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When to call a motorcycle accident lawyer and what to do after a wreck
Where do you love to ride?
In Wisconsin, lots of motorcycle enthusiasts head right to the Door Peninsula on Bay Shore Drive, where they head up County Highway B to just north of Egg Harbor and loop back around the entire peninsula for a day-long ride with gorgeous scenery. Or, maybe you prefer the Kettle Moraine State Forest, starting west of Sheboygan. Perhaps you love the Menominee Indian Reservation that follows the Wolf River.
These are just a few of the beautiful, exhilarating rides you could take through the visually stunning Badger State.
However, while getting out in the fresh air and enjoying yourself is important and healthy, there are risks inherent to riding a motorcycle.
Wisconsin motorcycle crash statistics
There are lots of reasons why riding a motorcycle can be more dangerous than traveling in a car. Primarily, it's because a car's frame is built to protect occupants. On a bike, there's nothing that separates you from the open road and the hard pavement apart from your clothes and equipment.
Let's take a look at the numbers of motorcycle crashes and fatalities in Wisconsin in recent years:
As you can see, serious injuries and fatalities are not an everyday occurrence, but they do happen. They also happen at a greater rate for motorcyclists than for occupants of other vehicles. The number of motorcyclist fatalities in 2020 was about a quarter of the number of total fatalities, but there are also far fewer motorcycles on the road than there are cars.
So, before you hit the open road, it's important to know (and follow) Wisconsin's laws and regulations for motorcyclists.
Wisconsin motorcycle laws
As long as I know I'm riding safely, what does it matter?
Because following the laws matters a lot if you're involved in a Wisconsin motorcycle accident.
There are 2 main reasons why:
1. Wisconsin is an at-fault liability state
Simply put, if you cause an accident, then you're responsible for paying for the costs for injuries — yours and those of any other injured person.
If you're injured in an accident caused by someone else, you have 3 options for recovering costs:
- You can pursue a claim through your own insurance company (which will likely pursue a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver's insurance).
- You can make a claim against the at-fault driver's insurance company.
- You can file a personal injury lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit is available if you've exhausted all insurance options, or if the settlement offered by insurance is too low to cover all of your expenses. The other reason might be if you've endured serious injury that involves pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, or other compensable damages that insurance doesn't cover.
2. Wisconsin follows the modified comparative fault rule
That's a lot of legal jargon that simply means if the injured person is 51% or more at fault for the accident, then they cannot recover any damages. If they have 50% or less of the liability (or fault) for the accident, they can recover damages that are reduced by the amount for which they are at fault.
For example, if a plaintiff's damages were $40,000 but the plaintiff was found to be 10% liable for their own injuries, then the damages are reduced by 10%. Instead of receiving $40,000, the plaintiff would be eligible for $36,000, which is 10% less.
Putting it all together:
This sounds like a lot of legal maneuvering, and it is.
But these are the precise reasons why following the laws carefully — particularly as a motorcyclist — can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a legal claim if you ever need to make one.
Motorcycle bias, or the predisposition of some people to believe that all motorcyclists are reckless and therefore always responsible for an accident, can affect the outcome of your claim (i.e. how much money you can recover).
Aside from that issue which could make it more difficult to recover compensation, there's also the fact that if you want to recover money to cover your damages, you don't want the courts or insurance company to find fault with any aspect to how you're riding... that means having all the required equipment, maintenance, and licensing; riding within the speed limit; and generally following applicable road rules.
And, while there are 2 main legal and financial reasons to be familiar with and follow Wisconsin motorcycle laws, the third (and equally important) reason is because the rules are there to keep you and others safe on the road.
Motorcycle license requirements
In Wisconsin, motorcyclists must have a Class M motorcycle license or motorcycle instruction permit.
To receive a permit, you must pass a:
- Motorcycle knowledge test
- Sign test
- Vision screening
Wisconsin motorcycle insurance laws
A motorcycle owner must have the following minimum insurance coverage:
- $10,000 in property damage coverage for a single accident
- $25,000 in bodily injury coverage for 1 person in a single accident
- $50,000 in bodily injury coverage for injury or death to more than 1 person in a single accident
Wisconsin laws for personal protective motorcycle gear and equipment
Helmets are required for all riders and passengers under the age of 18 or who haven't completed a rider education course. A rider over 18 who has a full motorcycle license is not required to wear a helmet by law, though we highly recommend doing so since helmets reduce your risk of injury and death drastically in the event of a crash.
Eye protection is required for all motorcycle operators and riders. This includes a windscreen, helmet shield, and glasses or goggles. You're not permitted to wear tinted glasses (i.e. sunglasses) at night unless they are prescription glasses. The exception to the protective eyewear rule is if you have a windshield that is at least 15 inches above the handlebars; if that's the case, you are not required to wear eye protection.
