Motorcyclists love the sense of freedom and excitement that comes from riding on the open road. Motorcycle enthusiasts include young riders with little experience and seasoned bikers who have been riding for decades. There are more than 8.5 million motorcycles on America’s streets and highways, ranging from racing bikes to touring bikes, from popular names like Honda and Kawasaki to classic brands like Harley Davidson and Triumph.
While motorcycle riding is rewarding, it is also risky. Unfortunately, when motorcyclists are injured in collisions with cars, the tendency is to blame the motorcyclist for the accident. That makes it challenging for motorcycle riders to receive the compensation they deserve when their injuries result from another driver’s negligence.
The Risks of Motorcycle Riding
As much fun as motorcycle riding can be, it is also a dangerous pastime. Only 3 percent of all vehicles registered for use on the road are motorcycles, but motorcycle accidents account for 15 percent of traffic accident fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, compared to occupants of a car, motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in a collision and five times more likely to be injured, per mile traveled. Unfortunately, in a collision between a motorcycle and a car or truck, it is usually the motorcyclist who dies or suffers a serious injury.
Head injuries are among the most serious consequences of nonfatal motorcycle crashes. Traumatic brain injuries can cause permanent physical and mental disabilities. Neck and back injuries can lead to paralysis. Broken bones and facial scarring are also common when a rider is thrown from a motorcycle.
Several factors contribute to the dangers of motorcycle riding. One is the small size of motorcycles relative to other vehicles. Motorcycles are also less visible than cars and trucks, putting motorcyclists at greater risk of being involved in a collision.
Also, as discussed in a Florida study, car drivers tend to be unaware of motorcycles. Unless the driver also has a motorcycle endorsement on his or her license, car drivers often fail to look for motorcycles and tend not to notice them.
The relative sizes of motorcycles and cars also affects a car driver’s perception of speed and distance. Drivers tend to perceive large vehicles as traveling faster and being closer while they think small vehicles are farther away and moving at a slower speed. That accounts for the finding of the Hurt Report that the leading cause of car versus motorcycle collisions is the car driver’s decision to turn left in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
Many motorcycle crashes are reported as single-vehicle accidents. It is certainly true that some riders, particularly those who are inexperienced, take corners too quickly and lose control. But the Hurt Report explains that other “single vehicle” crashes occur because a motorcyclist swerves to avoid a car that turned in front of it or is forced off the road to avoid being struck by a car that is changing lanes.
Motorcycle accidents and juror bias
We help motorcyclists recover compensation when they are injured in accidents caused by a negligent driver, but we would prefer that those injuries never occur. Motorcyclists should always ride defensively. If you ride a motorcycle, anticipate that cars will make unexpected turns and lane changes and be prepared to avoid a collision. Always remember that wearing a helmet can save your life. Wearing a helmet does not always prevent a brain injury, but it does reduce the risk.
When motorcyclists are injured in accidents, they can have a tough time recovering the compensation they deserve. Most people drive cars, not motorcycles. Their perceptions of motorcyclists are influenced by unfair and inaccurate stereotypes. They too often view motorcyclists as reckless thrill-seekers or gang members. They believe motorcycle riders cause their own accidents by weaving in and out of traffic. They tend to think that motorcyclists fail to respect car drivers when the opposite is more likely to be true. As the Florida study and the Hurt report both demonstrate, a collision between a car and a motorcycle is usually the fault of the car’s driver.
Juries reflect the community from which they are chosen. There are always more car drivers than motorcycle riders on juries. That often makes it difficult for a motorcyclist to get a fair trial in a personal injury cases. Insurance adjusters take advantage of that by offering less money to settle a motorcycle rider’s injury claim than they would be willing to offer the driver of a car who suffered the same injuries.
While personal injury lawyers need to have a realistic view of the world that surrounds them, it is also their job to confront unfair biases. Obtaining a fair settlement or verdict for a motorcycle rider is challenging, but not impossible. The process begins by making sure insurance adjusters and jurors see motorcycle riders as human beings and responsible motorists. Motorcyclists have jobs and families, just like everyone else. They have a variety of interests, just like everyone else. They are just as law-abiding as everyone else.
A lawyer’s task is often to educate the jury. Personal injury lawyers who can make jurors understand that their clients are responsible, caring individuals who happen to enjoy riding a motorcycle can overcome prejudices. Juror education begins with jury selection and ends with the closing argument. Lawyers who can educate jurors successfully are able to win fair verdicts. Additionally, insurance adjusters offer more reasonable settlements when they know they are dealing with a lawyer who is not afraid to confront prejudice against motorcycle riders in personal injury trials.