Motorcycle operators and their passengers risk their safety every time they take a ride. Safety training and gear only go so far in protecting them from serious injuries or death. The open road is too strong of a draw for motorcyclists to ignore.
Motorists have a duty to share the road responsibly with motorcyclists. If you suffered serious injuries or you lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident caused by someone else’s wrongful actions, then contact a motorcycle accident lawyer for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights to compensation.
Fatal Motorcycle Accident Statistics
The lack of rider protection on a motorcycle is both an attractive and dangerous feature. A motorcycle ride offers the freedom of the open road and the rushing wind, but comes with the trade-off of potentially fatal consequences in a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that fatalities happen approximately 27 times more frequently in motorcycle accidents than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes. Additional data from the NHTSA shows that nearly 5,000 motorcyclists died in wrecks during a recent year.
According to the NHTSA, forty-two percent of fatal motorcycle crashes occur when a driver fails to yield the right-of-way to a motorcyclist. This type of accident most commonly occurs at intersections, where a car or truck turns into the path of an oncoming motorcycle or a motorcycle overtaking that vehicle in an inside lane.
Helmet Use and Motorcycle Accident Fatalities
A motorcyclist’s decision whether to wear a helmet has a significant impact on the rider’s risk of suffering a fatal injury in an accident. Fatal motorcycle accidents involve un-helmeted riders far more often than they involve riders who were wearing helmets at the time of the crash.
Multiple studies have confirmed that wearing a helmet reduces the likelihood of a rider suffering a fatal brain injury in an accident by more than 40 percent, and reduces the chances of suffering any head injury by nearly 70 percent. States with universal helmet laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets see vastly lower rates of death in motorcycle accidents than states with partial helmet laws or (in the case of three states) no helmet laws at all.
Experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyers encourage their motorcycle-riding clients to wear helmets at all times. However, even a rider who was not wearing a helmet at the time of an accident may still seek financial compensation for their injuries and losses. Helmet use enhances safety and may lead to higher damages in a lawsuit, but all riders, helmeted-or-not, have legal rights when someone else’s carelessness or recklessness causes a crash that injures them.
Driver Distraction Leads to Motorcycle Fatalities
Motorcycle safety training can help you feel more confident as you ride. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the actions of other drivers on the road. Distracted driving behind the wheel of a car or truck, in particular, poses a serious danger to motorcyclists.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites three main types of driver distraction:
- Visual - Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road ahead;
- Manual -Anything that takes a driver’s hands off the steering wheel; and
- Cognitive - Anything that takes a driver’s mind off the task of driving safely and staying alert to other vehicles (especially motorcycles).
Driver distraction is a serious problem on U.S. roads. In a recent AAA study of drivers, a majority of respondents admitted to texting behind the wheel within the previous month, for example.
Any distraction behind the wheel puts motorcyclists at risk for fatal accidents. A distracted driver will often let a car drift out of its lane into the path of a motorcycle, fail to yield to a motorcycle at intersections, or lose track of a motorcycle slowing down up ahead. In any of these scenarios, the resulting collision with a motorcycle will put the motorcyclist’s life in serious danger.
Motorcycle Accident Injuries that Can Result in Death
A motorcycle accident will frequently inflict serious injuries on riders. Some injuries will cause death immediately. Others can prove fatal if the rider does not receive prompt emergency care. Others still may not lead to immediate death, but may cause successive health complications that ultimately end the rider’s life.
Some common, potentially fatal, injuries and health conditions that occur in motorcycle accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injury. In a collision, riders often suffer severe blows to their head that can cause widespread, fatal brain trauma. Wearing a helmet substantially reduces a motorcycle’s risk of suffering a fatal brain injury in a crash, but it does not eliminate that risk.
- Organ damage and internal bleeding. A rider thrown from a bike in an accident will frequently suffer damage to internal organs, caused either directly from the trauma of landing hard on the pavement or striking an object, or when a rider’s bone—a rib, especially—breaks and pierces a delicate organ. Damage to an organ, and blood loss from internal bleeding, can end a rider’s life quickly if not treated, and may yet lead to death by causing extensive secondary health complications.
- Shock. The body sometimes responds to the violent trauma of a motorcycle wreck by going into shock, which is a sudden, rapid drop in blood flow throughout the body. If not treated quickly, shock can lead to death.
These are just a few examples, of course, of the potential for fatal injuries in a motorcycle wreck. No matter what the trauma or health condition that causes a motorcyclist to die after an accident, an experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyer can often pursue compensation for the motorcyclist’s survivors.
Seeking Compensation After a Fatal Motorcycle Accident
A surviving spouse or family member of a motorcyclist who dies in an accident may have the right to recover compensation for their loss through a legal action known as a wrongful death lawsuit. Of course, taking legal action for damages cannot bring back a loved one killed in a motorcycle wreck. It can, however, provide crucial financial support to help pay bills and replace a sudden loss of income.
