Motorcycle Collisions Don’t Always Involve Another Vehicle

As Of 2019, there were nearly Seven million motorcycles registered in the US.’ In Arizona, there were more than 150,000 motorcycles registered in 2008. In than 3.0m were injured. 2 At last count, there are more than motorcycle injured every year. If you have a general PI practice, you Will likely to represent a few of these folks. If you are focusing your marketing efforts to attract these clients, as our firm has, you will represent a lot more. Either way, it is imperative that do it well.

Representing an injured Motorcyclist (do not say ‘biker”) can be challenging and rewarding. Doing it effectively and understanding the issues, takes effort and education. Most motorcyclists prefer to be represented by an attorney who at least understands the basics of how a motorcycle functions. For example. It is important to know how a motorcycle how it stays upright, and how it turns. Every attorney and Judge, every insurance adjustor and nearly every juror drives a car or truck and has done so for years. They understand braking, accelerating and using the steering wheel. Most, however, have never been on a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. They generally assume that a motorcycle works like a car.
While the technical aspects of how a motorcycle works and the dynamics are beyond the scope of this article, many resources are available.’ For purposes of this paper, the discussion will be confined to two motorcycles, although three-wheeled motorcycles “trikes” operate in a similar (although not identical) manner.


Steering A motorcycle is steered in a unique way. Many people can instinctively steer a bicycle without thinking about it or really understanding it. That is fine for the low ride around the block. If, however, you are a motorcycle knowing how to steer is a MUST. As the lawyer for the injured motorcyclist, you must this as well. In order for a motorcycle to travel in a curved path, it must lean. The angle of the lean is related to the radius of the turn of the bike — Watch a motorcycle race sometime and it will make sense to you. The handlebars are generally used to control the lean angle, while the throttle is used to increase decrease the radius. It is very difficult to brake hard and steer at the same time.
Many instructors recommend hard braking, releasing the brake and then serving. Others recommend using primarily the rear brake while steering or swerving. Most motorcycles accelerate quickly. Even an average motorcycle can accelerate from O to mph in less than 4 seconds. On most current models, the throttle is incorporated into the right handlebar, just above the handbrake and can be on” (forward) to accelerate, and rolled off” (towards the rider) decelerate.


Braking a motorcycle the proper way can be the difference between your client remaining upright and going down on the asphalt. On most motorcycles, the front brake is controlled by a right-hand brake, and the rear brake is controlled by the foot pedal, on the right. Some motorcycles have ABS (anti-skid braking systems). Be sure to ask your client if his/her, model has it. The more of the two, brakes is generally considered to be the front brake. Some experts suggest that the front brake should be used for 70% of the braking and the rear for 30%. Thus far, no black boxes are found on motorcycles — so absent physical evidence, your witness statements and your client’s report, you may never know. Ask your client if he was “covering” the brake as he traveled forward. If he was, he may have saved about a tenth of a second of reaction time. Motorcycle transmissions (except for a very few) are most often shifted by the left foot in conjunction With a Clutch activated by the left hand. Most commonly, first is down. Then neutral, then up through the gears. Usually, there is a green neutral indicator light. Generally, there are three types of drivelines: chain, belt, and driveshafts.


There are several types of motorcycles commonly seen on the road. These include cruisers, choppers, sports bikes, touring bikes.
This is a newer (late 80’s) term for street bikes with a laid-back style. Generally, these motorcycles have a low seat, a swept back look and lots of torque and chrome. They are generally favored by the more casual or weekend rider — before, during or after a mid-life crisis!

A style of motorcycle that has a greater angle in the front end, and often has radical styling. These have been popularized by the owners of Orange County Choppers. Typically, these are very stable when going straight, but turning is not very agile in turns. A “cool” ride for those with extra cash.

Sport Bikes
A slang term for a bike is “crotch rocket.” These are built speed and maneuverability, not comfort. Generally favored by the younger rider.

