Motorcycle accidents in Missouri can be devastating for the injured party. Quite frequently, motorcyclists suffer a disproportionately high amount of injuries when compared to other motorists on the road, often simply due to the nature of riding a motorcycle. Most motorcycles are significantly smaller and lighter than cars, making collisions with cars extremely dangerous. Many drivers fail to adequately observe motorcyclists on the road, making motorcycle accidents disproportionately common. Such accidents often lead to traumatic, life-threatening injuries to the brain, chest, spine, neck, and head, and require both immediate medical and legal intervention.
Motorcycle accident statute of limitations
An extremely important threshold question before seeking compensation for a motorcycle accident in Missouri is the time limit an injured party has to sue the other party for his or her injuries. This is known as the “statute of limitations,” and varies based on the type of injury sustained, and the theory of law that the injured party is using to seek compensation. In general, in Missouri, injured parties have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit—this means, a lawsuit alleging damages to someone personally (like to their physical body). Injured parties have five years to file for damages to their property, like damages to a motorcycle from the accident.
Although, to many, this seems like a long period of time, it is important to note that these are the time limits for actually filing a lawsuit, and not for initiating the process of being compensated. For example, as is discussed blow, oftentimes an injured motorcyclist will first need to file a claim with his or her, or the at fault driver’s, insurance company. This process alone can take months to resolve and still may result in the need to file a lawsuit, now months or possibly years after the accident occurred. As a result, injured parties should immediately begin the process of filing a claim to ensure that their later suit, if needed, is not barred under Missouri’s statute of limitations. It’s also significant to consider that the statute of limitations begins to “run” (that is, the time period starts) immediately when the accident occurs. That means that if a victim spent, perhaps, six months in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash, the victim has only a year and a half to file a legal claim against the at-fault driver.
Motorcycle accident insurance
In Missouri, all drivers are required to carry auto or motorcycle insurance. This means that motorcycle accidents are initially dealt with through insurance claims, and via insurance companies. For example, if a motorcyclist is struck by a driver who is thought to be at fault for the accident, the injured driver and the at-fault driver will file claims with their respective insurance companies regarding what occurred. The insurance companies will then negotiate between themselves to attribute fault in the accident and determine which insurer will be responsible for what damages. Litigation can result in several ways: for example, if the injured party is unsatisfied with the amount of money insurance is paying, if the injured party disagrees with the apportionment of fault, if the opposing insurance party disagrees as to the amount of injuries or apportionment of fault, if the amount of the injuries exceeds the policy limits for either driver, if one or both of the drivers did not carry insurance, and so on. Insurance companies will often retain an attorney who will represent their interests on the insured’s behalf at litigation, however, it is extremely important to understand that the insurance company’s lawyer’s interest may be against the interest of the inured party. For example, it is almost always in the insurance company’s interest to pay the injured party the minimum amount required out of their own policy, even though, quite frequently, this amount is not sufficient to substantiate the injuries suffered in an accident.
All too frequently, injured motorcyclists defer to the desires of their insurance company without ever consulting an attorney for a full evaluation of their legal rights. Many personal injury attorneys in Missouri will not only provide free consultations regarding motorcycle accident incidents, but also will take a so-called contingency fee in lieu of a traditional fee payment. This means that a victim is not required to pay for the fees of the attorney upfront, but, instead, the attorney will be paid if (and when) the motorcyclist recoveries compensation from the at fault driver or the insurance company. This, in essence, “levels the playing field” between victims (who often lack the financial means to pursue litigation) and big insurance companies (who are often multi-billion-dollar corporate entities with attorneys on staff to deal with these issues). Victims who fail to consult an attorney, particularly when there are substantial injuries involved stemming from a motorcycle accident in Missouri, are at great risk of missing out on valuable compensation and enforcing their legal rights.
Motorcycle Accident Negligence
In Missouri, as with all motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents are evaluated under the legal context of negligence. Even if a case does not proceed to trial, insurance adjusters are well aware of these principles, and use them as a means to evaluate claims. An injured motorcyclist must be able to show all four interrelated elements to successfully recover for damages. First: the driver at fault must have had a duty to protect or prevent against the injuries suffered in the accident. All drivers on roads in Missouri have a duty to drive in a reasonable manner, to drive at a reasonable speed, maintain their vehicles in a reasonable manner, be alert and aware of their environment, maintain control of their vehicle, and to fulfill any other duty imposed by state or local traffic laws. In motorcycle accidents, it is usually not difficult to show that the driver of a vehicle had a duty to prevent against the injuries that may have occurred. As discussed below, the concept of duty also encompasses traffic laws: meaning that, if a driver violating a traffic law (like by speeding, turning without a turn signal, or similar), that driver is more than likely violating a legal duty, which quite frequently leads to liability for the at fault driver.
