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Motorcycle Accidents: Facts and Stereotypes

Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on Feb 03, 2012 in Car Accidents

Many motorcyclists are injured and killed in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. due to no fault of their own. These innocent victims and their families should contact a personal injury lawyer with experience handling motorcycle crash claims, and make sure that the law firm understands the additional challenges that come with motorcycle accident cases.

The personal injury lawyers at Goldberg Finnegan, LLC have experience with these cases, and we have obtained great results on behalf of many cyclists with severe injuries including paralysis, broken bones and death. The stakes in a motorcycle accident cases are always high-oftentimes higher than the average car accident case. Motorcyclists have two strikes against them before they even strap on their helmets: (1) they are motorcyclists; and (2) there are fewer barriers between them and significant, permanent injury. It is important that anyone who is injured (or family members of those killed) in a motorcycle accident know and understand the challenges of these cases from the outset because the perceptions and biases that some juror have against motorcyclist can impact the settlement value of the case, and can impact outcomes when these cases go to trial.

Perception is Reality
We all form judgments about others based on whatever limited information we get. When we hear on the news that a motorcyclist was involved in a fatal collision, we assume that the motorcyclist was at fault. This is true especially if it was a young motorcyclist. We remember every time we were driving in the slow lane on I-95, dutifully abiding by the 55 mph speed limit with our hands at ten and two (never mind that we always go at least 5 mph over the speed limit, and we usually drive with one hand). We remember that, while we were so law-abiding, a pack of young twenty-somethings was weaving in-and-out of traffic on their brightly painted crotch-rockets. If we were any older, we'd call those people whippersnappers.

That perception, which most of us are guilty of harboring, is a problem for the motorcycle-riding community when it comes to bringing a personal injury lawsuit for injuries. The reason is that motorcyclists face an uphill battle when convincing a group of people (for example, six jurors) that they were not the cause of the collision. It's hard for us to give motorcyclists the benefit of the doubt. The reality is that motorcyclists often get less than a fair shake at trial. Somewhere deep inside, we want to believe that the motorcyclists are the cause of these collisions-it's easy for non-motorcyclists to believe this because it means that motorcyclists are more often at fault than we are (the psychologists call this a defensive attribution bias). We judge the victims for their conduct (driving motorcycles), and blame the outcome on the victim instead of the real cause of injury. This is the same reason that, statistically, women jurors sometimes have a hard time finding negligence in failure to diagnose breast cancer lawsuits. Many women, when asked, say that they would not take one doctor's word for it that a lump is benign. Instead, they believe that they would get second, third and even fourth opinions. Subconsciously, we all try to disassociate ourselves from harmful outcomes.

Fewer Barriers to Injury
Motorcyclists face a problem similar to victims of semi-truck accidents. In trucking accidents, the sheer size and weight of trucks can cause devastating injuries in what would otherwise be a minor impact. For motorcyclists, not being enclosed in the safer capsule of a car cabin, and without the benefit of seatbelts, means that they are oftentimes ejected from their vehicle suffer more serious and oftentimes permanent injuries.

The Real Reality: Motorcycle Accident Statistics
The national data for motorcycle and passenger vehicle accidents reveals:

  • 1998: 31,899 fatal passenger vehicle accidents
  • 1998: 2,294 fatal motorcycle accidents
  • 2007: 28,933 fatal passenger vehicle accidents (this number has decreased every year between 2002 and 2007)
  • 2007: 5,154 fatal motorcycle accidents (this number has increased every year between 2002 and 2007)

For local Maryland data:

  • 2008: 1,800 motorcycle accidents
  • 2008: 1,500 motorcycle injuries
  • 2008: 83 motorcycle fatalities

The rising number of motorcycle accidents is certainly due in some part to more motorcyclists on the road. Particularly in this economy, motorcycles can be an attractive gas-saving option, and are a cheaper alternative to cars and small truck.

Motorcycles can be more dangerous, but there is no data that conclusively shows motorcyclists are predominantly at fault in collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the causes of motorcycle accidents, and published a report in 2010 after seeing a doubling of motorcycle accidents.

The study was small-only 23 accidents in Orange County, California were fully investigated because the study was designed to help create a more comprehensive study. Here are the facts based on this small sample:

  • 12/23 (52%): single vehicle accidents
  • 3/23 (13%): deaths
  • 5/23 (22%): less than 2 weeks of experience in motorcycle operation
  • 2/23 (8.7%): between 2 weeks and 1 year of experience in motorcycle operation
  • 4/23 (17%): between 16 and 42 years of experience in motorcycle operation
  • 6/23 (26%): ages 18-23
  • 6/23 (26%): ages 24-40
  • 8/23 (35%): ages 41-60
  • 3/23 (13%): unknown ages
  • 12/23 (52%): had some kind of motorcycle safety training

Unfortunately, the study does not report on conclusions about the causes of the collisions. Even based on this data, it's easy to let our biases sink in-many of the motorcyclists had less than a year of motorcycle experience. Preferably, we would exclude the data on single-vehicle accidents, because those are not cases that would lead to lawsuits. The data was not parsed out in such a way to exclude them, though.

Our Experience
Anecdotally, the motorcycle accident victims we have represent tend to be more experienced, and most of them have taken motorcycle training and safety courses. They all wear helmets, and many of them wear more protective gear, including vests. Motorcycle accident settlements are more difficult because the insurance companies are often willing to take a bet that the jury will enter the case with the biases discussed below, rendering a defense verdict. Therefore, a disproportionate number of motorcycle injury cases go to trial.

We are acutely aware of the additional challenges that come with representing a motorcyclist who is seriously injured, and will fight hard to make sure that everything possible is done to combat the negative perception of motorcyclists described above.

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