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, but here's what to know at the outset:
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:
Check out the NHTSA's Motorcycle Safety Resources.
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:
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.
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:
There are a number of ways to gather evidence of the other driver's negligence and strengthen your case, including:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 instances, the vehicle driver might be able to raise the motorcyclist's pre-accident conduct as a defense (partial or complete) to their own liability for the crash.
In some states, such a defense, if proven, might reduce the amount of the motorcyclist's recovery in court. In other states, the motorcyclist's behavior might prevent the motorcyclist from getting any monetary recovery from the defendant.
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. Learn more about contributory and comparative negligence in traffic accident cases.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
You can use the tools on this page to connect with an injury lawyer in your area. And learn more about how a lawyer can help with a traffic accident case.