What You Need to Know in Your Motorcycle Accident Case
Whether you “ride to live” or “live to ride,” the goal is always the same. You want to get back home safe and sound. Riders know the dangers they face each and every time they go out. They instinctively take defensive measures. But, despite their best efforts to be safe, motorcycle accidents still happen. And when they do occur, serious injury or death results. As riders will tell you, many motorcycle accidents are the fault of other car drivers. People pull out in front of motorcycles or change lanes without looking, always claiming they “did not see you” until it was too late. Other times, road conditions quickly turn dangerous without any warning. Loose gravel or sand, or defects in the road, can cause even an experienced rider to lose control and “lay down their bike.” And riding with passengers on the back presents a different set of problems. If your rider doesn’t “turn with you” or shifts unexpectedly, you can lose control and wreck. Nevertheless, riders will also confirm that they are routinely blamed for causing accidents and determined by police to be “at fault.” You need a lawyer who is willing to first fight the criminal citation and then fight for your rights in the civil case. If not, you may lose before even getting started.
Motorcycle Accidents: Why You Need a Lawyer By Your Side
Because motorcycle accidents usually result in serious injury or death, insurance companies aggressively defend against these claims. As you might expect, the primary defense is liability, or whose to blame for the accident. Damages, including serious injury, medical bills, pain and suffering, and permanent loss, are the easy part. Insurance coverage is also an issue in many motorcycle accidents. We will discuss those problems in more detail below. But for now, we will explain why you need experienced counsel to fight for your rights and interests.
The typical scenario is where a car or truck impacts with a motorcycle rider. The rider is usually unable to speak on their own behalf due to being injured. They may even be taken away in an ambulance while the police officer is still investigating the crash. The vehicle driver is not injured and is the only side able to tell their story. Not surprisingly, most of these discussions are one sided, and the motorcycle rider is blamed. The officer will assign fault and may even go to the hospital to deliver a traffic citation for “failure to yield” or “too fast for conditions.” Therefore, the first priority for your lawyer is to defend the criminal citation.
The next priority of your lawyer is to gather as much evidence as soon as possible. Witnesses will need to be identified and interviewed while the events are “fresh in their mind.” It may even be necessary in some cases to consult an expert in accident reconstruction. In death cases, the State will institute a MAIT (Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team) report. Troopers specially trained will go to the scene and take photos and measurements. They will also interview all witnesses and provide a summary report with its conclusions. Sometimes, the report will not be able to reach a conclusion or findings may be contradictory. MAIT reports are certainly helpful, but independent experts may still be needed to get answers.
Comparative Negligence in Motorcycle Accidents
This is an important legal term that comes into play in most motorcycle accidents. Unless a rider is stopped and then struck from behind, they will most likely be assigned a certain percentage of “comparative negligence” by a judge or jury. This is an estimation of what role the injured rider had in causing the accident. In South Carolina, you can be found to be up to 50% at fault and still recover. However, your damages awarded will be reduced by whatever percentage of fault you are determined to be. If you are found to be greater that 50% at fault, you will recover nothing by law no matter how seriously injured or even if you are killed in the accident. One of the primary issues thus becomes how to determine your share of blame for the crash. Your lawyer will fight on your behalf and make arguments that your role was very little and will reference all of the particular facts that support your case. Experience matters here as juries must be persuaded. An experienced trial lawyer will be able to simplify and explain complicated legal principles and make cogent arguments for you and your family.
Mediation or Trial in Motorcycle Accidents
After your lawyer has gathered evidence, interviewed witnesses, and consulted any necessary expert witnesses, they will sit down with you and review your case in full. They will go over both the strengths and weaknesses and then make recommendations. You should be able to get most of your questions answered and know the plan going forward. The next stage of your case is to either get it settled at mediation or, if not, have your day in court at a trial. This is where a firm’s experience and credentials come into play. Defense lawyers focus on particular cases and are seasoned trial lawyers. You need an experienced trial litigator on your side to “balance the playing field.” For those individuals who prefer to have some control over the outcome, mediation has become an effective way to resolve cases. For those persons willing to take their chances before a jury, a trial may be necessary to get a final determination. Either way, you are in charge of your case and will make all important decisions. We are here to guide you and give you the benefits of our years of experience. You will ultimately decide how you want to proceed.