Wisconsin requires that a motorcycle's headlights are on anytime it is in use.
A motorcycle must also have turn signals, a rear-view mirror, a muffler, and handlebars that are 30 inches or fewer above seat level.
Lastly, a motorcycle must have a passenger seat and footrest if there is a passenger.
Motorcycle road rules in Wisconsin
A motorcycle is entitled to use the full traffic lane. Two motorcyclists may ride abreast in a single lane.
Lane splitting is illegal in Wisconsin. This is the practice of riding in between 2 lanes of traffic moving the same direction. While lane splitting is permitted in some states, it is not allowed in Wisconsin. A motorcyclist should not travel faster than other traffic or remain in a vehicle's blind spot.
Why motorcycle bias matters
There seems to be a widespread perception that all motorcyclists take more risks than the average car driver, or that motorcyclists are less responsible on the road.
Yes, there are some motorcyclists who are risk-takers and who speed, weave, and drive irresponsibly. But so do some car drivers. Most motorcyclists simply enjoy the experience of riding and want to get to their destination safely.
So how might this bias play out for injured motorcyclists after a crash?
When it comes to a motorcycle accident lawsuit, stigma may result in several negative outcomes:
- Presumption of liability. Since motorcyclists face a stereotype that they're reckless on the road, police officers, insurance adjusters, and a jury may come in with the assumption that the motorcyclist is at fault.
- Low settlement offer. For the same reasons, 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 than a car accident victim for similar injuries because the jury members have an implicit bias against the rider.
Common causes of motorcycle accidents
One of the most common causes of motorcycle crashes (and most accidents, generally) is distracted driving.
It's not easy to text while riding a motorcycle, but you're not the only driver on the road — distractions can be any driver can be distracted behind the wheel or handlebars, whether it's a motorcyclist, car driver, truck driver, bicyclist, or any other road user.
Distracted driving doesn't have to be texting, either. It could be any other use of an electronic device, or for a motorcyclist it could be:
- Eating or drinking
- Using a navigation device
- Something distracting that happens on the side of the road or elsewhere
Alcohol or other substances
Wisconsin laws prohibit operating a motorcycle or other vehicle if the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher.
Wisconsin has laws for OWI, or operating while intoxicated. This is the legal equivalent to a DWI in another state. The law includes any substance that would cause a person to be incapable of driving safely. It also includes any detectable amount of certain restricted controlled substances like methamphetamine.
Importantly, though, it's not just about the penalties — driving under the influence is extremely dangerous, particularly for motorcyclists. If a driver is impaired by a substance, their reactions are slowed, behavior is erratic, and decision-making skills are compromised.
As a motorcyclist, drunk driving is even more dangerous than in a car because one small swerve or accidental motion could have deadly consequences.
Rear-end or lane change accidents
Motorcyclists can scoot into spots that drivers don't expect, and perhaps that they don't see so easily. Many motorcycle accidents happen because a driver making a lane change didn't realize a motorcycle was approaching from behind.
Accidents also involve rear-ending motorcyclists — this is a particularly common type of collision for all kinds of vehicles. The difference is that when 2 cars have a rear-end accident ("fender-bender"), it often results in only minor injuries. When one vehicle is a motorcycle, the rider can be seriously injured.
Part of the thrill of riding a motorcycle can be speed, but you're still bound to the speed limits of the road you're traveling.
However, many motorcyclist accidents happen because the cars around them are speeding.
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.
- Boots or durable footwear provide traction as you ride, but they also protect your feet from abrasion if you need to suddenly brake and put your foot down.
- Leather or ballistic nylon clothes that are durable and resistant act as an additional layer of skin (that's tougher than your own skin) to protect you from suffering road rash if you lay the bike down.
- Protective gloves can prevent your hands from being scraped or cut.
What to do after a Wisconsin 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 crash, you should handle it similarly to how you would any other vehicle collision.
- 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 have delayed symptoms. 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.
- Call the police. 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. The police report also is an extra document that should contain all involved parties' and witnesses' contact information.
- 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 write down any involved drivers' names, addresses, and phone numbers; insurance information; vehicle information including license plates and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), along with the vehicle make, model, and year.
- 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.
- Consult an injury 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 because of issues related to motorcycle bias and because of the higher potential for serious or life-threatening injuries.
Need legal advice? You can find an experienced Wisconsin motorcycle accident lawyer in the Enjuris law firm directory.
Did you know that motorcycle accident law varies by state?
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What does an injury lawyer do?
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more