or 3 months if you’re over 21, or by taking the basic rider course before taking your road test. You will have probationary riding privileges for 1 year before you earn an unrestricted motorcycle license.
New Jersey motorcycle helmet & equipment laws
New Jersey requires that every motorcycle driver and passenger must wear a helmet (New Jersey Revised Statutes 39:3-76.7).
The helmet must be secure and correctly sized for each rider, including neck and chin straps. The helmet must have reflective material and be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
New Jersey also requires a rider to wear protective goggles, a face shield, or have an approved windscreen on the motorcycle.
Lane splitting in New Jersey
Lane splitting is the practice of riding in between 2 adjacent lanes of traffic. Lane splitting is illegal in some states, but it’s not prohibited in New Jersey. Although it’s not against the law, there’s no law that specifically allows it, either.
In other words, you must ride safely while lane splitting, which means checking your blind spot to make sure it’s safe to change lanes and taking other precautions. However, if an accident happens while you were lane splitting, the practice doesn’t make you automatically at fault for the accident.
Common causes of motorcycle accident injuries
Most motorcycle accidents happen between a motorcycle and a car. While there’s no limit to the ways in which an accident can happen, here are 9 of the most frequent causes:
|Unsafe lane changes
|If a car driver fails to check their blind spot when changing lanes, an unseen motorcyclist can get hit.
|Speeding can be either on the part of the motorcyclist or a car driver. It’s a major cause of motor vehicle accidents because speeding decreases the chance that a driver will see and react to other vehicles or obstacles in the amount of time required to prevent a collision.
|Driving under the influence (DUI)
|Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle or motorcycle safely.
|Lane splitting can be especially dangerous for an inexperienced motorcyclist.
|Any sudden stop can be dangerous to a motorcyclist, whether they’re the vehicle that needs to stop and they’re rear-ended by a car or if they’re behind a car that stops abruptly.
|Often, new or inexperienced motorcyclists have accidents because they’re not yet adept at maneuvering their bikes.
You should practice operating a motorcycle on a closed course or in a safe spot like an empty parking lot or sparsely traveled road until you feel comfortable enough to expertly navigate in traffic.
|Many motorcycle accidents happen because the motorcyclist misjudged the distance or speed of an oncoming car, or made a right-of-way error.
A car making a left-hand turn is the single most dangerous situation for a motorcyclist. Nearly half of all motorcycle/car accidents happen in this situation at an intersection.
Often, it’s because the motorcycle proceeds straight through the intersection or attempts to pass or overtake the car.
|Dangerous road conditions
|Poor signs or signals, pavement cracks or holes, debris, and other conditions can contribute to a motorcycle accident.
|Although a defect in a motorcycle’s manufacturing or maintenance can have catastrophic effects, motorcycle accidents from defective vehicles are less common than other kinds of accidents.
Common motorcycle accident injuries
When you’re driving a car, the frame of the car (and airbags, along with other safety features) can sometimes protect you from becoming more seriously injured in an accident. Certainly, a car can’t always protect you if you’re in an accident at high speed or with a significant impact, but a motorcycle rider has no protection at all in an accident.
Some of the most common motorcycle injuries include:
- 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.
- Head trauma: A blow to the head can cause a fractured skull, concussion, or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- Burns: Motorcycle engine parts can be very hot, and contact can cause 2nd- or 3rd-degree burns.
- Neck and spine injuries: Herniated discs, paralysis, cracked vertebrae, or death can be the result of a motorcycle-related neck or spine injury.
- Soft tissue injuries: Sprains, strains, or other injuries to muscles, tendons or ligaments can cause serious and ongoing pain.
- Fractures: A fracture is one of the most common injuries, as bones can break from impact with another vehicle or the road.
- Internal injuries: Any injury to the organs (like lungs, spleen, kidneys, intestines, etc.) can result in bleeding or other complications.
There are some things you can do to stay safe. Safety goggles, leathers, protective gloves, and boots or other durable footwear can help protect you from injuries like road rash and other cuts or abrasions and eye damage.
Recovering damages after a motorcycle crash
If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident, you might be able to recover damages for your injuries. “Damages” are financial compensation owed to a plaintiff so they can recover the costs associated with the accident.
You can recover these damages after a motorcycle accident:
- Medical treatment, including hospital and doctor visits, medication, surgeries or other procedures, etc.
- Lost wages, past and future, for time off from work as a result of the injury
- Compensation for loss of consortium and loss of ability to enjoy the activities of daily life
- Pain and suffering, or emotional distress
- Property damage
- Wrongful death (If you lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, you might be able to recover damages to cover the above expenses on their behalf, in addition to your own causes of action including emotional distress.)
What to do after a New Jersey motorcycle accident
You should handle a motorcycle accident in the same way you would a car accident.
Take these steps after a motorcycle accident:
- 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 a concussion) that might not have immediate symptoms but that appear later. It’s essential that you have an immediate medical evaluation because it can be more difficult to get an insurance settlement or win a personal injury claim otherwise.
- Call the police. A police report is one of the most important pieces of evidence for your claim. New Jersey requires that any crash that results in death, injury, or any property damage more than $500 is reported immediately to the MVC. A police report will be submitted automatically to fulfill that requirement.
- Document the scene. Even with the police on scene, there might be evidence that isn’t included in the police report. If you’re able to do so, take photographs of the scene, get contact information from witnesses, and write down the driver’s license numbers, vehicle registrations, license plate numbers, and insurance information for all people involved.
- Call your insurance company.
Although it’s recommended to have your lawyer maintain communication with the insurance company, you should make the initial report to your insurer immediately after the accident if you don’t have a lawyer yet.
Some insurance companies require that an accident is reported within a certain period of time or they can deny the claim. You shouldn’t discuss fault. Simply report that the accident happened and the facts (date, time, location, involved drivers), then let your lawyer handle the rest.
- Consult a lawyer. A New Jersey motorcycle accident lawyer is the best person to help you get relief. The insurance company will try to provide the least amount of money possible in a settlement, but your lawyer will try to maximize your payout. The lawyer has access to experts, accident reconstructionists, accountants, and medical professionals who can provide an accurate picture of how the accident happened, who’s at fault, and what your long-term costs are likely to be.
The Enjuris law firm directory is a free online source to find a New Jersey accident lawyer near you who can help you get the compensation you need after a motorcycle crash.