Legal Rights After a New York Motorcycle Accident

NY motorcycle injury

Know New York’s motorcycle laws, rules, and your rights before you get on the road

A motorcycle accident can leave you with long-lasting or permanent injuries. If you were injured in a New York motorcycle crash, you might be able to recover costs for your medical treatments, lost wages, and other related expenses. Here’s what to do if you need to recover damages after an accident.

Some car accidents are handled in a pretty straightforward way. When there’s no dispute as to which driver is at fault, and when injuries are fairly minor, claims are often settled through insurance and there’s no legal issue.

But motorcycle accidents are often more complicated than a car accident.

There are a few reasons for this. First, motorcycle accidents tend to result in more serious injuries. Second, there are some situations when witnesses, other drivers, police officers, and even the courts can be biased against motorcyclists, which affects the outcome of your legal case.

New York motorcycle crash statistics

The New York State Health Department reported motorcycle crash statistics for the years 2012-2014. During that time, there was an average of 141 deaths per year for motorcyclists, or 0.7 of every 100,000 New York residents.

There was an average of 1,558 hospitalizations each year of motorcyclists, and 4,458 emergency department visits. This figure represents nearly 23 out of 100,000 New York residents. Unfortunately, the rates of injury are continuing to increase, rather than decrease.

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 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 safely.
Lane splitting This is the practice of riding a motorcycle in between two lanes of traffic (also called traffic filtering, lane-sharing, or stripe-riding). It’s especially dangerous for an inexperienced motorcyclist. Lane splitting is illegal in New York.
Sudden stopping 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.
Inexperience 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.
Left-turn accidents 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
  • 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.
Motorcycle defects 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.
Enjuris tip: Some people believe that motorcyclists wear leather for style (to achieve that “biker look”). In reality, though, leather provides better protection against road rash and other injuries than regular clothes do. There’s some leather apparel for motorcyclists that’s specifically designed for summer wear so it’s not too hot.

Protecting yourself from motorcycle injuries

If a motorcyclist is involved in a serious accident, protective equipment and clothes might not prevent all injuries. But, sometimes they can benefit you by reducing the road rash or other abrasions.

These items can protect you from road rash and other injuries:

  • Safety goggles or other eye protection to avoid traumatic scrapes to the eyes. They could also prevent an accident from happening by protecting you from temporarily becoming blinded by dust or debris.
  • Leather or ballistic nylon clothes that are durable and resistant act as an additional layer of skin (that’s tougher than your own skin).
  • Protective gloves can prevent your hands from being scraped or cut.
  • Boots or durable footwear provides traction as you ride, but they also protect your feet from abrasion if you need to suddenly brake and put your foot down.

NYS motorcycle helmet laws

All motorcycle drivers and passengers in New York State are required to wear a helmet.

New York also requires protective eyewear. In addition, both helmets and eye protection are required for Class A and B mopeds with a top speed of 20 mph or higher.

A helmet worn in New York must meet federal motor vehicle safety standards under section 571.218. Your helmet should include a sticker from the US DOT if it meets the standard. A “novelty helmet” does not meet the federal standard.

Is your helmet safe?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says you can check these features to determine how well your helmet might protect you in a crash:

  • Thick inner liner: The federal standard for inner liners is about 1 inch-thick firm polystyrene foam. A soft foam padding or bare plastic shell with no lining is unsafe.
  • Chin strap and rivets: To meet the federal standard, your helmet must have a sturdy chin strap and solid rivets.
  • Helmet weight: A safe helmet must weigh more than 1 pound. Most helmets that meet federal safety standards weigh 3 pounds.
  • Design and style: Your helmet may have visor fasteners, but nothing (including decorations) can protrude past two-tenths of an inch from the surface of the helmet.
  • Markings and labels: A helmet that meets federal standards has a sticker on the outside that says “DOT”. Some novelty helmet sellers will provide a separate DOT-type sticker for a non-complying helmet. These are invalid and do not indicate that the helmet meets federal safety standards.

