Personal Injury Claims: Motorcycle Accidents

Helmet and motorcycle on road, the concept of road accidentsMotorcycles are popular—in fact, more than eight million of them are registered in the United States. As a result, every year over 5,000 people die and over 80,000 people are injured in motorcycle crashes. Most of these accidents involve collisions between automobile drivers and motorcyclists, and diligence while driving could have prevented them.

Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle accidents tend to cluster around the same few causes. Below is an outline of these causes:

  • Unsafe lane changes—failing to check their blind spot when changing lanes;
  • Left turns by motorists—turning into the path of an oncoming motorcycle;
  • Door crashes—opening the door of a car into the path of an oncoming motorcycle;
  • Speeding—speeding causes accidents by reducing reaction time, this is especially dangerous on slick roads;
  • DUI—using intoxicants causes accidents by affecting the driver’s decision-making capacity and is the root cause of many dangerous driving mistakes;
  • Lane splitting—driving between two lanes of traffic is illegal in every state except California;
  • Sudden stops—slamming on the brakes causes rear-end accidents that can send a motorcyclist tumbling over a car’s hood;
  • Dangerous road conditions—crumbling pavement, potholes, debris, and lack of warnings (notifying the driver of an upcoming turn, for example); and
  • Motorcycle defects—driving a defective motorcycle.

Automobile drivers cause a great percentage of motorcycle accidents because they simply do not anticipate or lookout for the presence of motorcycles.

How Much Is Your Motorcycle Accident Claim Really Worth?

There is no “average” payout for a motorcycle accident, although the figure of $200,000 is popular on the Internet. Ultimately, motorcycle accident payments vary widely according to the facts of your case. How much your claim is worth depends on a number of factors.

To calculate the value of your claim, consider three factors:

  • Liability—who is liable and to what degree;
  • Damages—the amount of your damages based on how much you can prove with admissible evidence; and
  • Sources of recovery—who among the potential defendants has money to pay a claim.

Liability

You must be able to prove the defendant is liable for the accident using admissible evidence. In some states, it is enough to prove that the defendant violated a traffic law and that this violation was a substantial cause of the accident. Other states allow a defendant to argue that the violation did not constitute negligence under the circumstances.

Comparative Fault

The defendant often tries to argue that you were partially at fault for your own injuries. If you are partially liable for the accident, the state’s comparative negligence law kicks in. In some states, you can recover whatever percentage of your damages that equals the defendant’s percentage of fault, even 1%. In other states, you can only recover if you were no more than 50% at fault (or 51%, depending on the state). A few states will not allow you to recover anything if you were even 1% at fault.

New York is one of only 13 states that follows the pure comparative negligence rule that allows you to recover damages regardless of how much at fault you were for the accident. So even if you were 90% at fault, our state allows you to recover 10% of your damages.

Damages

In law, the truth is useless unless you can prove it. You must prove every penny of your damages with admissible evidence. You are allowed to recover for:

  • Past, present, and future medical bills;
  • Lost earnings (e.g., lost work time while you were in the hospital);
  • Incidental expenses (e.g., child care while you were incapacitated); and
  • Non-economic damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.).

Keep in mind that non-economic damages may well amount to several times the cost of your medical expenses. Because non-economic damages are difficult to measure, they may confuse you and cause you to underestimate the value of your claim. But be sure to demand everything you are entitled to the first time around because you won’t be able to come back for more later.

Wrongful Death

If someone dies in an accident, they can no longer file a lawsuit or negotiate a claim. Every state, however, has enacted a wrongful death statute that allows close relatives or the personal representative of the victim’s probate estate to file a claim over the accident.

Damages for such cases can be substantial are likely to include:

  • funeral and burial expenses;
  • lost earnings;
  • pain and suffering (of the victim);
  • loss of financial support (by dependents); and
  • other amounts.

In some states, you can even claim damages for your own grief over the loss of your loved one.

