Injured as a Motorcycle Passenger: Your Legal Options

You could have a claim against the operator of the motorcycle, another driver, or even your own insurance coverage.

Any automobile accident can be a very scary experience. If you’re a passenger on a motorcycle and are involved in an accident, the experience can be downright terrifying. Motorcycle accidents have a higher injury rate than automobile accidents, for some fairly obvious reasons: a lack of an outer protective shell as in an automobile, and a lack of any passive protective systems such as seatbelts and airbags. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) nearly 200,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for injuries suffered while riding a motorcycle.

For anyone injured as a motorcycle passenger, it is important to understand what legal options are available. Chances are that a family member or friend was operating the motorcycle at the time of the accident. So, passengers are sometimes understandably reluctant to pursue any type of personal injury claim for fear that the family member or friend will suffer financially. However, most injury claims are covered by available insurance, so it is a rare instance where the operator suffers any personal financial detriment. And if another driver is at fault for the accident, you have additional options available to you. Let's take a closer look.

A Claim Against the Motorcycle Operator

Many motorcycle accidents happen as a result of poor decision-making on the part of the person who is operating the motorcycle. Just as with the driver of a car or truck, such negligence on the part of a motorcycle operator may take a variety of forms, including:

  • speeding
  • improper lane change
  • failing to use headlamps and driving lights during daylight hours
  • improper turns resulting in collisions with oncoming traffic, and
  • failing to properly maintain or repair the motorcycle.

If the operator committed any of those acts, or otherwise made poor decisions that led to an accident, you may have a legal claim against the operator for your injuries. In most instances, that would take the firm of a third party insurance claim filed with the motorcycle operator's insurance company.

A Claim Against the Driver of Another Vehicle

If your injury is the result of a collision between a motorcycle on which you’re riding and another vehicle, you may be able to bring a claim for your injuries against the driver of the other vehicle. Again, this will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances of the particular collision.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one of the most common causes of motorcycle-vehicle collisions is a failure by the drivers of other vehicles to properly observe motorcycles. Far too often cars pull from side streets into the path of oncoming motorcycles. Sometimes cars make left turns across the paths of motorcycles merely because the car’s driver didn’t take the time to make sure that it was safe to proceed. In those situations, if the other driver’s negligence caused the collision, then it would be appropriate to bring a personal injury claim against that other driver.

Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.

A Claim for Negligent Repair, Design, or Manufacture

Sometimes motorcycle accidents are caused by mechanical breakdowns. However, even within that category there could be a number of possible causes for the breakdown, and an equal number of possible persons or entities who might be legally liable for the breakdown. Even where the owner of the motorcycle regularly maintains the bike, repairs can sometimes be performed in a faulty manner. Brakes or turns signal that have been improperly repaired can cause accidents. In those situations, the repair shop or mechanic may be legally responsible for the accident.

Occasionally motorcycle accidents are caused by defects in the design or manufacturer of the motorcycle or one of its components. For example, if the motorcycle’s metal frame experiences premature metal fatigue, the manufacturer or designer or the frame may be held legally liable for any resulting injuries you suffer.

A Claim for a Roadway Defect

Because motorcycles operate on only two wheels, they are much more susceptible to roadway defects than are cars or trucks. Potholes, bridge seams and undulating asphalt surfaces can easily cause a motorcycle to veer from its intended path of travel, causing injury to the riders. In those situations, the government entity responsible for the maintenance of the roadway might also be legally liable for your injuries. Those entities may include the state, county, or local city or town.

Learn more about Motorcycle Accidents Caused by Road Hazards.

A Claim Against Your Own Insurance Company

Lastly, regardless of which party is at fault for causing the motorcycle accident, you may be able to bring a claim for personal injuries against your own insurance company. If you live in a “no-fault” insurance state, you are usually required to first pursue a claim with your own insurance company, and you can't typically bring a claim against the negligent party unless your damages meet a certain monetary threshold or your injuries are deemed "serious".

If you live in other states, you may be able to pursue compensation through the uninsured/underinsured motorist portion of your vehicle insurance policy. Again, your ability to do so depends not only on the facts and circumstances of the motorcycle accident, but also on the language of your insurance policy.

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