Serious Injury and Proper Insurance Coverage
As a former intensive care Registered Nurse (RN), Attorney Robert J. Reeves has personally seen and treated permanent, life changing injuries from motorcycle accidents. He brings those insights to his 25+ years of personal injury experience and aggressively pursues the rights of seriously injured motorcycle riders. Sadly, what we find in the majority of our cases is the amount of damages (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, permanent injury or death) vastly exceeds the amount of insurance coverage available. When the economy collapsed a few years ago, many people had to make changes and cut back on expenses. One of those changes was a clear move towards minimum limits insurance or no insurance at all. We all know the law requires insurance, but you cannot pay what you do not have. As a result, even now, there are many drivers with little or no insurance. In South Carolina, the minimum insurance required is $25,000 for an individual claim or $50,000 for all claims, no matter how many people are seriously injured. In light of the ever increasing medical costs, it is not difficult to have medical bills alone in a serious motorcycle accident exceed the insurance available. This is why we constantly encourage our rider friends to make sure they have ample underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) and uninsured motorist coverage (UM).
Both UIM and UM insurance coverage policies are easy to get and surprisingly inexpensive. This should be mandatory under law, but it is currently an option. Stop now and check to see if you have this insurance before you get back on your motorcycle. Call your agent or go online and purchase as much as you can afford. If you ride motorcycles, you need this protection for you and your family who depend on you. We know you will be safe, but it is the other drivers we worry about. Please make sure you are covered. For more information, click here to see our video on UIM and UM coverage issues.
Live to Ride But Live to Ride Again
Whether you ride motorcycles for fun or as your primary way to get around, there are certain basic steps you need to take that can help you avoid motorcycle accidents. Always remember that you are riding on only two wheels with no airbags, safety belts, or anything else around you for protection. Inattention and a single mistake can cost you dearly. There are, however, certain minimum precautions you can take to help improve your chances of making it back home. With proper training and experience, you can enjoy riding your motorcycle in relative safety for years. Avoiding motorcycle injury is always your first priority any time you go out on the road.
Before you ride, whether for the first time or after a few years break, we encourage you to take a motorcycle certification course. Most states, including South Carolina and North Carolina where we practice, require such training before they will issue you a motorcycle license. And, many insurance companies will offer you a discounted rate for this type of training and education. Contact the SC DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for more information. In addition, many motorcycle dealers also offer such training or can direct you towards the best courses and instructors. What you learn in the classroom will help you on the road.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. North Carolina law requires helmets. South Carolina law gives you the choice. But we strongly recommend you always choose safety first. Regardless of the law, this basic safety precaution often means the difference between life and death, or serious closed head/brain injury. Full face helmets offer the best protection, but no matter what type you choose, make sure it fits properly, is DOT approved, and above all, wear it. Even a relatively minor motorcycle accident can be serious if your head is not protected.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. When riding, your eyes are vulnerable. Any eye injury, whether from sand, road debris, or flying insects, will be serious when riding at highway speeds and can easily cause you to lose control of your motorcycle. Never take that chance. A windshield is a good option but still does not protect you fully. Instead, make certain you have an approved shield on your helmet or fully enclosing, shatter proof goggles or glasses. Getting struck by flying debris will sting, but you will stay upright.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. The only thing between your skin and “road rash” is your motorcycle jacket. Denim is better than nothing, but a good leather jacket offers the best protection. Go to your favorite shop and look for good fitting, vented gear so that you are safe, even when the weather gets hot. You may get a little sweaty, but you will also be safe.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. Again, asphalt and your skin do not mix well. Wearing shorts on a motorcycle is never a good idea, and blue jeans are not much better either. If you lose control and have to “put your bike down,” you are virtually guaranteed to sustain serious injury on your legs and hips. Leather is always the best choice. Some shops even have jacket/pants combinations that actually zip together. Get what you like and make sure it fits comfortably. You more likely to wear it and be protected.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. Even on hot days, it is best to protect your hands. If you do “go down,” you do not want your bare hands on concrete or asphalt. Heavy gloves will also protect you from flying rocks or other debris that gets kicked up by other vehicles. It keep your hands where they belong – on the bike.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. Motorcycle boots designed for riding are best. Cowboy boots look good but do not the control you need to ride and shift gears. Also, make sure your boots have good rubber, non-skid, soles for better grip, even on slippery surfaces and in rain.
