Riding a motorcycle through the state of Texas can be both fun and economical, but what happens if a careless driver steers their vehicle into yours?
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2015, nearly 500 lost their lives in motorcycle accidents in Texas and nearly 2,000 others suffered incapacitating injuries.
It is important to understand that motorcycle accidents can differ from car accidents in how they are handled and the financial compensation that you might receive.
Motorcyclists often face unjustified biases while trying to pursue claims. Questions may quickly be asserted about the condition of the vehicle and the roads, and bike riders may have to worry about questions concerning whether they were wearing a helmet or proper leathers.
All of this can cloud the core issue in any injury claim: Who was actually at fault for the incident?
In all injury cases, the duty of care is an important matter, but it becomes even more important when dealing with a claim involving a motorcycle. The small size and increased mobility of a bike makes it a unique challenge for other drivers to deal with.
For example, a driver attempting to make a left-hand turn from a stop sign has a higher probability of not noticing an oncoming motorcycle. That can lead to the operator of a car or truck turning directly into a motorcyclist who's traveling at a high rate of speed.
Making a point to look for a possible motorcycle approaching is part of any driver's duty of care, just as they would be expected to look for pedestrians crossing the street.
Motorcyclists also have their own duty of care while operating their bikes. For example, the state of Texas does not recognize lane splitting, the practice of going between cars in slow traffic on the expressway, as legal.
Texas doesn't have a strict helmet law, and instead requires anyone who wishes to ride without a helmet to complete a safety course and carry additional insurance. Also, riders below the age of 21 must wear helmets.
The road conditions surrounding a vehicle accident can change a situation drastically, and this can be the case in scenarios involving motorbikes.
Because a motorcycle is small, it can be difficult to see under certain conditions, such as at night or when the sun is low in the sky. Another driver's duty of care doesn't change under these circumstances, but these factors can have an impact on just how liable a person may be found for causing an accident.
Other conditions, such as rain, can become big factors in accidents – especially if a bike skids out.
In these cases, a motorcyclist needs to be able to demonstrate their own level of care. A consistent history of maintaining the bike can be shown through an inspection record. Other important factors, such as replacing tires before they're worn, may also be looked at.
Once it can be proven that the other driver is to blame for the accident, the focus then turns to what damages the victim is entitled to receive. Damages are the costs associated with the harm that the defendant caused.
The state of Texas typically recognizes two types of damages in most injury cases: special and general.
Special damages are those that can clearly be tied to a specific injury, such as physical harm to your body or the destruction of your property.
These damages may include:
General damages are harder to quantify, what we generally think of as pain and suffering.
Enjuris offers a post-accident journal template to document your pain and suffering, reduced daily capabilities and other ways the accident has impacted your life. This information can be helpful in either an insurance claim or jury trial.
For motorcycle accident claims in Texas, there is no legal limit on damages that can be claimed.
The amount of damages to which the victim is entitled depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury, the amount of time that the victim had to be off work to recover for the damages, the extent of the victim's pain and whether the victim was able to recover from his or her sustained injuries.
The biggest hurdle in the state is the statute of limitations. The state requires claimants to file their paperwork within two years of an incident involving an individual or a corporate entity. If you're filing a claim against an agency of the state of Texas, you only six months to start the process.
Although not required to do so by law, courts in Texas encourage the use of a multiplier to calculate general damages. This usually ranges from one to five times the special damages award. The multiplier is based on the grievousness of the injuries sustained.
For example, a motorcycle rider who was hit, skidded out and sustained skin damage might get a 2X multiplier while someone who lost a leg or an eye might get a 5X multiplier. Typically, courts in Texas try to avoid going above the 5X multiple unless there are demonstrable reasons for doing so, such as a deformity that was cheap to address from a medical standpoint but severely life-altering.
After an accident, the insurance companies and personal injury lawyers will first attempt to determine who was liable.
In motor vehicle accident cases, this usually involves determining which party acted in a careless way that caused the accident to occur. This could include:
Thanks to a stubborn bias that still exists against bikers, motorcycle accident victims can find receiving fair compensation a challenge.
Insurance adjusters and jury members may presume that bikers are dangerous and careless, and therefore automatically to blame for any accident.
However, the reality is that many accidents involving motorcycles are caused when drivers of passenger vehicles do not keep a proper lookout for bikers; or because road hazards are more dangerous for bikes than cars.
The division of fault has a major bearing on how much money you might be awarded in a settlement or lawsuit.
Texas is a state where fault is shared, meaning that any insurance company or jury is going to be asked to arrive at a percentage to be assigned to both parties.
It is rare that one party is found to be entirely responsible for an incident. If a claimant is found to be more than 50% responsible for an accident, then the claim will be dismissed.
After fault has been assigned, the percentage will be applied to the damages. If the award is one million dollars and the responsible party was found to be 70% at fault, the final award would be $700,000.
If you are involved in an accident, the actions you take immediately afterward could have an impact on your case for financial compensation. Chances are, if you're reading this, the accident has already happened. If not, keep these general guidelines in mind:
Unless you are immediately carted off by an ambulance due to your injuries, stay at the scene of the accident. Call the police and have an accident report completed.
If possible, get the other driver's name, address, driver's license number, phone number and license plate. Additionally, ask for the driver's insurance carrier and policy number. If any eyewitnesses were present, get their contact information.
Do not say anything at the scene of the accident other than what is necessary to get the information mentioned above. Do not talk about the accident, apologize for the accident or say that you have not been injured.
Even if you don't feel like you need medical attention, make sure you get checked out. Many injuries are not readily apparent at the time of an accident, and the fact that you checked in with a doctor could be very important in any insurance claim.
The days following an accident can be challenging, but it's important to begin documenting the situation as quickly as possible.
Medical bills and loss of property may be easier to quantify, but you also should maintain a journal that tracks how you feel on a day-by-day basis. Be as clear and honest as possible in your documentation of your injuries, and absolutely do not try to prop up the numbers by claiming more suffering than actually occurred.
These claims can be presented to your attorney as the basis of your case, but the insurance company will also make an effort to invalidate anything that seems off.
Demonstrating fault in motorcycle cases can be a unique problem. If you're looking to file a claim, it may be wise to retain counsel. By clearly documenting your injuries and demonstrating the other party's fault, you may be able to arrive at a settlement more quickly.
After you retain the services of a qualified personal injury attorney, he or she may ask a series of questions to help determine the cause of your accident, the strength of your case and any potential pitfalls that may arise. Questions will include:
Check out the Enjuris law firm directory for Texas if you need a place to get started. Most attorneys will be happy to talk to you at no charge, and you will be able to have your questions answered.