Motorcycle Wrecks in New York: A Closer Look

Motorcycle Wrecks in New York: A Closer Look

July 15, 2020 | Personal Injury

During the first half of the year, motorcycle crashes are not as common in New York.

It’s simply too cold to ride.

But when spring arrives, motorcycle crash season is in full swing. The weather is warmer during the second half of the year, so more bikers are on the roads.

The seasonal nature of motorcycle wrecks helps explain their frequency.

Many drivers are not used to looking out for motorcycle riders. As a result, they do things like make a left turn directly into the path of an oncoming rider.

The infrequent nature of motorcycle wrecks does not excuse driver negligence. The duty of reasonable care, which includes a responsibility to drive defensively, applies twelve months a year.

If tortfeasors (negligent drivers) violate this duty and cause car crashes, they could be liable for substantial damages.

What Causes Motorcycle Wrecks?

Fundamentally, driver inattention causes most motorcycle wrecks.

Many drivers look out for other cars, vans and trucks because they are large and everywhere.

But they do not pay as close attention to motorcyclists, because motorcycles are rare and difficult to see. Frequently, driver impairment causes driver inattention.

Some examples include:

  • Substance: Alcohol impairs motor skills, so impaired drivers often do not maintain an active lookout. Alcohol consumption also causes bloodshot eyes. That means blurred vision, especially at night. Many drugs, both legal and illegal ones, have similar effects. These impairing effects begin with the first pill, drink, or puff.
  • Fatigue: Speaking of nighttime driving, drowsiness has roughly the same effect as alcohol. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. In some cases, that’s above the legal limit in New York. Also, nothing but time cures alcohol impairment, and nothing but sleep cures drowsiness. Shortcuts, like turning up the radio, are largely ineffective.
  • Distraction: Lawmakers hoped that New York’s hands-free law would significantly reduce the number of distracted driving crashes. But hand-held cell phones are not the only problem. In fact, they are not even the most common cause of distracted driving. That distinction, or indistinction, goes to things like eating and drinking while driving.

Other drivers make it a point to be sober and well-rested when they drive.

They also watch the road. Yet motorcycle wrecks still occur.

Many riders who have been involved in an accident probably heard the other driver say something like “I never saw you” or “You came out of nowhere.”

Statements like these are essentially admissions that the other driver failed to maintain a proper lookout.

SMIDSY Crashes

In some parts of the world, driver inattention wrecks are called SMIDSY crashes, for “sorry, mate, I didn’t see you”.

TBFTL, for “turned but failed to look”, is another acronym, but it does not have the same panache.

Statistically, these crashes account for about a third of the motorcycle wrecks in New York.

Frequently, a negligent driver is trying to make an unprotected left turn against traffic.

But s/he does not see an approaching motorcycle. When the driver suddenly accelerates into the turn, a serious wreck is practically inevitable.

Legally, SMIDSY wrecks could involve the ordinary negligence doctrine or the negligence per se rule.

As mentioned, failure to maintain a proper lookout violates the duty of reasonable care. This action is also illegal.

In New York, if negligent drivers violate safety laws and cause crashes, they could be responsible for damages as a matter of law.

However, many emergency responders do not issue citations in the situations.

That’s partially because they often view car wrecks as civil disputes, and they do not want to get involved.

Some Insurance Company Defenses

Contributory negligence is probably the most common insurance company defense in car crash claims.

This doctrine shifts blame for the accident from the responsible party to the victim.

For example, the insurance company might admit the driver did not look carefully, but it might blame the accident on the rider’s excessive speed.

In these situations, the jury must divide fault on a percentage basis.

New York is a pure comparative fault state.

So, even if the victim was 99 percent responsible for the wreck, the other driver is responsible for a proportionate share of damages.

The last clear chance defense also comes up in many SMIDSY crashes.

If the rider could have avoided the wreck, perhaps by changing lanes or speeds, the rider is legally responsible for the wreck.

However, there is a difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance.

Sudden lane changes and other emergency maneuvers are very difficult on two-wheel vehicles. These drastic moves might cause a worse crash.

Additionally, these accidents usually happen so fast that the rider has insufficient time to react.

Motorcycle wrecks are often legally complex.

For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We only charge a fee when we win your case.

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