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Why Motorcycle Accidents Are Unique

There are some issues that come up more often with motorcycle accidents than car accidents and some things that are completely unique to motorcycle accidents. That’s where experience handling motorcycle accidents, particularly motorcycle fatalities, becomes critical.  I handled my first motorcycle accident in 1989 and as a result of that case and subsequent cases I learned the things that a lawyer representing an injured motorcyclist needs to know to properly represent the motorcyclist.

Motorcycles are subject to the same traffic rules and laws as any other motor vehicle, but motorcycle accidents are distinguished by the fact that injuries tend to be more severe than in accidents that don’t involve motorcycles. Motorcycles do not provide the protection that cages (cars) do and the motorcyclist is much more vulnerable than a car or truck driver.

94% of traffic accidents are caused by human-error and most of them are preventable. Drivers of trucks or cars are mostly at fault in motorcycle accidents for failing to yield to the right of way to the motorcycle.  On the other hand, motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes have a higher percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers than drivers of any other vehicle at 27 percent for motorcycles versus only 21 percent for passenger cars and 20 percent for light trucks. The rate for drivers of large trucks was only 2 percent.

Distracted Driver

The greatest emerging threat to motorcyclists is the new breed of distracted driver. Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to distracted drivers because of their limited visibility.  It’s sometimes difficult enough for motorists to see a motorcycle without the added distraction of a cell phone. With the increased use of cell phones over the past decade, distracted drivers are becoming more common and are distracted for longer periods of time than ever before.

This new distraction is increasing the amount of motorcycle accidents and fatalities throughout the country.  However, a study that was recently published in Social Science & Medicine discovered that states who implement strict law bans on cell phone usage reduce motorcycle fatality rates by as much as 11%.

MECHANICAL OR EQUIPMENT FAILURE

You’ve certainly heard about defective air bag lawsuits and other suits like that affecting cars. They do occur but equipment failures are much more common with motorcycle accidents usually because there’s much more margin for error with cars and very little margin for motorcycles. Some equipment failure is going to be the fault of the rider resulting from poor maintenance.  However, sometimes the equipment failure is a result of poor design or manufacturing defect. In those instances, the manufacturer may be liable for a rider’s injuries.

For instance,

  • A kickstand that drops down while the motorcycle is on the road, or that drags on the pavement during a turn
  • Helmets, boots, goggle, or other protective gear that fails to prevent injury
  • Defective tires
  • Defective windshields
  • After-market equipment that interferes with operation of the motorcycle
  • Tire failure
  • Defective helmets
  • Brake failure
  • Engine problems
  • Faulty wiring
  • Defective pedals
  • Stuck throttles
  • Clutch failure
  • Turn signal problems
  • Locked steering wheel
  • Chain failure
  • Handlebar defects

Throttle Defect

A classic example of a successful law suit for injuries sustained due to a mechanical defect occurred when Roger Tittle, 43, was killed while driving his new Victory motorcycle in July 1999. The throttle stuck and he struck a signpost on a rural road in Garfield County.

Tittle’s wife, Melissa, and children, Jason and Amy, sued Polaris for product liability and negligence and won.

The defect primarily consisted of a screw that was held in place with glue, rather than the “spinning” process, in order to save costs. But the glue used was not resistant to heat or vibration, and when the screw came loose, the motorcycle continued to accelerate rather than slow down. In Tittle’s case, it resulted in his death.

Braking System Defect

A California man won a crash-related case against Suzuki when a jury in Santa Ana, California, ordered the Japanese motorcycle giant to pay over $6M in punitive damages and $2M in compensatory damages related to a 2013 crash.

Joseph Soulliere was riding a 2009 GSXR 600 below the speed limit on a busy highway in Cypress, California, when a car darted out in front of him. He applied the brakes but, unfortunately for him, the brakes failed. He crashed into the side of the vehicle and was thrown from the bike. When the bike was inspected after the crash, investigators discovered that a defect in the braking system, an easily-corroded master cylinder piston in the front master cylinder, caused it to fail.

Tire Defect

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman whose husband was killed when the tire on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle suffered a catastrophic failure. McAllister-Lewis was a passenger on the motorcycle when the accident occurred on Aug. 7 2010. She and her husband, Robert Lewis, were on their way to the Sturgis Rally from their home town of Manawa, Wis., when the rear tire blew out on the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic touring bike on Interstate 90 near Salem, S.D. Lewis suffered fatal injuries and McAllister-Lewis suffered serious and permanent injuries, including mental anguish, according to the lawsuit she filed in 2014.

Motorcycle accidents can be life changing events for the motorcyclists and their families. A successful lawsuit won’t fix every injury or bring back the loved ones we’ve lost, but it can ensure that proper care is given to the injured and support is provided for the loved ones left behind. Please contact us if you or a loved one were injured in a motorcycle accident. If your accident occurred in a state other than Rhode Island we will not be able to represent you. However, we would be happy to find a good lawyer for you in your own jurisdiction. Call us. We’ll help.

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