Universal helmet laws, which require both riders and passengers to wear helmets while operating or riding a motorcycle, have been shown to prevent severe injury and death in cases of motorcycle accidents. Some states don’t require helmets or have limited helmet laws that only apply to riders under a certain age. In those states, it may not be against the law to ride without a helmet, but it could affect your ability to receive compensation for your motorcycle accident injury, even if you weren’t at fault for the wreck that caused it.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle riders in states with universal helmet laws died in just 9% of motorcycle crashes versus 55% of motorcycle riders who died in states without such laws. It’s generally accepted that helmet use is an effective way to save lives and reduce injuries and that riders should wear helmets to lessen their risk of head and neck trauma, regardless of whether their state laws require it.
Does wearing a helmet affect liability in my state?
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association publishes the most up-to-date laws regarding helmet usage by state.
- Only 18 states in the United States have universal helmet laws requiring all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet when riding on a motorcycle, regardless of age.
- Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire don’t have helmet laws for anyone of any age.
- The remainder of the states require helmet use only for motorcyclists and passengers under a certain age (generally 18, 19, or 21, depending on the state).
Whether you live in a state with strict helmet laws, lenient helmet laws, or no helmet laws at all, you may still have trouble recovering compensation for medical bills and other losses if you were injured in a motorcycle accident and weren’t wearing a helmet at the time. This is true even if the accident wasn’t your fault, even in states without universal helmet laws.
Insurance adjusters and companies are likely to claim that wearing a helmet would have prevented your injuries. They can cite documented evidence showing that the use of motorcycle helmets reduces injury to the head by 69% during an accident and say that your injuries were the result of your own negligence because you weren’t wearing a helmet.
What does the law say about who is at fault in a motorcycle accident?
Comparative negligence is used by the courts in many states to reduce the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover if they are found to be partially at fault for the accident that caused their injuries. Comparative negligence seeks to determine the degree of fault that each party contributed to the accident by assigning percentages of fault to each driver. The plaintiff is only eligible to receive the case judgment minus the percentage of fault assigned to them by the court.
For example, a plaintiff who shares 40% of the fault for their injuries can only recover 60% of the total damages awarded in the case. Failing to wear a helmet could be viewed by the court as comparative negligence. You may be prohibited from seeking compensation for catastrophic injuries to your head or neck, including skull fractures, traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injuries if you weren’t wearing a helmet.
Riders who were wearing a helmet at the time of their motorcycle accident generally have an easier time seeking damages because the burden of proof simply requires them and their attorney to show that they weren’t at fault for the accident. Without a helmet, you and your attorney will need to prove to the court that the lack of a helmet wasn’t the reason for your injuries.
A doctor or other expert witness familiar with your medical history may be required to write a letter or testify on your behalf. Hiring expert witnesses to speak to the nature of your injuries is costly, but worth the expense if it helps to successfully prove your case.
It may be especially challenging to recover damages if you live in a no-fault insurance state because each driver can only receive compensation from his or her own insurance company. While your personal auto coverage may provide some financial relief from expenses related to your head or neck injury, it’s unlikely that the other driver’s insurance company will contribute anything, and the law doesn’t require them to do so.
Is there anything I can do?
Even if comparative negligence reduces the compensation you’re eligible to receive because you weren’t wearing a helmet, it doesn’t mean you are unable to seek damages at all. Liability laws in many states would allow you to collect compensation from the at-fault driver if they are found to be liable for the accident, and you and your attorney prove that their negligence contributed to your injuries. For example, if the other driver was driving drunk, speeding, or failed to stop, you may have a case.
It’s important to begin this process as soon as possible following your accident. The insurance company will have legal representation advising them of their rights, and they may attempt to dismiss your claim on the grounds that you weren’t wearing a helmet. You need legal counsel who can advise you of your rights as a motorist and who understands the complex nature of insurance and traffic laws. An experienced personal injury attorney in your state will also be familiar with any ambiguous language in the law that could benefit your case.
Hiring a personal injury attorney with experience in motorcycle liability ensures that your interests are considered while dealing with insurance companies. The trial lawyers at Morris & Dewett represent motorcycle accident victims in Texas and Louisiana, working to ensure that clients have a voice as they seek fair compensation for medical expenses, economic losses, and pain and suffering.