Your life can change forever in a second. One moment you are cruising along on your motorcycle. The next, you are sitting on the side of the road with an undrivable bike and life-altering injuries.
If you find yourself in this situation, thinking about recourse is a natural reaction. How will you repair the motorcycle? Where will you get medical treatment? How can you get your life back to normal?
A lawsuit is a viable option. You should consider filing if you have damages—physical or otherwise. Before diving into the nitty-gritty on winning a motorcycle accident lawsuit, though, we need to look at the bigger picture.
Bias Against Motorcyclists
It comes as no surprise to most motorcyclists that there is a bias among drivers. People in cars create a disproportionate number of accidents. Researchers at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research found that 60 percent of the time, motorists are responsible for collisions with motorcyclists.
This discrepancy starts with the protection difference between a car and a motorcycle. A car has more safety features. That includes but is not limited to airbags, seatbelts, rear-view cameras, and blind-spot detection systems.
These safety measures not only protect drivers but also provide a margin for error. If a driver inadvertently gets in a fender bender, the odds of sustaining physical damage may be relatively low. The same does not apply to motorcyclists who are exposed when on the road.
Second, cell phone distractions are more likely for car drivers. According to the National Safety Council, 27 percent of all car crashes involve cell phones. That equals 1.6 million accidents per year. Statistics for motorcycle accidents related to cell phones are almost non-existent.
While cell phones are the most substantial distractor, they are not the only one. People are more likely to cause an accident when they are sleepy, eating, searching for music, or speaking with passengers. These tasks typically involve drivers taking their eyes off the road 400 percent more often than regular driving. Combine these distractions with motorcycles being less visible, and it’s easy to see why there’s an uptick in motorcycle crashes.
Lane Splitting in Arizona
Knowing that there is a bias should not deter an injured motorcyclist from proceeding with a lawsuit. The circumstances and evidence in the case matter. One litmus test is to see whether the accident involved lane splitting.
Lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist drives between two lanes of traffic heading the same way. While there are legal proposals to change the existing policy, this maneuverer is illegal in Arizona. If law enforcement catches a motorcyclist lane splitting, it can result in a ticket or fine.
Generally speaking, motorcyclists are held liable for damages in lane splitting cases. Legally, they are in an illegitimate position, which increases the likelihood of them being found at fault. Lane splitting may be a factor that works against an injured motorcyclist in seeking compensation due to an accident.
Liability and Damages
Personal Injury lawsuits involving motorcycle accidents have two main factors: liability and damages. Liability refers to the person at fault. If someone was negligent while driving and caused the accident, they are liable. If they weren’t negligent or there isn’t enough proof, there may be no liability.
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of proof. Having definitive evidence will make or break a lawsuit. Having a dashboard camera video or footage from a nearby security system can be enough to prove liability in a case. Note the plaintiff has the burden of proof, which means they have to show enough evidence to persuade the jury of their claim.
Damages refer to the cost of the injuries and losses associated with the accident. This would include present and future necessary medical treatment, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Factoring liabilities and damages is a balancing act. This takes into consideration what juries in the relevant jurisdiction award for similar injuries or damages. Oftentimes attorneys must do significant research into jury awards in the jurisdiction where the accident took place.
Settlement Value vs. Trial Value
Fast forward a few weeks, and you’ve decided to go to trial. You feel decent about your chances to win the case and even have an eyewitness to back up your argument. While you can continue down this road, you may also want to consider other courses of action.
One resolution is to take a settlement. Resolving the accident out of court may be significantly quicker and less expensive. You have the certainty of negotiating your settlement. In the courts, you are bound to whatever the jury decides.
Settlements are also less stressful. The speed and certainty of the process mean you don’t have to spend countless nights preparing for court and reliving your experience. If you want, you can also make the settlement terms private.
Opting for a settlement does have some drawbacks. The most important drawback is the potential monetary damages are likely lower. Plus, defendants typically don’t have to admit they were in the wrong.
If you believe you can earn more in damages, trial value is for you. Few people have that certainty, which is why approximately 80 to 92 percent of cases settle instead of going to trial. If you win your case, the legal system will also hold the defendant publicly accountable, which can provide meaningful closure.
The trial setting provides no guarantees. Even if you make a persuasive case, there is always a chance that the jury sides with the defendant. Additionally, trials can be time-consuming, so be prepared if you do decide to take your case to trial.
Damages in Motorcycle Accident Cases
Most damages from a motorcycle accident are compensatory. That means their purpose is to compensate the plaintiff for any physical or emotional harm. Examples can include physical therapy, domestic services, inconvenience, disfigurement, and transportation.
The compensatory amount should go as far as possible to make the plaintiff feel “whole” again. Granted, this outcome is not always possible. Someone who loses a leg or arm can never replace it. Here some of the most frequent damages considered in motorcycle accidents:
Costs for medical treatment are one of the most common and claims. Part of that is how broad the definition is. Plaintiffs can usually recover the cost of the following in their settlement:
Medical treatments are a fixed cost. Unlike like pain and suffering, successful claims will earn compensation that corresponds with the bills and expenses. For instance, if an injured motorcyclist needs $5,000 worth of medical attention after a crash, they should receive that amount in the settlement.
If you can’t return to work after a motorcycle accident, you may be entitled to lost income. This damage includes the salary you have already lost as well as future wages. If someone seeks compensation for future earnings, that is known as recovering “loss of earning capacity.”
Calculating that sum involves finding the difference between the plaintiff’s current and past wages. Oftentimes an expert is hired by the Plaintiff’s attorney to determine the extent of loss of earning capacity.
