Guide to Tennessee Motorcycle Accident Injury Lawsuits
Motorcycle bias is real, and it can affect the outcome of your personal injury case
Motorcycles have been a beloved form of recreation for decades. But they can also be very dangerous, and some car drivers don’t respect motorcyclists as much as they do other drivers of “doored” vehicles. Sometimes, biases by drivers, witnesses, police officers, insurance companies, and even juries can affect the legal outcome of a claim. Here’s what you can do to get the damages you deserve after a motorcycle accident in the Volunteer State.
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There were 5,172 motorcyclist fatalities in 2017, and more than 8.7 million registered motorcycles nationwide. To save you the math, that works out to nearly 60 fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles, and nearly 26 fatalities per 100 million motorcycle miles traveled.
Those might not sound like high numbers but — like any statistic — each one represents a person who had a family and life to live, and whose death might have been preventable.
- 28% of motorcyclists killed in 2017 were intoxicated.
- In 2018, only 71% of motorcyclists were found to be wearing DOT-compliant helmets.
- Speeding tends to be a major factor in motorcycle crashes.
- An older rider is more likely to be seriously injured than a younger rider. This is because of declines in vision and reaction time, along with larger bikes favored by older riders that tend to roll over more often.
Tennessee motorcycle licensing requirements
Tennessee Class M motorcycle operator license
A licensed motorcycle rider age 16 or older may hold a Class M license. They will need to pass a vision screening, knowledge test, motorcycle pre-trip inspection, and on-cycle ability skills test. If they don’t already have a Class D or PD license, they’ll also need to pass the regular rules of the road knowledge test.
Tennessee drivers also have the option to get a motorcycle-only license or a motorcycle-secondary license, which is in addition to a regular driver’s license.
Class M limited license: This is a license to drive a 2- or 3-wheeled vehicle of no more than 125 cubic centimeters, and can be issued to a person 15 years old or older. A minor (under age 15) can apply for a restricted license for this type of motorized bicycle that is 50 cc or fewer. The person must pass a written test, vision test, and skills test.
Motorcycle learner permit: A driver who is age 15 or older may receive a learner permit with certain restrictions.
- Motorcycle with a maximum cylinder size of 650 cubic centimeters.
- No passengers allowed.
- Not allowed on interstate highways or roadways otherwise marked.
- Operation only during daylight, between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 p.m.
- No more than 20 miles from the driver’s home. A minor with a motorized bicycle permit may only ride within 7 miles of their home.
- At age 16, the holder may exchange the permit for a license in order to continue to drive a motorcycle.
- Permit is valid for 1 year from the date of issuance.
Tennessee motorcycle equipment requirements
A Tennessee motorcycle is required to be equipped with the following:
- Permanent seat for each rider. A passenger may not ride on a motorcycle that isn’t designed to carry a second person.
- Headlights. A motorcycle must have headlights on at all times.
- Windshield or safety goggles. The windshield must meet DOT regulations or any operator or passenger must wear safety goggles or impact-resistant glasses or a helmet with a face shield.
- Rearview mirror. The mirror must be mounted on the left handlebar in an upright position.
- Footrest. The driver and passenger must each have a footrest.
- Taillights. There must be at least 1 red taillight and 1 red stop light (though the stop light can be included in the tail light).
- Muffler. A motorcycle must have a muffler that works correctly and constantly. You may not have a “straight pipe.”
Tennessee motorcycle helmet law
Tennessee adopted a universal helmet law in 1967. Any person riding a motorcycle must wear a crash helmet that meets federal standard 49 CFR 571.218.
- A driver or passenger who is 21 or older is not required to wear a helmet that meets penetration standards, continuous contour standard, or labeling standard. A helmet worn by a person over 21 years old must include a label that indicates that it complies with ASTM, CSPM, or Snell Foundation standards if it is exempt from the other requirements.
- A person under age 21 must wear a DOT-approved helmet.
- A person age 18 or older is not required to wear a helmet if riding a motorcycle in a parade at a speed of 30 miles per hour or less.
Enjuris tip: Tennessee law requires that riders of motorcycles and motorized bikes (including mopeds) wear helmets at all times. This applies to both drivers and passengers, no matter their ages.
Tennessee on-road motorcycle laws
Here are 5 rules that impact how motorcyclists are allowed to behave on Tennessee roads:
- A motorcycle may use the full lane and another vehicle isn’t permitted to prevent a motorcycle from using a full lane.
- A motorcyclist may not overtake or pass another vehicle in the same lane (the exception being police officers in their official duties).
- A motorcyclist may not drive between traffic lanes or rows of vehicles (commonly known as “lane splitting”).
- No more than 2 motorcycles may ride side by side in a single lane.
- A motorcycle is permitted to use a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.
There’s a difference between riding among large trucks or buses and riding with cars. If you’re involved in an accident with a truck or large vehicle, there’s a high risk that you will be seriously injured. But there are a few things you can keep in mind to reduce your risk:
- A truck’s blind spot is larger than a car’s. The blind spot is in front, behind, and on each side. If you can’t see the mirrors on a truck, the truck driver can’t see you.
