Inattention-related motorcycle-vehicle crashes are so common in the United Kingdom and some other overseas nations that officials call them “smidsy” crashes, for “sorry, mate, I didn’t see you.” Another frequent acronym, TBFTL or “turned but failed to look,” simply does not roll off the tongue quite as well.
Besides, SMIDSY captures the rather callous attitude that many tortfeasors (negligent drivers) have after these crashes, as if the motorcycle ride is somehow to blame for the driver’s inattention. Most riders who have gone down have heard the other driver say something like “You just came out of nowhere” or “I never saw you coming.”
To improve their visibility, many riders modify their mufflers to make them louder or honk their horns every few blocks, but unfortunately, these actions may only further antagonize motorists who aren’t particularly fond of motorcycle riders in the first place.
Instead, try weaving slightly in your lane as you ride or wearing a brightly-colored helmet. Although there is practically no evidence that these techniques help prevent a bicycle accident, they almost certainly cannot hurt.
Motorcycle Crash Injuries
The SMIDSY issue is not unique to faraway places and not at all new. In fact, the seminal Hurt Report concluded that about a third of motorcycle-vehicle collisions in the United States occur when a vehicle turns directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle, mostly as the four-wheel vehicle makes an unprotected left turn against traffic.
This problem is probably worse today, because many of the vehicles on New York roads are large pickup trucks and SUVs that are not easy for drivers to see around, especially if they are in low passenger coupes or sedans.
Largely because they have almost no protection during collisions, motorcycle riders are thirty-five times more likely to die in traffic wrecks than four-wheel vehicle occupants. Some of the serious injuries in these cases include:
- Exsanguination: Due to the massive blood loss from both external and internal trauma injuries, many motorcycle crash victims have already entered hypovolemic shock by the time emergency doctors begin treating them.
- Head Injuries: Although many riders wear helmets, protective head gear only reduces the risk of head injury. Moreover, most helmets leave the forehead and neck almost completely exposed.
- Injuries to Extremities: Bikers’ legs and arms are highly susceptible to injuries in collisions, either because the risers are crushed between two large objects or they are thrown off their bikes.
In New York, the no-fault law does not apply to motorcycle crashes, so victims are automatically entitled to compensation for their economic losses, such as lost wages, and their noneconomic losses, including pain and suffering.
First Party Liability
Although many inattention-related crashes involve NYS Traffic Laws Article 28 violations, many times, authorities do not even issue citations in serious or even fatal crash matters, considering such situations to be a civil dispute between the parties.
Fortunately, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) rule still applies in these situations, because a civil jury determines all the facts in a civil case, even violations of traffic safety laws. To establish liability as a matter of law, victim/plaintiffs need only show that the tortfeasor violated a safety law and the violation substantially caused the wreck.
In the unlikely event that this doctrine is inapplicable, victims can still use circumstantial evidence to prove a basic negligence case.
Third Party Liability
Over 12 percent of America’s drivers are uninsured, and since New York has one of the lowest insurance minimum requirements in the county, a substantial additional number are underinsured. Luckily, a vicarious liability theory often applies, giving victims an additional source of compensation.
Some of the most common third party liability theories include:
- Respondeat superior (“let the master answer”),
- Negligent hiring,
- Dram shop (alcohol provider liability), and
- Negligent entrustment.
Since New York is a modified joint and several liability state, the judge normally apportions damages among multiple tortfeasors based on their percentage of fault.
The Helmet Defense
Many riders assume that if they were not wearing helmets when they crashed that they are not entitled to compensation. But in many cases, that is simply not true.
To reduce damages or eliminate them, the insurance company must normally present expert physician testimony that the victim’s injuries were of such a nature that had s/he been wearing a helmet, those injuries would have been reduced by XYZ degree.
Typically, only testimony of this specific nature is admissible, as anything else, such as general safety statistics, is probably too speculative.
Many insurance companies are notoriously parsimonious, and in their view, the expense of retaining an expert witness, not to mention the additional time, is simply not cost-effective. So, many insurance company lawyers try to take a shortcut, and when a savvy attorney objects, they simply abandon that effort.
Remember, time is limited in motorcycle crash cases, so call a lawyer today.