Touring Bikes
An upgrade from a cruiser. Usually includes all the luxuries and amenities – cup holders, heated handgrips, satellite radio, GPS. etc. — designed for the leisure rider who enjoys a touring lifestyle

The left turn by the adverse driver in front Of your client is clearly the most common type of collision we see. T-bone collisions caused by a vehicle crossing your client’s path of travel and rear end impacts occur regularly. Intersection collisions account for most motorcycle collisions

Some common road conditions that have little or impact on a four-wheel vehicle can have a devastating effect on a motorcycle. These may include gravel on the road, the use of steel plates, misplaced signs, roadways, metal grates, and expansion joints. Pieces of retread can become airborne and act as projectiles.


Although a small animal on the roadway can be a nuisance to the four-wheel driver, it is usually avoided or becomes road kill. A motorcycle striking a small animal can create a problem. Striking a large animal (an elk. de. cow) can fatal.


Signs proclaim “Start Seeing Motorcycles,” Watch for Motorcycles.” for Motorcycles.” Unfortunately, the average motorist or witness will tell police, “He came out Of nowhere — I never saw him.” This suggests, of course, that the motorcyclist was speeding. It is the most common defense — and in those states where comparative or contributing negligence can reduce damages — the most deadly. Much has been written about conspicuity— regardless Of the now mandatory always on headlight. Some motorcycle riders proclaim “loud pipes save lives.” Perhaps, but the sound also suggests to the average witness that your client was going faster than he actually was — that he was “flying down the road.” In many cases, a time/distance analysis should be performed by your reconstructionist.


A surprisingly common occurrence in motorcycle injury cases is a lack of physical contact between the motorcycle and third-party vehicle causing the injury. This can occur because the motorcycle maneuvers away from the at-fault vehicle or “lays bike down” to avoid a collision. While the lack of contact is frequently cited by the defense in an effort to deflect fault, it is nothing more than a red-herring and. if anything could be viewed as a mitigation Of the damages by the As an aside, a lack of physical contact can be fatal to an uninsured motorist claim, sometimes called a “miss-and-run” or phantom vehicle” claim. Arizona law permits presentation of independent corroboration.


Accident Reports Accident reports are generally not favorable to the motorcyclist, particularly if the investigating officer is a motorcyclist. If your client was badly hurt there won’t a statement from him, only from the other driver. The officer will have only one version of the collision unless there were witnesses. In jurisdictions, the citations and even the officer’s opinions as to liability are admissible, they may initially be initially persuasive to an insurance adjustor.

Interview witnesses early. Ideally, your investigator should understand issues like conspicuity and perception of speed by a witness who is stopped. Focus on the improper action of the adverse driver whenever possible. Unless a witness rider, he or she may be convinced that your client must have done something wrong — just because he was a motorcyclist cut than off or “flew down the road” earlier in the day. Your knowledge of motorcycle dynamics and perceptions will be of benefit in your cross-examination of these “hostile witnesses” at the deposition or trial. If there is a traffic hearing, even though can’t participate, try to attend to observe the demeanor and testimony of the adverse and of hostile witnesses they have been contacted and sandpapered by defense counsel. In many traffic courts, the proceedings are recorded and the recordings are available to anyone willing to pay for a copy


As with your typical motor vehicle collision case, photographs of the vehicles, the location, and the available sight lines are key. Many motorists now travel with a digital camera — at the very least they will have a cell phone with a camera. Photographs taken close in time to the event can be critical. Video images from surrounding business may help (or hurt) your case. Likewise, images obtained from red light or traffic cameras may helpful (or not). Insurance Adjustors Even though some of the large carriers like Progressive and GEICO are actively seeking motorcyclists’ insurance dollars, many of their adjustors do not understand motorcycles, motorcyclists or motorcycle collisions. Your ability to explain how your client was unable to avoid the collision caused by the improper driving of their insured will go a long way toward a prompt resolution of your client’s claim. As with other types of negligence case that you handle, have an involved — or at least available to consult with. You may not need an expert in a case where your client’s primary injury is road rash, but if claims of your client’s negligence are raised, be sure you are armed with information. An accident reconstructionist with motorcycle riding experience will help your client throughout the claim. Many are police motorcycle officers. Alternatively, contact a motorcycle riding expert. Check with your local motorcycle training school.