The type and amount of compensation the surviving family members of a deceased motorcyclist might hope to recover through a wrongful death action vary widely from case-to-case, depending on the circumstances of the crash.
Generally speaking, however, they can include:
- Medical costs associated with a loved one’s final care;
- Other costs associated with the death, including those related to a funeral, burial, or cremation;
- The loss of the deceased motorcyclist’s income or the value of household services the rider provided;
- The loss of companionship and intimacy resulting from the rider’s death; and
- In some states, the pain and suffering family members experienced because of the death.
State laws limit the amount of time eligible family members have to take legal action seeking compensation for a motorcyclist’s wrongful death. Failing to meet these deadlines can result in the loss of valuable legal rights.
That is why a motorcyclist’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, or dependent needs to seek legal advice from a skilled, experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyer as soon as possible after the rider’s tragic death. The sooner a family has a skilled lawyer working on their behalf, the better their chances of securing much-needed compensation to support them through a difficult time.
Insurance Settlement Offers After Fatal Motorcycle Accidents
Insurance companies representing the parties at fault for causing a motorcyclist’s death will often reach out directly to a grieving spouse or family member to offer a settlement of a potential wrongful death claim.
That settlement offer may seem like a lot of money, but chances are it does not come close to representing the full value of the family’s potential legal claim for damages. Insurance companies that offer unsolicited settlement offers do so because they hope the family will be in a dire financial condition and will jump at quick cash before consulting with an attorney to learn about the true amount of money they deserve.
A time of immense grief is no time to deal with insurance companies. Families should instead trust a skilled, experienced motorcycle accident injury attorney to negotiate with insurance companies on their behalf. By hiring a seasoned legal professional, families level the playing field with insurance companies and ensure their legal and financial rights stay protected.
Drivers Can Help Prevent Fatal Motorcycle Accidents
All motorists have a responsibility to obey traffic laws. Car and truck drivers have a special obligation to exercise extra caution when sharing the road with motorcycle riders.
According to the NHTSA:
- Approximately 40 percent of the area surrounding a car or truck contains blind spots where motorcycles can disappear from the view of drivers. The NHTSA encourages drivers to adjust their mirrors to cover as much blind-spot area as possible as a safety measure that just might save a motorcyclist’s life.
- In addition to adjusting their mirrors, drivers can also protect motorcyclists by taking extra care when pulling out onto a roadway. Trees, construction zones, and other objects can obstruct a driver’s view, making an approaching motorcycle difficult to see. Judging the distance to a motorcycle, motorists should also err on the side of letting a motorcycle pass before pulling out.
- Drivers should also exercise caution when driving behind motorcycles. Motorcyclists often downshift rather than brake in traffic. A driver who fails to pay attention or relies on the motorcycle’s brake lights, alone, risks injuring the motorcyclist in a rear-end collision.
Steps to Take After a Fatal or Potentially Fatal Motorcycle Accident
The trauma of a motorcycle accident affects not just the rider involved, but also that rider’s family and loved ones. In the event of a crash that tragically takes a rider’s life, or that leaves a rider hospitalized and fighting to survive, families and loved ones frequently feel adrift and uncertain of what steps to take to protect their legal rights and financial futures.
Every case is different, of course, but the steps below can often help in that regard.
- Ensuring the rider receives appropriate medical care. This is obvious, but it bears saying anyway. The most important thing families can do is to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that their loved one receives appropriate, necessary medical care, including palliative, end-of-life care if need be. This is the only right thing to do for a loved one who has suffered severe injuries. It is also an important step in cementing a family’s legal rights to receive compensation for a tragic loss.
- Collecting and saving evidence. It can help to take photos or videos of a motorcycle crash scene as soon as possible after a wreck, to document as accurately as possible the damage and the road conditions that existed at the time of the crash. Save items of physical evidence, especially the rider’s helmet, protective clothing, and the wrecked motorcycle itself. All of these items may provide crucial clues about how the accident happened and who to hold legally and financially accountable for it.
- Saying “no” to unsolicited settlement offers. As detailed above, these offers usually aim to take advantage of grieving, vulnerable families. Say “no, thank you” to them and let an experienced lawyer handle negotiations.
- Contacting a skilled motorcycle accident injury lawyer right away. Hiring legal counsel is not often the first thing that comes to mind for family members mourning a sudden loss. However, the sooner a lawyer can get started protecting a family’s legal rights and financial interests, the better the chances of that family securing the full financial support the law allows through appropriate legal action. A family that waits too long to hire a lawyer, however, risks losing access to evidence and, potentially, may forfeit valuable legal rights altogether.
Do not delay. Your family has important legal rights and financial interests to protect when a motorcycle accident takes the life of your loved one. Contact a skilled, compassionate, experienced motorcycle accident lawyer today for a free case evaluation.