Riding a motorcycle can be a freeing and exhilarating experience, being open to the wind as you cruise along a highway. The inherent exposure of this mode of transportation, though, poses significant risks. Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents result in more than a thousand deaths a year, with many more suffering serious and life-altering injuries.
If you are a rider, and especially if you were injured in a motorcycle accident that was caused by someone else’s wrongdoing, you need to understand the legal process for obtaining compensation for the expenses and quality-of-life impacts you may face from injury. A motorcycle accident lawyer can help you do this.
Why Motorcycle Accidents Cause Such Severe Injuries
Motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the occupants of passenger vehicles, and are also more likely to sustain injuries. Clearly, the lack of protective features, such as a steel frame, seat belts, and airbags, contribute to the high fatality and injury rates. Without these features, riders are highly likely to be ejected during the accident, leaving their bodies vulnerable to injuries caused by contact with the roadway, other vehicles, or other obstacles.
To reduce the likelihood of injury and death while riding, motorcyclists need to remember they have:
- Less maneuverability. The majority of motorcycles feature only two wheels, as opposed to four wheels found in other types of motor vehicles. This can make it difficult to perform emergency driving maneuvers, such as swerving to avoid a collision or coming to a sudden stop. The chances that a rider, when faced with an emergency driving situation, can’t avoid collision are thus much higher.
- Less stability. The two wheels on motorcycles also provide less stability on slippery surfaces, such as those experienced in inclement weather as well as those caused by loose gravel, oil, or other debris on the roadway.
- Less visibility. With motorcycles having a slimmer and smaller profile than other types of vehicles, it is not unusual for the driver of a passenger car to state, after having an accident with a motorcycle, “I didn’t even see them.” Studies indicate that individuals do, in fact, have difficulty seeing an approaching motorcycle. Visibility is an issue of particular concern in conditions where visibility is already reduced due to nighttime or inclement weather.
All of this means that motorcyclists require more skills than other drivers. Riding a motorcycle requires different skills, too. This can increase the risk of an accident for occasional riders who have not had enough practice to hone the necessary skills. To worsen matters, many ride motorcycles without licenses—approximately 29 percent of riders killed in U.S. crashes do not have a valid motorcycle license. Licensure is not just about the legal privilege to operate the vehicle—it ensures riders meet the necessary levels of knowledge and skill.
Common Motorcycle Injuries
Virtually any type of injury can occur during a motorcycle accident, due to the exposure of the rider’s entire body to the force.
However, some motorcycle accident injuries are more commonly experienced, including:
Head injuries are among the most common fatal injuries to incur in a motorcycle accident, and motor vehicle accidents—including those involving motorcycles—are the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries. Because of this, many states require young riders to wear helmets, and others require all motorcycle riders and their passengers to be helmeted. More than 25,000 lives in the U.S. were saved since 2002 thanks to motorcycle helmets. Universal helmet laws in all states could save about 800 more lives a year.
The biggest risk of traumatic brain injuries, aside from death, is the permanent disabilities that often accompany them. All of the body’s functions trace back to the brain. However, despite its power, the brain is highly susceptible to injury and has a limited ability to recover. Thus, motorcycle accidents resulting in head injuries can result in, often permanent, loss of certain functions. The type and extent of lost functions depend not only on the severity of the injury, but the part of the brain that was injured.
The brain is made up of several segments, known as lobes. Each lobe is responsible for different functions of the body. Some of the deficits that can be acquired through a traumatic brain injury, include the inability to wake up or breathe on one’s own, memory loss, difficulty communicating or understanding spoken communication, the loss of balanced movement, and difficulty controlling one’s impulses or behavior.
While head injuries are the most common cause of fatalities in motorcycle accidents, road rash is among the most common injuries to suffer in a motorcycle accident. Road rash is a term referring to an abrasion from contact with a rough surface, such as an asphalt road. This injury most often occurs to either jointed areas such as knees and elbows, as well as areas where the body’s underlying bone structure protrudes, such as at the ankles, on the face, hands, or shins.
The biggest risks posed to most individuals after suffering road rash are infections in the open wound and significant scarring.
While mild road rash is often treated successfully at home, medical treatment should be sought immediately in these circumstances:
- There are foreign objects such as rocks or glass embedded in the wound
- The wound is bigger than three times the size of the individual’s hand. The larger the wound, the more opportunity there is for bacteria to enter it and the more risk there is of extensive scarring
- The wound is bleeding heavily or will not stop bleeding
- The wound is in a place prone to infection, such as the hands or feet
- The wound is deep enough to show muscle or bone.
