Motorcycle accidents happen all the time in the Memphis area. After a motorcycle accident, most people are worried about how they’ll pay for expensive hospital bills or how they’ll make up for missing weeks of work while trying to recover from their injuries. The good news is, you can pursue compensation if you were not the one primarily at fault for the crash. The bad news is, if you were not wearing a helmet, your recovery could be reduced or even barred in some cases.
Whether or not you were wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, you should consult with a knowledgeable Memphis motorcycle accident attorney to learn about your rights to compensation.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) publishes an up-to-date record of each state’s helmet laws. Tennessee is one 19 states that currently have a universal helmet law, meaning all riders must wear a helmet.
Therefore, if you or your passenger gets on a bike and rides without a helmet, you are actually breaking the law. In addition to being subject to a traffic citation and fine, this can be used by an insurance company to argue that you were partly to blame for your injuries in an accident. This is not a universal rule, however, as each case will be unique.
Comparative negligence is a legal theory in Tennessee that basically says you can’t recover compensation from someone who hurts you unless that person is more to blame than you are. Some call this the 50 percent rule. You have to be less than 50 percent responsible for causing your injuries in order to pursue compensation.
If you are found to be partly responsible for your injuries, a court will reduce your jury award by your specific share of responsibility. Here’s how that looks:
Say you receive a jury award of $100,000, but the jury finds you 30 percent to blame. You can still recover from the other driver. But your award is now reduced to $70,000. Obviously, this is a significant reduction, but the fact remains that in many cases you can still recover compensation, despite sharing fault for your injuries.
If you were not wearing a helmet at the time of your crash, evidence of your violation of the law can be used to argue that you showed disregard for your own safety.This can be a compelling argument in comparative negligence.
Here are a few examples of arguments insurance companies could make when you aren’t wearing a helmet, even when the other driver was at fault for the crash:
As you can see, many times the insurance company is not arguing the helmet had anything to do with the crash. Instead, the argument is focused on how the motorcycle rider’s violation of the law increased the damages.
Keep in mind that the other party’s insurance policy is not the only one implicated. If you carry optional benefits under your own policy, these may be denied if you are violating the law at the time of your injuries.
Under Tennessee Law, all motorists must carry the following minimum insurance limits:
Remember, these are minimum limits. Many people – motorcyclists included – choose to carry much more, including certain optional benefits like:
Under many insurance contracts, you may forfeit your right to use these benefits if you were intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or violating the law. There are limits to how harshly and strictly these contracts can exclude coverage, so if you were injured while not wearing a helmet, it’s important to have your insurance policy reviewed by an attorney who can help you determine your rights to these optional benefits.
This is a very important distinction. You can expect insurance adjusters to use your lack of a helmet against you, by arguing you are at least 50 percent responsible for your injuries. However, this argument falls apart in many scenarios. Consider the following three quick examples:
Example 1: The rider wasn’t wearing a helmet but the sole injury was road rash and a broken ankle. Assuming the other driver was 100 percent at fault for causing the crash, the rider’s lack of a helmet – though unlawful – was not a “proximate” or “contributing” cause of the injuries. Therefore, our office would argue it is not relevant to a determination of contributory negligence.
Example 2: The motorcycle’s passenger was not wearing a helmet and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The driver of the motorcycle was wearing a helmet and also suffered a similar brain injury. While the passenger may have his or her claim reduced, the driver’s claim should be unaffected.
Example 3: The biker wasn’t wearing a helmet and suffered injuries to the head, including facial lacerations. However, the biker was not at fault in causing the crash. The insurance company may try to argue that the biker shares liability for the facial injuries because he or she was not wearing a full-helmet with a face shield. Such an argument is based on strained logic but could be compelling to a jury. Therefore, our firm would fight such a claim by working to show that the law only requires a helmet; therefore, the biker was in full compliance. Likewise, responsibility for the entire crash should be focused on the party who actually caused the crash. If not for that person’s negligence, the facial injury never would have occurred.
With more than 32 years of experience, David E. Gordon has the skills and experience you deserve when fighting an aggressive insurance company after a Tennessee motorcycle crash. If you need smart and strategic legal advice after a serious motorcycle accident, contact The Law Office of David E. Gordon today.