Inside the helmet, there should be a label that indicates that the helmet was manufactured in accordance with Snell or ANSI standards. The law also requires that there’s an interior label with the manufacturer’s name, model, size, month and year of manufacture, construction material, and owner information.

There are counterfeit DOT stickers, and some helmets even have false manufacturer labels. Purchase a helmet from a reputable seller in order to ensure that it meets safety standards.

New York motorcycle laws

A New York motorcycle driver must have a Class M or MJ operator’s license or learner’s permit. To obtain a learner’s permit, you must pass a written exam. If you’re operating a motorcycle with a learner’s permit, you must be supervised by a driver with a motorcycle license. The driver must be no more than ¼ mile from the learner, and it’s recommended that the learner have 30 hours of practice before their road test to become fully licensed.

The following laws also apply in New York:

  • You must use daytime headlights when driving a motorcycle.
  • If you have a passenger, a passenger seat and footrest is required.
  • You may only have one earphone when wearing a motorcycle helmet speaker.
  • Motorcycles must have this equipment:

    • Headlight, taillight, stop lamp, license plate lamp
    • At least one red rear reflector
    • Brakes on both wheels (if manufactured after 1971)
    • Directional signals (if manufactured after 1985)
    • Turn signals (if manufactured after 1985)
    • Horn or audible warning device
    • One or more rearview mirrors, and one on each handlebar is recommended
    • Muffler
    • Handlebars or grips at shoulder height of the rider

What to do after a New York motorcycle accident

Regardless of how careful you are and how protective your clothes and helmet might be, accidents happen. Just like the occasional car accident is a fact of life for most people, if you ride a motorcycle frequently, a motorcycle accident could happen to you.

If you’re in a motorcycle accident, you should handle it much the same as you would a car accident.

  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 have an immediate medical evaluation because it can be much more difficult to get an insurance settlement or win a personal injury claim otherwise.
  2. Call the police. New York requires that a crash that results in death, injury, or property damage totaling more than $1,000 must be reported within 10 days of the collision. 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 get some necessary information. It’s important to have any involved drivers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers; insurance information; vehicle information including license plates and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), along with make, model, and year.
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 affected the accident.
  1. 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 on filing a claim, but you still need to let the insurance company know that the accident happened.
  2. Consult a New York motorcycle accident lawyer. In a “regular” car crash, an accident can often be resolved by the drivers’ insurance adjusters negotiating a settlement. But a motorcycle accident is often more complicated. Both drivers and insurance companies can have “motorcycle bias.” This bias means they might assume that just because you were on a motorcycle, you must have been driving irresponsibly or at fault for the accident. A lawyer can help fight bias and ensure that you receive what you deserve. Motorcyclists have the same rights as car drivers and you deserve to recover damages, too.
Enjuris tip: You can read more here about motorcycle bias and how it can affect your case.

What you can recover after a motorcycle accident

“Damages” are the financial compensation owed to a plaintiff after an injury. If you were injured, you can recover money to cover these costs:

  • 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.

New York is a comparative negligence state

Some accidents are clearly the fault of one driver.

In many situations, though, there’s no driver who’s completely at fault. The court (or insurance company) will often find that there’s something the other driver (or motorcyclist) could’ve done differently that would’ve prevented the accident.

It might be that the driver was following all the road rules and driving responsibly, but if they had braked a moment sooner, swerved out of someone’s way or taken some other action, the accident might not have occurred.

In some states, including New York, the court applies a concept called comparative negligence.

This means if the defendant is 90% liable, for instance, the plaintiff’s award would be reduced by 10%. In other words, the plaintiff would recover damages minus the percentage for which they’re at fault.

It also goes the other way — if the plaintiff is 99% at fault, they could still recover 1% of the damages.

If you or your loved one suffered a New York motorcycle accident injury, you might be eligible to recover damages. But your insurance company isn’t always your ally. Remember, the insurance company’s objective is to settle the claim by paying out the least amount of money. Your personal injury lawyer works for YOU, and their job is to get you the most money possible for your recovery.

Need to find an experienced motorcycle accident attorney near you? Enjuris offers a free attorney directory so you can find the New York lawyer who’s ready to take your case.


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