Motorcycle collisions involve both experienced and inexperienced riders. Often, however, a rider’s experience, both on the road and on the particular motorcycle, will become a focus by the defense in be prepared to address this with your client so that he is not caught Off guard. In addition to exploring yow client’s riding experience, discuss the Steps your client took in with obtaining his endorsement was a safety course? How many days was it? Did it involve practical training a
Highlighting your client’s experience and safety training not only serves to respond to the anticipated defenses in cycle cases, but it may also help to undermine the bias against motorcyclists. It is consistent with presenting your client as a responsible safety-conscious individual, which is a factor in every motorcycle case by implication and sets motorcycle injury apart from traditional automobile cases (where the driver’s training and is almost driver an issue).

Juror bias is a problem in most injury in motorcycle cases the problem is magnified. For the most part, the public considers “bikers” to be inherently dangerous and irresponsible. Unfortunately, movies and culture only reinforce these images. Indeed, even many motorcyclists acknowledge that, regardless of experience and careful riding, there are two of riders — those who have down” and who are “going down.” The reality, of course, if that motorcycling can dangerous, but that most motorcyclists are both safety conscious and “good citizens.”


Arizona does require the use of helmets. The defense is permitted, however, to argue comparative negligence. The burden of is shifted to the defendant to prove that use of a helmet would have either reduced or avoided a particular injury.’ This has led to interesting battles and motions in 1997, David Thom and Hugh Hurt. Jr., then of USC published a Feasibility Study of Upgrading FMVSS No. 218. Motorcycle Helmets. This was a sequel to their 1981 study which has become known as the Hurt Report. Both studies are “must” reads if you have a case where the use or non-use of a helmet is at issue. There are different types of helmets, including full face, full face with visor, open face (favored by police departments) and the aptly named “shorty”. If forced to wear a helmet, your clients will complain that they are uncomfortable, too hot, and limit peripheral vision and hearing. Generally speaking, those who choose to wear a helmet rarely voice these same complaints. Regardless, if a helmet is worn, it should be of the highest quality — considering what it is intended to protect


Recommended clothing includes leather gloves, long pants, and boots. Eye protection is required by statute. This requirement may be satisfied by the use of a windscreen windshield. In addition to looking good, leather generally offers better protection than most fabrics. Certain nylon clothing may and also reduce the coefficient of friction as a suddenly dismounted rider slides along the pavement.
Notwithstanding the use of protection, a motorcyclist who is struck by several thousand vehicles, or who comes in contact with the pavement at street will be hurt in some manner. Injuries may range from road rash and soft tissue damage to severe orthopedic injuries and brain damage, or worse. Given that a motorcyclist’s extremities are exposed, hand, wrist, foot and ankle injuries are not unusual, ranging from fracture to amputation. Additionally, pelvic injuries are common, as are injuries to the genitalia of both genders. Significant scarring and disfigurement may result from an impact with an adjacent sign, or a portion of the adverse driver’s vehicle. Be On the lookout for cognitive impairments that may be symptomatic of brain damage.


For many motorcycle clients, the Status and repair of their motorcycle are of great importance. Many keep their motorcycles for years and are very attached to them. Regardless Of your personal view, respect their desires and assign a staff member to promptly handle the property damage aspect of the claim. Most insurance companies will also pay for the replacement of helmets and riding equipment as additional elements of damage. Before the motorcycle is repaired, however, be sure to obtain all of the photographs you will need. If you anticipate any issue regarding the motorcycle, have your reconstructionist examine and photograph the motorcycle before it is repaired. Alternatively, sure it until the conclusion of the case.


Representing injured motorcycle riders can be rewarding in many respects. Many of these folks are very grateful and will become your friends for life. By understanding them, their culture and their vehicles, you will also gain a new appreciation for that motorcyclist who pulls up next to you at the red light.


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