If someone else injured you in a motorcycle crash, you might be entitled to compensation. To claim damages, you must first take several important steps. From collecting evidence to negotiating a settlement, the journey to the final payout isn’t always straightforward. However, it is possible to get the money you deserve with the right approach and professional legal advice.
Take a closer look at how claiming damages in a motorcycle crash works.
Step #1: Collect Evidence
The amount and quality of evidence you collect are integral to claiming compensation. The earlier you start collecting it, the better your chances of building a solid case. That is why evidence collected at the crash scene is critical.
Evidence at the Crash Site
Because motorcycle accidents often cause severe injuries, many victims do not have the opportunity to collect evidence at the scene. Your top priority is to call 911 for medical attention and to have police officers come to the scene.
However, if you can safely do so, try to collect:
- Photos of all vehicles involved in the accident, including damage, debris, broken glass, and skid marks
- Photos of the surrounding area, including road signs and construction work
- Photos of your injuries
- Videos of the surrounding area, damages, and the other driver if they seem to be under the influence
- Contact information from all accident participants and witnesses.
If you could not collect evidence at the crash site, do not worry; a lawyer can still recover most of the evidence later.
Evidence After the Crash
After you have attended to your injuries, you can collect other evidence, including:
- Police report: The officers who arrive at the crash scene will perform an initial investigation and create a detailed police report. You will need this report to file an insurance claim, read witnesses’ testimonies, and identify who may have caused the accident.
- Motorcycle maintenance records: Records that show you maintained your motorcycle could demonstrate whether a faulty part caused the accident.
- Medical records: This evidence is usually the key to getting a fair settlement. Start collecting medical notes as soon as your treatment begins.
- Records of work absence: Ask your employer for records documenting your absence at work to serve as evidence to seek lost wages.
- Journals: You may want to start writing a journal to record how your injuries change your quality of life. When you file for non-economic damages, you can use your journal as evidence.
- Photos: Family photos that demonstrate how active you were before the crash can help show how your quality of life changed after the crash.
Other evidence that you may want to collect while building your case includes:
- Cell phone records, which might prove that the at-fault driver was distracted
- Records of 911 calls, which may show that the at-fault driver was under the influence
- Crash data from the event data recorder (EDR), which is a device installed in most vehicles that records information after a physical event like a crash
- Vehicle recall report if the car or truck had defective parts
Not all of this evidence is readily available to the general public. If you do not know how to collect it, you hire an attorney to obtain it for you.
Step #2: Contact an Attorney
If you sustained severe injuries, you might be entitled to sizable compensation. However, you may have trouble getting a fair amount without an attorney.
Motorcycle accident lawyers handle various aspects of a case, including:
- Collecting evidence
- Speaking to witnesses
- Obtaining a police report
- Building a personal injury case
- Filing letters, claims, and lawsuits
- Proving liability and negligence
- Negotiating a fair settlement
- Representing clients in court
If you decide not to work with an attorney, you will have to do legal research on your own, at the risk of making a costly mistake. Since the at-fault party is likely to have a strong team of lawyers on their side, you need as much knowledge as you can gather to recover fair damages.
Many attorneys provide a free case evaluation before you sign a contract. This evaluation can help you understand your case’s viability and how the lawyer can help in your unique circumstances.
Step #3: Identify Liable Parties
Before you can file a claim, you need to determine which parties caused the motorcycle crash. While you may think that the at-fault party is obvious, you could be missing important details. That is why a thorough investigation of the accident is essential.
During an investigation, you may identify other liable parties, like:
- Another driver: The most common cause of motorcycle crashes is other drivers making left turns. If another driver failed to see your bike coming and made a left turn into you, then they should be liable for your damages.
- Employer: If a driver, such as a delivery driver, was working during the crash, their employer might be responsible for covering your damages.
- Pedestrians: A jaywalking pedestrian could cause an accident by suddenly appearing in front of a vehicle. Another driver might swerve to avoid them, hitting your motorcycle instead.
- Government: If poor road maintenance or inadequate signage caused your accident, you might need to sue the relevant government entity. Filing a claim against the government is more complicated than settling with an insurance company, so speak to a motorcycle accident lawyer about this option.
Once you figure out who is responsible for the accident, you can either:
- Try to negotiate a settlement with an insurance company
- Sue the at-fault party directly
The first option is the most common one. Most likely, you can negotiate a settlement without going to court. However, if the at-fault party doesn’t have insurance, you may need to present your case to a judge or jury.
Step #4: Be Ready to Prove Negligence
The pillar of any personal injury claim is negligence. You must have sufficient evidence to prove the other party’s negligent behavior. Otherwise, you may not be able to recover any damages.