Secondly, the injured party must show that the at-fault driver has breached this duty. For example, if the driver had a duty to drive in a reasonable manner, but was driving while intoxicated, this is an obvious breach of the driver’s duty to drive in a reasonably safe manner. Similarly, if the driver had a legal duty to not change lanes without checking for motorcyclists in a blind spot, but did, in fact, change lanes and strike the motorcyclist, this is a clear breach of the driver’s duty.
Third, the injured party must show that the injuries he or she suffered were a direct cause of the breach of the duty. For example, if a motorcyclist is struck by a distracted driver, and, as a result, breaks her ankle, she must show that, for example, her ankle was not already fractured at the time of the accident, or was not fractured in between when the accident occurred and when she went to the doctor or filed a claim for her injuries.
Finally, the injured party must show actual, physical damages. That is, usually being inconvenienced or emotionally disturbed is not enough to prove case of negligence at law, although non-physical damages may also be compensated for if there are, at least, some physical injuries. Because motorcycle accidents can be both physically and emotionally damaging, so long as there are at least some physical damages, a motorcyclist can also, additionally, recover for emotional and other incidental damages that stem from the accident.
As suggested previously, injured parties in motorcycle accidents are helped by the fact that many at fault drivers are violating motor vehicle laws at the time of the accident. In general, if a driver is found to be violating a law at the time of the accident, this creates a presumption of negligence known as “negligence per se.” In a negligence per se action, the injured motorcyclist need only show that the driver at fault violated the law, and that this law was designed to protect the type of people and type of injuries suffered by him or herself. For example, if the at fault driver was speeding, this creates a presumption of negligence that the at-fault driver is, in fact, at fault for the accident. The at-fault driver can “rebut” (or dispute) this presumption by showing additional evidence. However, unlike in normal negligence actions, it is up to the at-fault driver, rather than the injured party, to prove why he or she should be not be held legally at fault.
Motorcycle accident comparative fault
As may be obvious, most motorcycle accident cases in Missouri are far from straightforward. For example, both the injured motorcyclist and the at-fault driver may have been speeding when the collision occurred. When fault is difficult to determine, Missouri uses a system known as “pure” comparative fault. In Missouri, judges and juries can apportion fault to each party on a percentage basis, and an injured motorcyclist who is even 1% at fault may still be able to recover for their injuries. For example, if a motorcyclist was speeding while weaving in and out of traffic when he hit another driver who failed to yield to oncoming traffic, both the motorcyclist and car driver might be at fault. A jury could decide that the driver who failed to yield to oncoming traffic was only 10% at fault, and the motorcyclist who was speeding while weaving in traffic was 90% at fault. In this case, the amount of total recovery—perhaps $100,000 for hospital bills for the motorcyclist—would be apportioned by the amount of fault. The driver 10% at fault would be liable for $10,000 of damages (10% of $100,000), while the motorcyclist 90% at fault would be liable for $90,000 of damages (or, if he was the only driver injured, would be required to pay for $90,000 of damages out of his or his insurance company’s own pocket).
For this reason, it is enormously important for motorcyclist at the site of the accident to avoid making legal or factual conclusions regarding the accident. Many motorcyclists who are, for example, speeding when an accident occurs might assume that they can’t recover any damages through their insurance company (or the other driver) because they were violating the law when they were injured. As suggested above, this is far from true. Only a police investigation, and, quite frequently, an attorney can determine the legal responsibilities of the parties involved, and the true facts of what may have occurred during the accident. Motorcyclists, if confronted by the police or an insurance adjuster at the site of the accident, should merely recount a factual retelling of the situation, without noting whether a particular driver (or they, themselves) did anything wrong in particular.
Retaining a Motorcycle Attorney makes a difference
Most motorcycle accidents are dealt with prior to or outside of a formal trial. Insurance companies often settle amongst themselves and all of the parties to avoid costly litigation. However, the sheer complexity of the parties involved, various avenues for being misrepresented, and the strict time limits in filing a lawsuit, if necessary, mean hiring an attorney who is familiar with personal injury lawsuits, insurance companies, and motorcyclists in general is essential. Because the damages flowing from accidents involving motorcyclists can be substantial and life-threatening, it is enormously important for victims of these accidents to achieve the fullest possible recover, and to present a level playing field when confronting enormously wealthy insurance companies who seek only to minimize the amount of claims they must pay out.