Motorcycle Accidents: The Basics

An overview of what to expect when making an injury claim after a motorcycle accident.

Many motorcyclists say that one of the best things about riding is the unique feeling of freedom it brings. But with that freedom comes a certain vulnerability. Motorcycle riders don’t enjoy much in the way of protection between their bodies and the road -- maybe a helmet and road leathers in the safest cases. And basic physics will tell you that a 450-pound bike is no match for a 4,500 pound SUV if a collision occurs.

A look at injury data bears out the risks associated with riding a motorcycle:

  • About 80 percent of all reported motorcycle accidents result in injury or death, while only 20 percent of automobile accidents do, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In 2008, deaths from car accidents involving cars and light trucks reached an all-time low. But motorcyclist deaths from traffic accidents reached an all-time high, more than doubling between 1999 and 2008, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Just as motorcyclists are in a unique position on the road, special issues exist in most insurance claims and personal injury lawsuits arising from motorcycle accidents. This article touches on a few of the key considerations common to many motorcycle accident cases, and gives you links to more in-depth information.

How Helmet Laws Might Affect Your Case

Most states have some sort of law related to helmet use by motorcycle riders. In states like California and Georgia, all motorcycle riders must wear a helmet. In Arizona and Connecticut, riders under 18 must wear a helmet. In other states, helmet laws are more complicated. In Ohio, for example, helmets are required for all riders under the age of 18, and for all riders during the first year in which they are licensed to ride. And finally, lawmakers in a few states have left helmet use off the books altogether -- in Iowa and New Hampshire, for example.

A motorcycle accident claim may turn on the rider's compliance with applicable helmet laws, especially in cases involving head and neck injuries. To learn more, check out How Helmet Laws and Helmet Use Affect Motorcycle Accident Claims.

Road Surface Hazards and Motorcycle Accidents

Road hazards that are fairly common for car drivers can spell doom for riders of two-wheeled vehicles. Potholes, sewer grates, and train tracks are just a few of the hazards that motorcyclists face on the road. Learn more about these dangers -- and who may be liable for motorcycle accidents caused by them -- in Motorcycle Accidents Caused by Road Surface Hazards.

Is Lane-Splitting the Difference?

A lot of motorcyclists do it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea, and it definitely doesn’t make it legal. In fact, California is the only state that recognizes lane-splitting (riding between two lanes of traffic, usually in a traffic jam) as a legal traffic maneuver. And even in the Golden State, lane-splitting must be done in a safe manner.

For motorcyclists who were lane-splitting at the time of their accident, the road toward compensation for injuries -- via an insurance claim or lawsuit -- can get pretty rough. Learn more in Is Lane-Splitting Legal, and How Does It Affect and Accident Case?

Tips for Helping Your Claim

Unfair as it may be, there are people out there who see motorcyclists as thrill-seeking daredevils for whom the nation’s roadways are simply one big race track. And these kinds of prejudices can even be found in the minds of the people who will end up making crucial decisions on the merits of your case -- from insurance adjusters to the jury in a civil court case (and yes, even the judge). So you need to do everything you can to combat these misconceptions and help your own case. To learn more about what you can do, see Attention Motorcyclists: Tips for Helping Your Claim After an Accident.

Getting More Information and Assistance

To learn more about factors that could affect a motorcycle accident claim, and to understand what to expect at every step in your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And to best protect your legal rights, especially after a motorcycle accident resulting in significant injuries, it’s probably best to discuss the specific of your case with an experienced attorney, so you can be sure that all your legal bases are covered.

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