Injuries to the lower extremities are also one of the most frequent types of injuries to suffer in a motorcycle accident, with one study finding around half of all injured or killed riders suffered injuries to this part of the body. The most common type of lower extremity injury to suffer was bone fractures, with the majority of those fractures involving the tibia and the fibula, two bones located in the lower leg.
Symptoms of a broken bone in the leg include:
- Intense pain
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or tingling in the foot
- A deformity of the lower leg in the knee, shin, or ankle area
- Swelling and bruising at the site of the injury.
Other common lower extremity injuries include damage to the muscles, tendons, or joints of the hips, legs, or feet. Lower extremity injuries can require surgery to repair, can result in loss of mobility or changes to gait, and can require several months or more for recovery. For example, if you suffered a fractured tibia, you can expect at least four months of recovery. Most tibia fractures heal within 12 months.
Like the legs, the rider’s arms are also at risk of injury during a motorcycle accident. One very common arm injury suffered by motorcyclists is known as “biker’s arm,” where an injury results from a rider’s instinctive reflex to “catch” themselves when falling from the bike. The injury can result in permanent loss of motion and sensation in the arm.
An individual’s arms, wrists, and hands can also be injured in motorcycle accidents that cause them to strike their arm against an object, or cause it to be crushed beneath the bike or other objects.
Burns are also very common motorcycle accident injuries. An individual can suffer:
- Thermal burns resulting from open flames caused by the gasoline in the motorcycle tank or flammable liquids from the other vehicle
- Chemical burns from the skin coming into contact with gasoline and other caustic vehicle fluids
- Thermal burns from the rider’s body coming into contact with hot surfaces, such as the motorcycle engine
- Friction burns, more commonly known as road rash, resulting from the individual’s skin coming into contact with the roadway or other rough surfaces.
As with road rash, the greatest risks posed by any type of burn are significant scarring and infection caused by bacteria getting into the open wound. The scarring caused by burns is not just an aesthetic concern, but also a matter of mobility, as burns often result in a tightening of the skin, particularly on jointed areas, that can result in a loss of range of motion.
Injured in a Motorcycle Accident? Filing a Lawsuit and the Value of an Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorney
If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident that was the result of someone else’s wrongdoing, you can pursue compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a motorcycle accident lawsuit. A lawsuit is initiated by filing a case in civil court, with the ultimate goal of proving a defendant is at-fault for the accident and liable (legally responsible) to compensate the victim for their injuries.
There are several potential sources of liability in motorcycle accidents, including:
- Other motorists. A motorcycle’s lesser visibility as compared to other vehicle types does not let a negligent motorist off the hook when it comes to determining liability for an accident. Drivers of passenger cars are required to yield the right-of-way to motorcycles and to ensure that the travel lane is clear when entering a travel lane where there is a motorcycle. Common negligent driving behaviors that contribute to motorcycle accidents include distracted driving, speeding, tailgating, failure to yield, and impaired driving.
- The manufacturer and distributor of defective motorcycle or automobile parts. Defective vehicle parts are dangerous, as they can cause an accident when they malfunction. The manufacturing process can introduce a flaw that compromises a vehicle’s safety.
- The governmental agency tasked with maintaining a roadway and keeping it free from obstacles that could obstruct a driver’s view and lead to an accident.
To show that the at-fault party is liable for compensating you for motorcycle accident injuries, you must prove:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care refers to how a reasonable person would respond in similar circumstances. Motorists owe a duty of care to operate their motor vehicles safely and legally. A manufacturer’s duty of care is to ensure that its products are designed to be safe when used properly and are clearly labeled with instructions as to the proper use
- There was a breach in the duty of care. “Breach” refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that were contrary to the duty of care they owed you
- This breach caused the accident, which resulted in your injuries and led to expenses and impacts on your quality of life.
Some of the expenses and impacts you can be compensated for through a motorcycle accident lawsuit include:
- Medical expenses, past and anticipated
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Cost of repairing or replacing your motorcycle and/or riding equipment the accident destroyed or damaged
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of the enjoyment of life.
These are just some of the considerations you need to take into account when filing a motorcycle accident lawsuit. The process can be difficult and an added stress upon victims who already have more than enough to worry about between medical treatment and getting their life back in order. While hiring a lawyer might seem like just another expense, hiring an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer could actually end up getting you greater compensation.
Such attorneys are trained in the legal process and can handle its various stages more efficiently and with an awareness of the things that matter most to your recovery. Most attorneys will offer free consultations, so motorcycle accident victims shouldn’t hesitate to call to at least look into the option of hiring an attorney.