More often than not, the term property damage refers to the loss of tangible items. These damages can take two forms. First, there is physical injury to the property. That can include a broken visor, a totaled motorcycle, or a ripped leather jacket.
Second, there is “loss of use” damage. These claims involve lost value associated with the property. For instance, an apartment complex manager might sue a construction team that is negligent in their work, it if costs them prospective income from rent.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering are the broadest damage type. These damages can include physical, emotional, or mental distress. Pain and suffering claims can be challenging to prove, though plaintiffs will often rely on friends, family, photographs, journals, and videos for documentation. They may also use treatment from a mental health professional as an example of their grief.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to compensation for pain and suffering. One method is to multiply the actual damages from the case by a number one to five, depending on the severity and asking the jury to award said amount.
Attorneys may also use a per diem approach. This strategy involves paying the plaintiff a fixed sum every day until they make the maximum recovery. If the per diem is $200, and the recovery period is 100 days, the jurors may award $20,000. Of course just because the Plaintiff’s attorney asks for a monetary award, this does not guarantee the jury will award said amount.
Emotional distress is reserved for the most severe accidents. It requires a fundamental change in the plaintiff before and after the incident. Some examples of emotional distress include:
Several states combine emotional distress with pain and suffering damages. Regardless of the legal classification, emotional distress is one of the most challenging claims to win. Because it is intangible, plaintiffs need powerful evidence and testimony to prove their emotional distress.
Loss of Enjoyment
Loss of enjoyment is the most straightforward damage. A successful claim will prove that the accident caused the plaintiff to lose interest or joy in their life. This figure is not measurable with traditional monetary measures, so the jurors must estimate appropriately.
Examples may include reduced happiness or reduced ability to enjoy hobbies, sports, exercise, or other activities. The change can occur because of a physical or emotional injury. You would need tangible evidence to demonstrate the integrity of the claim.
Loss of Consortium
Loss of Consortium claims look at the impact the accident has on the plaintiff’s relationship with their spouse. In some states, it may take children or other immediate family members into consideration. The premise is that, if injured, the plaintiff can’t maintain the same relationship with their significant other.
For instance, losing a leg in an accident might hinder someone’s ability to love, care, or comfort their partner. More general forms of loss of consortium include:
Proving Negligence in Arizona
When it comes to winning a motorcycle accident, you need to prove negligence. That means you need evidence showing the other motorists didn’t take proper care while driving, and that their improper care led to the accident and potential injuries.
Arizona’s negligence laws come with a unique wrinkle. Instead of using contributory negligence, the state opts for comparative negligence—meaning even if you are at fault as a motorcyclist, you can receive damages. However, you must prove four things: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
The first step is to determine whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care. In non-lawyer speak, that means there is a responsibility to the other person. When driving, you have a duty of care to pedestrians and other drivers on the road, meaning you are obligated to use reasonable care while operating a vehicle.
A breach of duty occurs when someone has failed to fulfill their duty of care. It requires people to judge what a “reasonably prudent person” would do under the same circumstances. A reasonably prudent person is meant to reflect how the average individual would act in a similar scenario.
Demonstrating a breach of duty goes a long way towards proving negligence. It is the equivalent of saying that, knowing what the defendant knew and the risk of injury, an average person would have acted differently. For instance, the average person knows to stop–and does stop–at a red light. Running a red light is then a breach of duty.
Up to this point, the plaintiff has shown duty and breach. Causation takes it one step further from saying the defendant was negligent. Causation ties the actions of the defendant to the damages.
This step requires examining whether the defendants could have foreseen the extent of the injuries. A defendant may not be liable for any unforeseen circumstance or an act of nature.
Damages are the court’s way of compensating plaintiffs, so to have a case, the plaintiff must prove a loss was suffered as detailed above. Most frequently, this compensation is made monetarily to correct any wrongs.
How Are Damages in a Motorcycle Accident Case Calculated?
Motorcycle damages come in two varieties: calculable and non-calculable. Calculable damages, also known as special damages, have precise monetary values. For instance, if you totaled a $10,000 motorcycle, that is what you seek to replace it. That also applies for medical bills, lost earnings, and more.
Non-calculable damages are more difficult to measure because they require putting a value on pain, suffering, and grief. There are no strict guidelines to calculate these totals. What often happens is the judge will instruct jurors to use common sense and judgment to appropriately compensate individuals for their emotional harm.
How Long Can You Sue After a Motorcycle Accident?
The legal term here is the statute of limitations. It is a law that sets a maximum amount of time in which individuals can bring forth legal proceedings. In the case of a motorcycle accident, claimants normally have two years to bring a claim in Arizona. Special rules could apply if the defendant is, or works for a government entity.
Typically, the statute of limitations starts on the day of the accident. That means you can file anytime in the two years immediately after that, barring a settlement or another binding agreement. The courts may not recognize claims brought after this period.
How Much Does a Motorcycle Accident Cost?
Every accident is unique. While there are throughlines among injuries and emotional damage, it is challenging to put a single number on a motorcycle accident. That said, a study estimated total lost quality of life from1993 to be $11.5 billion.
Perhaps the most significant variable related to cost is whether the motorcyclist wore a helmet. On average, the medical expenses of riders in an accident without a helmet are one-third higher than helmeted riders.
Regardless of the size and severity of damages, Saavedra Law Firm will make sure you get the assistance you need. We represent victims on a contingency basis. Put another way: you only pay if you win your lawsuit.
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Phoenix, AZ 85022