ALWAYS. No exceptions. Your gear should be brightly colored. In fact, the brighter the better. Reflective gear is the best. As with other safety gear, never underestimate the value of being seen. Your clothing can protect you and even help prevent an accident. Also consider putting reflective tape on your helmet and on the back of your boots. Everything that makes it easier for you to be seen helps here. Still drive defensively and assume the other drivers will not be looking. Chances are they will not.
ALWAYS. With newer motorcycles, the headlights have become automatic and are always on. Regardless of the motorcycle you own, keep your lights on so that other drivers can see you. It actually helps, even during the day. Everything that can be done to avoid motorcycle accidents must be done. The stakes are too high.
Turn and Hand Signals
ALWAYS. No exceptions. Other drivers need to know what you are planning to do next. Always use turn signals, every time, and then turn them “off” when done. Otherwise, car drivers may falsely assume that you are about to change lanes or turn. Mixed signals will only hurt you. Other drivers may then mistakenly “cut you off” or pull out in front of you unexpectedly thinking they are accommodating your signal. In an abundance of caution, you should also consider using corresponding “hand signals” just to make sure everyone knows your intentions.
ALWAYS. This will save your life every time you ride. Be aware of everything on the road. Know where other drivers are at all times. Constantly check your mirrors and track vehicles behind you. Look ahead, far ahead, and anticipate potential hazards. And always have an “escape” plan just in case someone does come into your lane or pull out in front of you. Absolutely keep your distance from other drivers and assume the other car does not see you. Driving defensively is the best way, although not entirely fool proof, to avoid motorcycle accidents. Stay in control of your bike and your safety.
ONLY IF YOU MUST. Let’s be honest. Motorcycle riders prefer to ride alone. It is easier, and passengers make it more difficult all around. The extra weight materially affects the handling of the motorcycle, and it takes longer distances to stop. And, passengers always want to “help” while you drive.If you must, clearly instruct your passenger to hold onto your waist or hips, tell them to lean forward when starting or accelerating, and to lean back when braking. Most importantly, explain to passengers that they do not need to anticipate curves and to “lean” only if you do. A sudden shift in weight can cause steering problems and loss of control. However, when turning or going around a corner, they should absolutely “mirror” your body dynamics and look over your shoulder in the direction of the turn. In this way, both riders will be in synch and each can enjoy the ride safely.
Motorcycle Accident Attorneys at Robert J. Reeves P.C.
Our firm’s interest in your safety is sincere. We hope you or your family will never need our professional representation. But we know from experience how quickly motorcycle accidents can and do happen. Try not to worry. We will be there for you and pledge our best efforts on your behalf. If you have questions and are looking for answers, you can call Mr. Reeves directly right now on his mobile phone 803-554-4157 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will come to you and get started immediately. Time is important, and little details can sometimes make a big difference. Call us now and let’s see what we can do to help.
*Memberships in legal organizations, including Million Dollar Advocates Forum, are not intended to convey expertise or case value. Each case is unique, and ultimate outcome will depend on particular facts and circumstances.