Motorcycle and bicycle riders who are involved in traffic accidents may face some unique challenges when it comes time to resolve an insurance claim or lawsuit. That's because the general public (not to mention many insurance adjusters) tend to consider riders of two-wheeled vehicles as second-class road citizens. This attitude usually stems from negative perceptions of two-wheelers that bear little relation to reality -- assumptions that all motorcyclists are wild and reckless and that all bicyclists are eccentric and careless.
If you've been in an accident riding a two-wheeler, part of your job in demonstrating who was at fault for the accident is to overcome these prejudices. This article offers a checklist of ways you may be able to help your own cause, above and beyond your argument about how the accident actually happened.
Formal training. If you have ever completed a bicycle or motorcycle driving or safety course, you should let the insurance adjuster know.
Length of time riding. Having driven a motorcycle or bicycle (as an adult) for a long time is, in itself, an important point. So is the length of time you have spent on the particular cycle (or same size and type of cycle) that you were riding at the time of the accident.
Regularity of riding. If you ride regularly -- commuting to and from work or school, for example -- you should note that fact, as well as the number of miles per day, week, or month. If you frequently ride long distances for pleasure, that, too, can be noted.
Type of riding. If you were injured on a city street, the frequency with which you ride on such streets -- as opposed to weekend rides in the country -- is something to point out. If you were injured during commute traffic hours, your familiarity with riding during those hours can be important. Similarly, if you were injured while riding on a highway, your significant experience in highway riding should be mentioned. Weather, too, should be noted if it might have been a factor in the accident. If it was or had been raining, you should mention your experience riding in wet weather.
Familiarity with specific roadway -- in general. Part of the image of two-wheelers is that riders don’t know what to do in certain traffic situations and that they panic and cause their own spills. One way to dispel this image is to make a point of how often you ride on the particular roadway where the accident happened (and at the same general time, if applicable). If you were very familiar with the roadway, its intersections, flow of traffic, parking patterns, and other potential hazards to two-wheelers, you can establish immediately that, at least by experience, you were likely to know exactly how to ride that stretch of road safely.
Familiarity with specific roadway -- road hazard. Experience with a particular roadway is important if you had an accident with another vehicle, as explained above. Whether familiarity is useful if you struck an unexpected hazard on the roadway depends on the type of hazard. If you frequently or regularly ride a particular street and are suddenly thrown by an unexpected hazard created by recent construction work, your familiarity with the road supports the notion that you could not have been prepared to handle this particular danger. The situation is different if your accident was caused by a sewer grate or a pothole that you contend should have been discovered and removed. In that case, if you have been riding the same stretch regularly, an insurance adjuster could argue that you should have known about the sewer grate or dangerous patch of road surface, and therefore avoided it.
Two-wheel driving record. Normally, your driving record is not available to an insurance adjuster during the course of an insurance claim, and you are not required to reveal that record during claim negotiations. However, you may want to bring up your driving record if it strongly suggests that you are a cautious rider. If you have never had an accident on a two-wheeler and you have been riding for a considerable period of time, this shows that you are a careful rider. Similarly, if you have had no recent moving violations (within the past ten years) and none of the type that might be related to the cause of this accident, this also shows that you are careful and law-abiding on your bike.
Four-wheel driving record. If you have had a moving violation or accident while driving a car -- though not on a two-wheeler -- in the past ten years, you may still make this argument, but it is somewhat weaker. If you have had any accidents or moving violations on a bike or more than one violation or accident while driving your car, forget about bringing up your driving record.
Protective clothing. Particularly if you were on a motorcycle, you should point to any protective clothing you were wearing at the time of the accident. This shows that you were cautious and responsible, and that your injuries occurred despite these precautions. Even if you did not suffer a head injury, mention the fact that you were wearing a helmet, if you were. Again, this presents the picture of a responsible rider, even if it has no direct relation to the cause of the accident or to your injuries.
Motorcycle and bicycle riders will find more tips on protecting their legal rights after a traffic accident in How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).