The four elements of negligence are:
- The legal duty of care
- Breach of this legal duty of care
In short, you have to prove that the at-fault party violated a legal duty to you. Then, you must show that this breach caused your injuries, which eventually led to economic and non-economic damages.
If you can prove the other party’s negligence, you can proceed with insurance company negotiations or filing a lawsuit.
Step #5: Send a Demand Letter
If the at-fault party is insured, your lawyer can send a demand letter to the insurance company. The demand letter contains:
- Your side of the story (including evidence of negligence)
- Losses you incurred due to the crash
- The amount requested as a settlement
To draft an effective demand letter, your lawyer will need all the evidence you’ve collected so far, possibly including expert witness testimony.
The insurance company could take a while to respond to your demand letter. Some companies intentionally delay the response to put psychological pressure on the motorcyclist and gain an edge during subsequent negotiations.
One way to speed up the process is to specify how long you are willing to wait for a response before going to court. For instance, your lawyer can say that the company has 30 days to reply in the letter.
The Response From the Insurance Company
After receiving your demand letter, the insurance company may respond with a:
- Rejection: If the insurance company denies your claim, you may need to file a lawsuit.
- Counteroffer: The insurance company will likely start negotiating for a lower payout. Your lawyer will begin negotiations to get you a fair settlement in this situation.
- Acceptance: In rare cases, the insurance company may agree to the amount and make a payment.
Your lawyer may recommend that you wait to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) before sending a demand letter. At that point, you may have a better idea of your future medical expenses, which will change how much compensation you pursue.
Step #6: Negotiate a Settlement
Negotiating a settlement with an insurance company can take time. The insurance company will likely investigate to find holes in your arguments, offer you a small settlement, or refuse to settle out of court.
Some insurance companies stretch out the negotiations process to pressure the motorcyclist. Many people agree to a lower settlement amount to get the process over with more quickly.
How much money can I recover?
During negotiations with the insurance company, it’s imperative to know how much compensation to pursue.
An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can assist you in determining the value of your claim, based on:
- The extent of your injuries
- The quality of your evidence
- The testimony of expert witnesses
- Number of parties liable for the accident
- Your ability to continue negotiations
In most cases, once you accept a settlement, you waive the right to sue the insurance company. Therefore, you must be confident that the settlement is fair. However, if several defendants are involved in the case, you may be able to pursue compensation from other avenues. Speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options.
Step #7: File a Lawsuit
You may need to file a lawsuit if:
- The at-fault party is uninsured
- The insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement
- The amount of damages exceeds the insurance coverage limit
To file a lawsuit, you need to collect all the necessary evidence and serve a complaint to the defendant.
Statute of Limitations
You only have a limited time to file a personal injury lawsuit. For example, you must file a claim within two years in Pennsylvania, while you have four years to file a claim in Florida. If you do not file within the time limit, you probably will not be able to seek compensation—even if you have a valid case. The clock usually starts running at the time of a motorcycle crash, so you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to get started on your claim.
Even if you’ve already collected evidence to negotiate with the insurance company, your lawyer would probably need to gather more evidence to bring your case to court. For example, your lawyer would need to send official questions to the defendant, take depositions of relevant parties and witnesses, and collect new evidence if required. The other side will do the same.
Depending on the complexity of your motorcycle accident claim, the discovery process can last weeks or months.
Your lawyer can negotiate a settlement at any point of the lawsuit. A fair settlement offer can come when you file a claim, after the discovery phase, or during the trial.
Your lawyer can settle the case by:
- Mediation - Conducting negotiations with the plaintiff without involving the court
- Settlement conference - Getting an order from a judge to conduct negotiations
Most cases settle before going to trial.
If you do not receive a reasonable offer before the trial, you have to be ready to present your case to a judge or jury. While it may take several months to set a trial date, personal injury trials rarely last longer than a few days. If you win an award in court, your lawyer can help you receive the money.
Recovering Damages in a Fatal Motorcycle Crash
Motorcycle accidents account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. If your loved one died in a motorcycle crash, the road to recovering damages is similar to the above process.
Your lawyer would need to collect evidence, prove liability, and demonstrate negligence. There is also a statute of limitations that will limit how long you have to file a claim. However, the damages you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit differ from those sought in a personal injury lawsuit.
Contact a Motorcycle Accident Attorney
Because the court system is complex and insurance companies fight to keep you from succeeding, you may struggle to file a claim or get a fair offer without legal assistance. Contact a motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as you can to learn about your options and get help pursuing the justice you deserve.