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Motorcycle Accidents: Looking Down the Lens of Law

by James Lambka

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Motorcycles are convenient, fuel-efficient, and, above all, just plain loads of fun to ride. They are also a great way to tour new locations – putting you at almost ground level, lending a sense of freedom everywhere you go. However, there are many risks involved, which could be part of the attraction for some, but accidents are a big concern for many.

Motorcycle accidents could even represent a global health crisis. Motorcycle fatalities are claiming the lives of a third of the people driving in Asia; In Europe, there are nearly 4,000 motorcycle fatalities according to the annual Accident Report 2017; in the USA, in 2016, there were 5,421 motorcycle injuries and accidents resulting in fatalities (Stastista).

Despite these statistics, riding a motorcycle should not be as dangerous as it may seem. Safe motorcycle touring just takes a little preparation and alertness – and some knowledge of what the law says about motorcycle accidents and motorcycle injuries in the event the worst does happen.

Here are the most important things to know about laws in Europe and laws in the US regarding motorcycle accidents:


What does the law say about motorcycle accidents in Europe?

motorcycle crash

The good news here is that some recent changes in laws have made it much easier to pursue personal injury claims for motorcycle accidents. Formerly, under the old rules of Private International Law, you had to pursue a claim through the courts/legal system of the country in which the accident happened or the country where the at-fault driver resided.

So, if you were on a motorbike tour in Europe, and in Spain you were hit by a driver from France, you could pursue your claim in either Spain or France. Nevertheless, after considering the expenses, language barriers, and practical difficulties, this was usually an enormous headache not many wanted to go through.

Now, under newer EU regulations, the claims experience has been largely harmonized across the board for victims in traffic and motorcycle accidents. Generally, a motorcyclist can now bring a claim in the country of residence directly against the insurer of the foreign at-fault driver. The goal here was to level the playing field for a private individual going up against a powerful insurance company.

When the liability or fault for the accident is disputed, the rules of the road where the accident occurred will apply. If you have a motorcycle accident in Germany, both you and the driver of the other vehicle will be judged according to German standards. This is an improvement in European laws that makes eminent sense.

You do need to be aware, though, that there are time limits for pursuing a claim, and there is a huge variance between countries. In some countries, the time limit is one year while in others it can be as long as 10 years. So, the best course is to pursue a personal injury claim in the event of a motorcycle accident as soon as possible, just in case.


What does the law say about motorcycle accidents in the USA?

motorbike accident usa

Image credit: Chris Yarzab

If you have an accident when touring in the USA, information is critical for winning a personal injury claim and getting the compensation to cover medical bills and/or property damage. As soon as you are able, you should try to gather the following:

  • The other driver's information, including contact information and insurance details
  • Photos of the accident, including vehicles, surrounding roads, and landmarks
  • Statements from witnesses along with their contact information
  • Medical reports showing you had to seek treatment

Some states in the US are known as "fault states." This means that if you've been involved in an accident, you have three options when filing a claim: you can file a claim with your own insurance company, you can file a claim with the other driver's insurer, or you can file a lawsuit against the other driver.

These states usually follow what is called a 51% rule. This rule holds that if you were at least 51% responsible for the accident, then you cannot recover any damages. You can receive compensation for damages only if you are 50% or less at fault – and, still, your compensation would be reduced by an amount proportionate to your percentage of fault.

Other states in the US are known as "no-fault states." In these states, you have to file a claim with your own insurer regardless of who was at fault. In addition, in order to file a personal injury claim, you have to show that you suffered serious injury in the accident and/or that your medical bills exceeded $2,000. Depending on other variables, you may be eligible for compensation for lost wages and (sometimes) emotional suffering.

In addition, should you decide to tour the US's scenic Pacific Northwest, you need to be aware that Washington is a "comparative fault state." This rule holds that both parties involved in an accident may share the fault, and your compensation will be reduced according to your amount of fault.


Proving fault or liability in US motorcycle accidents

motorcycle injury

Image credit: Eric Schmuttenmaer

The key ingredient in any claim involving motorcycle injuries is proving that one party was at fault and that the other (you) was not or, at least, only in part and to a lesser degree. There are two important elements in demonstrating the other party's fault/responsibility:

First, as the motorcyclist, you must prove that you weren't violating any traffic laws and were not guilty of any negligence. Second, you will have to prove that the other driver was, in fact, guilty of a traffic-law violation or negligence. This means that just by demonstrating you were not at fault isn't enough; you also have to prove that the other driver was in fact at fault. If you can't do that second part, then you will not be able to receive compensation for damages – and you'll be stuck with medical bills and motorcycle-repair bills.

Motorcycle accidents often result in severe injuries because they often occur at high speeds, and the other vehicle involved is usually a much heavier car or truck. In fact, motorcycle accidents have one of the highest serious-injury rates of all kinds of traffic and motor-vehicle accidents. This is why it's important to at least have the contact of an experienced lawyer in motorcycle accidents and motorcycle injuries.

If you ride with caution, you should never need these tips. But it’s always good to be informed and prepared.

Don’t want to deal with accidents? Forget about other vehicles and go on an off-road motorcycle tour!

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