- A truck takes longer to stop than a car. A truck traveling at 55 miles per hour requires almost 500 feet to come to a complete stop. In contrast, a car can stop in about half that distance.
- A truck requires more maneuvering space, including right turns. They swing wide to the left in order to turn right and can’t usually see a motorcycle behind or alongside them.
- It takes longer to pass a large truck than a regular-sized vehicle.
Common causes of motorcycle accidents
Most motorcycle accidents involve a motorcycle and a car. The most common causes of a motorcycle accident include:
Unsafe lane changes
When a car driver fails to check their blind spot when changing lanes, they can cut off or sideswipe a motorcyclist.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.
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.
This is the practice of riding a motorcycle in between 2 lanes of traffic. Lane splitting is legal in some states but illegal in Tennessee, with the exception of law enforcement or emergency personnel.
You can 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 carefully navigate in traffic.
A lot of 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.
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.
This might include weather-related conditions, as well as poor signs or signals, pavement cracks or holes, debris, or other situations that 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.
What to do after a Tennessee motorcycle accident
If you’re in a motorcycle accident, there are a few actions you can take immediately at the scene that will preserve evidence and can help your legal case. Your immediate medical needs are the first priority, and you should always get a medical evaluation immediately — whether from your own physician, a hospital, or an urgent care center.
Even if you don’t think you’re seriously injured, documentation of your medical condition is very important if you need to file a claim later. Some injury symptoms don’t appear for days or weeks after an accident, and if you fail to get a medical evaluation, it will be hard to prove that your injuries are related to the crash.
Next, take the following steps:
- Call the police. A police report is an important part of your claim documentation.
- Obtain information from the drivers of all involved vehicles. Get each driver’s name, driver’s license number, phone number, vehicle registration, and license plate number. This will be important when dealing with the insurance company.
- Gather information from witnesses. Anyone who saw the accident or who saw you riding responsibly immediately prior to the accident could be a valuable witness. You don’t need to take a statement, but it’s important to get each person’s name and contact information.
- Take photos at the scene. A picture is worth a thousand words. Take photos and video of all the vehicles involved at several angles to show damage. You should also take pictures of road conditions, any other property damage, weather conditions, street signs or signals, or any other factors that might have affected the crash.
Motorcyclist bias and liability
Some people have the perception that motorcyclists are less responsible drivers. Sure, there are motorcyclists who speed, weave, and drive irresponsibly — just like there are car drivers who do the same. But the majority of motorcyclists are good drivers who just want to enjoy the ride and reach their destination safely.
Unfortunately, though, a negative motorcycle bias can lead to more than dirty looks or bystanders rolling their eyes. It can affect a lawsuit that could change the rest of your life.
Here are a few ways that motorcycle bias can affect your personal injury claim:
- Presumption of liability. Police officers, insurance adjusters, and even a judge or jury might assume a motorcyclist is at fault for an accident simply because of stereotypes that they’re more reckless.
- Low settlement offer. For the same reasons that one might presume liability, an insurance adjuster might offer a low settlement that doesn’t cover a motorcyclist’s injuries to the fullest extent.
- Reduced damage award. Lawyers and judges try to seat jury members who don’t have implicit biases in specific cases, but jurors are human and everyone has experiences that predispose them to certain opinions. Unfortunately, sometimes that plays out as reduced damage awards in the courtroom.
How to avoid being a victim of motorcycle bias (3 tips)
Credibility and reputation matter.
If you’re in a motorcycle accident, there are ways to establish yourself as a responsible, caring motorcyclist and it might help your case.
- 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. Don’t feel like you have to apologize, and don’t apologize just to be “nice.” That can affect a lawsuit later if it’s seen as an admission of fault. But... in the simplest, most blunt terms... don’t be a jerk.
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 Tennessee. 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.
Tennessee personal injury negligence laws
Why does it matter so much what the other driver thinks of you?
Perception can’t change the facts, but it can make it harder to prove negligence.
In some states, each driver makes a claim against their own insurance policy after an accident. Tennessee is an at-fault state, which means after an accident, the damages are paid by the insurance company of the driver who was liable for the accident.
Tennessee is also a comparative negligence state. Each driver is assigned a percentage of liability in an accident. A driver who is more than 50% at fault for an accident cannot recover any damages in a lawsuit.
After a Tennessee motorcycle accident, you’ll need to convince the other driver’s insurance company or a jury that the other driver was at fault. If you had any fault for the accident, it needs to be less than 50% in order to recover damages.
Find a Tennessee motorcycle accident lawyer
A motorcycle case might be more difficult to settle than an accident between 2 cars. You could be up against motorcyclist bias (whether or not you realize it), and even the insurance adjusters might not be negotiating on an even playing field.
That’s why you need a personal injury lawyer whose job is to advocate for you and your rights. If you were operating your motorcycle safely and responsibly, you should have all the same rights and privileges as any other driver.
Find a Tennessee motorcycle accident lawyer who will work with you through every step of the process — from gathering evidence to negotiations, to settlement or trial.
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