Motorcycle Accident Injury Claims and Settlements

Motorcycle riders face unique risks on the road, and an injury claim after a motorcycle accident can bring unique challenges.

Updated by , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 1/19/2024

If you're injured in a motorcycle accident—whether as a rider or as a passenger—you might be wondering about your legal options, if it looks like someone else was at fault.

Should you file a motorcycle accident insurance claim or a lawsuit? Can you expect an injury settlement, and if so, how much? We'll tackle these questions and more in this article.

Why Is Motorcycle Riding So Risky?

Motorcycles are much smaller and lighter than cars, have only two wheels, and don't enclose the rider in a reinforced box. These characteristics, and more, are a big reason why motorcyclists are 29 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident, when compared with someone driving or riding in a passenger vehicle (according to the NHTSA).

Some risks unique to motorcycle riding include:

  • less visibility to cars, especially at intersections
  • road hazards like debris, uneven road surfaces, small objects, or wet pavement
  • no barrier between rider and road
  • no seatbelts, and (usually) no airbags
  • two wheels provide less stability than four, especially when it comes to the kind of front wheel "wobble" that can occur when a motorcycle is operating at high speeds, and
  • riding a motorcycle requires more skill and training compared with driving a car.

Check out the NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety Resources.

What You Must Prove to Get a Motorcycle Accident Settlement

Liability in most motorcycle accident scenarios is governed by the personal injury law concept of "negligence." A person is negligent when they behave in a thoughtless or careless manner that ends up causing and injury to someone else.

In the context of driving, a driver must use reasonable care to avoid injuring other motorists, passengers, or pedestrians—basically, anyone they encounters on the road. If a driver isn't reasonably careful and they injure someone, the driver will likely be liable for those injuries and any other accident-related harm. (Get the basics on negligence in traffic accident cases.)

In many motorcycle accidents, it's the driver of another car or truck that is negligent. A vehicle driver can be negligent by:

  • doing something that they shouldn't have done (like speeding through an intersection after the light has turned red) or
  • failing to do something they should have done (using indicators and checking mirrors and blind spots before making a turn, for example).

Of course, a motorcycle rider might be negligent too, for driving at unsafe speed, ignoring stop signs, or lane-splitting, to name just a few possibilities.

Get more details on common causes of motorcycle accidents.

Proving Negligence After a Motorcycle Accident

When it comes down to it, proving who was at fault for a motorcycle accident means proving who was negligent. This is a necessary step any time you're trying to hold someone else responsible for your injuries, property damage, and other crash-related losses, whether through:

In order to prove negligence (and in turn, fault for the motorcycle accident), the injured person must show that:

  • The law required the other driver to be reasonably careful. In car and motorcycle accident cases, this is a given. Motorists must exercise proper care when riding or driving.
  • The other driver was not careful enough under the circumstances. (the law compares the driver's conduct to what a "reasonable person" would or wouldn't have done).
  • The other driver's conduct caused the claimant's injuries.
  • The claimant was injured or suffered losses. If the motorcyclist didn't get hurt or can't prove any "damages" (compensable losses in the language of the law) they can't recover anything, even if the other driver behaved in a careless manner. We'll cover damages in the next section.

There are a number of ways to gather evidence of the other driver's negligence and strengthen your case, including:

  • getting a copy of any police report generated after the accident (if law enforcement came to the scene)
  • taking pictures of the accident scene, location of the vehicles, injuries, property damage, and anything that might be relevant
  • getting statements from witnesses who saw the accident, and
  • keeping copies of all bills and records related to the accident.

Types of Damages In a Motorcycle Accident Claim

As we touched on above, in the language of the law, "damages" means the full spectrum of losses resulting from an accident.

So, in addition to proving the other driver's negligence after a motorcycle accident, as an injured rider or passenger you'll need to prove (and document) the different ways you were harmed by it. That includes:

  • the cost of all medical treatment made necessary by the accident
  • time missed at work, lost income, and other earnings-related harm, and
  • your mental and physical pain and suffering resulting from the accident, your medical treatment, and your recovery.

Medical bills, lost income, and other losses that can be clearly proven by bills, receipts, and other records are called "economic damages."

Along with related categories of damages like "loss of enjoyment," pain and suffering is the main component of what are known as "non-economic damages" in an injury case.

Calculating Future Lost Earning Capacity

While it's often easy to prove lost wages and other income-related losses caused by a motorcycle accident, it can be much harder to show how the accident will affect the injured person's future earning capacity.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will hire an economic expert to properly present lost future earning capacity to an insurance adjuster (or to the jury in a court case), because it involves the concept of "present value."

Let's say that, before the motorcycle accident, you earned $90,000 per year, but that, after the accident, you could only return to a part time job earning $70,000 per year. In this case, your lost earning capacity is $20,000 per year for the remainder of your "work life expectancy."

"Work life expectancy" is a statistical measure based on federal government statistics of how many more years a person is reasonably expected to work, based on that person's age, gender, and other characteristics. That's easy to figure out, but it's much harder to calculate what $20,000 per year projected into the future is worth in the present. That's why personal injury lawyers generally hire economists to come up with reliable numbers.

Settlement Value vs. Trial Value

When you're trying to value a motorcycle injury claim, remember that there are really two types of valuations: settlement value and trial value. A case's settlement value is what you reasonably hope to settle the case for. The settlement value will be lower than the trial value because you settle a case in order to avoid the risk of losing at trial and coming away with nothing.