Sources of Recovery

Asserting a large claim is useless if the defendant doesn’t have the money to pay it. For this reason, you should pursue a “deep pockets” strategy of claiming against a defendant who is able to pay. Following are some examples of alternative defendants:

  • the offending driver’s employer—if the employee was acting within the scope of employment at the time of the accident;
  • the product manufacturer—if a defective product caused or worsened your accident (e.g., airbags, brakes, traffic light, etc.);
  • the city or state government—if a defective traffic light, poor road maintenance, etc., caused or contributed to the accident;
  • a bar or nightclub—if drunk driving caused the accident, the bar or nightclub that served alcohol to the offending driver;
  • a truck maintenance company—if poor truck maintenance caused the accident;
  • the offending driver in their personal capacity—if the driver is wealthy and your claim exceeds their insurance coverage limits.

It can be difficult to determine if there are any third parties that may be liable for your injuries. That is one of the many reasons to contact an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney to handle your claim.

Pitfalls for the Unwary: How to Avoid Damaging Your Claim

You can damage or even destroy your claim by taking or neglecting to take certain actions. Below are some pitfalls to avoid:

Statute of Limitations

Don’t miss the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit. Your state sets this deadline (it is typically two or three years after the accident). If you miss the deadline, you will have no leverage at the negotiating table.

Initial Offer Acceptance

Don’t accept the first offer, because it will certainly be inadequate. In fact, don’t accept any offer at all without consulting your attorney first. Remember, your attorney cannot accept any offer on your behalf without your explicit permission.

Going Solo

Retain a lawyer quickly and refer the insurance company adjuster to your lawyer. Never talk to the adjuster after you retain a lawyer and don’t negotiate on your own unless you have extensive experience negotiating personal injury claims. Insurance adjusters have many tricks up their sleeve to fool into taking a lowball offer. Also, don’t sign anything without having your lawyer OK it first. This is especially important if it is a document that contains a lot of “legalese.” Nevertheless, even language with a seemingly plain meaning (such as “time is of the essence”) can have a non-obvious legal meaning.

Social Media

Stay off social media. If you absolutely must use it, don’t talk about the accident and don’t accept any friend requests, even from people you think you know, until your claim is finalized.

Experts

Carefully calculate any claim for future damages (future medical expenses, etc.). You may need the help of an expert for this.

Be Careful What You Say

Be sure to never, ever contradict yourself. The other side will surely use it against you.

These “claim busters” are only a few of the possible errors you might make. And they are all reasons to contact a skilled lawyer to help guide you through this minefield.

How Long Will It Take to Settle My Claim?

It is impossible to say how long you will need to settle your claim without knowing the details of your case. The more serious your injuries and the less obvious the defendant’s liability, the longer it is likely to take to resolve your claim. Scientific complexity will also add to the time it takes to settle your claim, especially if you require the services of an accident reconstruction specialist.

Intangible factors also include the degree of stubbornness of the defendant. You can mitigate this liability by selecting an attorney with a strong record of winning at trial. Ironically, the better your attorney is at winning trials, the less likely it is that one will actually happen.

The Benefits of Filing a Lawsuit While Still Negotiating

Do not allow the defendant to lull you into missing the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit, because your bargaining power will drop to zero if that happens. Remember that filing a lawsuit does not mean a trial is inevitable, because you can always withdraw a lawsuit once you reach a settlement. In fact, filing a lawsuit can help you settle, by giving you better access to evidence via the discovery process.

It’s Our Job to Ensure You Are Fully Compensated

Most motorcycle accident victims have no idea of the true value of their claim. Without this knowledge, you will be at a disadvantage at the negotiating table, especially against savvy insurance company executives. If someone injured you in a motorcycle accident or killed your loved one that way, it’s time to go to war—or at least negotiate a truce.

Contact E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, online or by calling 518-270-1245 to schedule a free initial consultation. Our offices are located in the state of New York at Albany, Colonie, Latham, Saratoga, and Troy. And remember—you only pay us if we win.