May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Most motorists think that means it’s time for motorcycle riders to brush up on their safety skills as the snow melts and motorcycles return to the roads. But in reality, it’s the motorists who need the safety reminder.
Nationwide, about 1 in 5 fatal traffic collisions involves a motorcycle rider, despite there being far fewer motorcycles than passenger vehicles on the road. When calculated based on miles traveled, motorcycle riders are 28 times more likely than vehicle occupants to be fatally injured in a collision, according to data collected by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.
There is no such thing as a minor accident when a motorcycle is involved. These collisions often result in very serious or fatal injuries. Even when fault is indisputable (and riders are far too often wrongly blamed), an experienced motorcycle accident attorney must identify all available insurance coverage and present an aggressive and comprehensive claim for damages.
Motorcycle Accident Personal Injury & Wrongful Death
About 75 percent of all motorcycle collisions involve other vehicles; only about 1 in 4 only involve the motorcycle. In the vast majority of vehicle-involved motorcycle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle is to blame. About half of these collisions involve a vehicle that fails to yield and turns into the path of an oncoming rider. Rear-end collisions at intersections are also among the most common cause.
When a liable party is identified, a survivor may pursue compensation via a civil lawsuit for personal injury, which is most commonly filed on the grounds of negligence. To prove negligence under Massachusetts law, a victim must prove an at-fault driver violated a duty of care, resulting in compensable injuries to the victim. Damages may include medical bills, lost wages, cost of rehabilitation and compensation for disability, loss of future earning capacity, and pain and suffering. In cases where a victim is killed, survivors of his estate may pursue a similar claim via a wrongful death lawsuit.
In many cases, an at-fault motorist’s insurance coverage may be inadequate to compensate a victim for damages in the wake of a serious or fatal motorcycle accident. Massachusetts minimum auto insurance law requires motorists carry Bodily Injury liability of just $20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident. While Massachusetts is among the states that also requires drivers carry Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage, the Commonwealth does not require motorists to carry Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage. Uninsured Motorist coverage covers victims in crashes involving a driver that does not carry auto insurance. Underinsured Motorist coverage covers victims in cases where an at-fault driver does not have coverage sufficient to compensate victims for all damages. Both coverages can provide a vital lifeline to motorcycle riders and should always be a part of a rider’s policy.
Experienced motorcycle injury lawyers must look for all available means of compensation and must carefully determine the full extent of an accident victim’s past and future expenses. Proving fault is not enough. Case outcome hinges on a comprehensive damage demand and making a collectable recovery from a liable party.
In cases where a driver is blamed, or partially blamed, for causing a collision, a careful review of the accident scene is best conducted as soon as possible after a collision. In far too many cases, a rider is wrongly blamed. Even in cases where a rider is proven to be partially at fault, Massachusetts law does not prohibit pursuing a damage claim against a liable party. Commonwealth law on contributory negligence can be found in M.G.L. Ch. 231 Sec. 85 and permits recovery so long as a victim’s negligence is not greater than the negligence of the person from whom recovery is sought. In cases where a victim is found to have violated criminal law, ordinance or regulation, such violations may be considered as evidence of negligence by plaintiff but will not, for that reason alone, serve as a plaintiff bar to recovery.
Motorcycle Safety Tips for Drivers
“Look Twice, Save a Life,” and motorcycle safety awareness campaigns with similar messages have been around for a long time. But it’s still the best advice. A motorcycle’s small size makes it appear further away and makes speed difficult to judge. A rider may also be momentarily concealed by parked cars, vegetation or other obstructions. Motorcycles also take further to stop, and emergency braking typically results in a crash. For these reasons, and because of the high likelihood of a collision resulting in serious or fatal injuries, motorists are best advised to use patience, and wait a couple extra seconds for a rider to pass.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers drivers a number of other tips:
- Don’t look for a motorcycle’s brake lights. Riders often slow down by rolling out of the throttle and/or downshifting.
- Motorists should also allow more following distance to increase reaction time when riding behind motorcycles.
- Don’t rely on turn signals Most motorcycle turn signals do not shut off on their own. Don’t crowd a rider and wait until you are sure of intentions before proceeding.
- Beware of your blind spots — look twice for riders.
- Be especially aware when making left turns. These turns into the path of oncoming riders are the leading cause of fatal motorcycle collisions.
Motorcycling is a fun activity and New England offers some of the best summer riding in the nation. Riders are well aware of the risks and most do everything they can to make it home safe to their families. Drivers who do their part by committing to safety as riders hit the road this spring can not only save lives but can also reduce the risks they will be found criminally and civilly responsible for causing the death of someone’s husband, father, co-worker, neighbor or friend. These are complex cases and riders and families dealing with a serious or fatal collision, should reach out for qualified legal help as soon as possible.
If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — (617) 777-7777.
Spotlight on Highway Safety: Motorcycle Traffic Fatalities, Governors Highway Safety Association