Let's look at an example to see how settlement value and trial value relate. Let's say that, based on the liability and damages issues in your motorcycle accident case, you and your lawyer believe that:

  • if you went to trial and won, the jury would award you $200,000, but
  • that you only have a 20% chance of winning.

One approach to this kind of situation is to settle your case for slightly less than $40,000 (i.e., 20% of the expected trial value). So, in general, a case's settlement value is a little less than the trial value multiplied by the estimated chances of winning the trial.

The big thing to consider is whether any settlement you're offered will truly cover all of your accident-related losses and, to the extent possible, make you whole again after the crash. Learn more what to consider before you settle a vehicle accident claim and sign a release.

What If the Motorcycle Rider Is Partially At Fault for the Accident?

There are times when a driver of a car is negligent or reckless and causes injury to a motorcyclist, but the motorcyclist may have also done something that contributed to the crash. In these situations, the vehicle driver might be able to raise the motorcyclist's partial fault as a defense to their own liability for the crash.

Most states follow a "comparative negligence" rule, where shared fault on the part of the motorcyclist (if proven in court) might reduce the amount of the motorcyclist will receive from the driver. In a handful of states that follow the harsher rule of "contributory negligence," the motorcyclist's own share of fault might prevent them from getting any monetary recovery from the other driver in court.

Insurance adjusters approach settlement with an eye towards what might happen in court, so the shared fault rules in your state will have a big impact on the value of your claim.

Let's look at an example to see how these contributory and comparative negligence rules could affect a potential settlement offer. Imagine you get into a motorcycle accident resulting in $10,000 in property damage and $20,000 in medical bills. There's also some pain and suffering that you believe is worth $20,000.

After investigating the accident, the at-fault driver's insurance company and lawyer claim that you were 20 percent responsible for causing the accident. If you're in a comparative negligence state, this finding will reduce the amount of money the insurer will offer you, but it's still likely that you can end up with a fair settlement.

But if you're in a contributory negligence state, you might not get any settlement offer. Or if you do, it might be a small amount representing what the insurer is willing to pay to make the case go away.

Learn more about contributory and comparative negligence in traffic accident cases.

Can I Get a Motorcycle Accident Injury Settlement If I Wasn't Wearing a Helmet?

The answer here depends on the extent to which your motorcycle accident injuries were avoidable, especially if wearing a motorcycle helmet could have prevented (or minimized) your injuries, but you chose not to wear one. You can expect a lower settlement offer in this situation, especially if you were legally required to wear a helmet under your state's laws. Again, the insurance company is going to assess your case in terms of what might happen in court, and the issue of helmet use (and compliance with helmet laws) can, at minimum, complicate things for an injured rider if their lawsuit ends up going to trial.

Is There an Average Motorcycle Accident Settlement?

This is a common question for readers looking for information on a wide variety of injury claims. But even if this kind of data were readily available and reliable, it wouldn't be of much value to an individual claimant trying to predict the outcome of their particular case.

Instead, let's focus on the factors that often carry the most weight when it comes to the potential settlement value of a motorcycle accident injury claim. These include:

  • the seriousness of your injuries
  • the availability of insurance coverage to pay a fair settlement, and
  • the clarity of the fault picture (who caused the accident?).

Motorcycle Accident Settlement Example 1: Let's say you were approaching an intersection while riding at the speed limit with your headlamp on, and a car made a left turn right in front of you:

  • The driver never put their left-turn signal on, and afterward they said they didn't see you.
  • You suffered a concussion, a broken leg, and three cracked ribs in the crash. The cost of your accident-related medical treatment was more than $25,000.
  • The driver who hit you was clearly negligent, and your injuries are substantial.
  • The driver has $150,000 in bodily injury liability car insurance coverage.
  • Your claim will likely involve temporary disability, a lengthy recovery, and significant pain and discomfort.
  • Your life is likely to be adversely affected in multiple ways.

Considering all these factors, and depending on the cost of your medical care and other quantifiable losses, the value of your settlement could easily reach or exceed $100,000.

Motorcycle Accident Settlement Example 2: Let's say you were involved in a motorcycle accident in which you suffered very serious injuries, including long-term disability. The cost of your medical treatment is almost $30,000.

  • The driver of the car involved in the accident has $150,000 in injury liability coverage, but they were also only slightly, if at all, negligent.
  • The accident may well have been entirely your fault, since you were lane-splitting while riding twenty miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
  • Despite the extent of your injuries, any settlement you might receive is sure to be small.
  • If the driver wasn't negligent, their insurance company is not obligated to pay you anything.

Despite the seriousness of your injuries and the availability of ample insurance coverage, it's doubtful that you'd receive more than a few thousand dollars in settlement in this scenario. And that's assuming you can demonstrate some measure of fault on the part of the driver.

Getting Legal Help After a Motorcycle Accident

If you've been injured in a motorcycle accident, taking on the at-fault driver's insurance company (not to mention their legal team) isn't something you want to try on your own. Having a qualified legal professional on your side can make all the difference.

The right injury lawyer will:

  • understand the ins and outs of the motorcycle accident injury claim process
  • know how to put your best case together when it comes to proving fault for the crash, and establishing the nature and extent of your injuries and other losses, and
  • fight for the best result, even if it means going to court to get it.

Learn more about how a lawyer can help with a traffic accident case.

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