Motorcycle accidents tend to be different than other types of auto accidents because 1) you are exposed to the potential for more serious injuries, and 2) many people believe that motorcyclists are “assuming the risk” when they ride.
Under SC law, however, you are not “assuming the risk” when you drive a motorcycle, and the doctrine of comparative negligence (which can reduce or prevent your recovery at trial) does not apply to motorcycles unless you are somehow at fault for the accident.
Insurance companies may attempt to limit or deny your claim after a motorcycle accident, and anti-motorcyclist bias is a challenge that you must overcome with insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors in order to recover full and fair compensation for your injuries – whether that is in a settlement or a verdict at trial.
Motorcycle Accidents are Often More Serious than Auto Accidents
Obviously, people can be seriously injured or killed in a garden-variety car crash, but the potential for serious injury or death is much higher when you are on a motorcycle.
Automobiles have many safeguards that just aren’t possible with motorcycles – seatbelts, airbags, electronics that warn or slow the vehicle when a collision is imminent, and a heavy metal frame that surrounds you, for example.
In a motorcycle accident, you may end up sliding down the highway, being struck by a speeding car with no metal frame to protect you, or being thrown through the air. Common injuries after a motorcycle accident include:
- Road rash – friction burns from sliding on the pavement,
- Spinal cord injuries,
- Broken bones,
- Internal damage to organs or internal bleeding,
- Whiplash and other soft-tissue injuries, and
- TBI, or traumatic brain injury.
Often, motorcycle accidents are caused by motorists who are not looking for motorcycles, who are not paying attention, and who are not considering the extreme danger that their carelessness creates for motorcyclists with whom they are sharing the highway.
“Look twice and save a life” is more than just a slogan – you may save someone’s life by slowing down, being aware of your surroundings, and actively looking for motorcyclists as you drive.
Motorcycle Accidents and Comparative Negligence
If motorcycles are so dangerous, your injuries are your fault because you took the risk by riding one, right?
No – this is the uninformed, self-righteous attitude that motorcyclists and motorcycle accident lawyers must deal with in every motorcycle accident case. What does “assumption of the risk” mean, and why doesn’t it apply to motorcyclists?
Motorcycle Accidents and Assumption of the Risk
“Assumption of the risk” is when someone voluntarily does something that is dangerous – if they “assumed the risk” of the danger, they cannot later sue someone else for being negligent.
Why doesn’t it apply to motorcyclists? Driving a motorcycle is safe, if you are driving safely, and if other motorists are driving safely. No one “assumes the risk” of another motorist speeding, not paying attention, or running a red light before crashing into you…
Every driver has a duty to obey the traffic laws, to keep a proper lookout, and not to crash into you… If a driver breaches that duty, they are liable for their negligence, and it doesn’t matter if their victim was in a car, on a motorcycle, or just walking down the street.
Motorcycle Accidents and Comparative Negligence
But doesn’t a motorcyclist contribute to their own injuries by choosing to ride a motorcycle?
If another motorist breaches their duty of care, causes a crash, and there are injuries that result, the at-fault driver is liable for those injuries regardless of the crash victim’s mode of transportation.
If a car negligently crashes into a pedestrian at a crosswalk, we don’t say the pedestrian was negligent for not being in a car. If a car negligently causes an accident with a bicycle, we don’t say the bicyclist was comparatively negligent because they chose to ride a bike instead of driving a truck.
If the motorcyclist was violating a traffic law, caused the accident, or contributed to the cause of the accident, then the motorcyclist may be barred from recovering if their comparative negligence was more than 50%, or the motorcyclist’s recovery may be reduced by their percentage of negligence if it was less than 50%.
Comparative negligence does not apply to the severity of injuries suffered by a motorcyclist because they were on a motorcycle, though.
Motorcycle Accidents and Helmet Laws in SC
What if the motorcyclist suffers severe head trauma and they were not wearing a helmet? Isn’t it their fault for not wearing a helmet?
No – not in SC, anyway.
South Carolina does not require motorcyclists to wear a helmet unless they are under the age of 21, and SC courts will not impose an obligation to wear a helmet when the SC legislature has said that there is no such obligation.
If there is no law requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet, then the motorcyclist has not breached a duty to other motorists by not wearing a helmet, and the failure to wear a helmet is not comparative negligence.
The SC Supreme Court has held that the failure to wear a helmet is not assumption of the risk, and it cannot be considered as comparative negligence that would reduce or bar a motorcyclist’s recovery:
As a matter of law, we find that a motorcyclist’s decision to ride without a helmet does not imply his consent that motorists are relieved of the duty to use reasonable care toward him. Cf. W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton & D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 68 (1984 & Supp.1988) (a jaywalker does not consent that drivers shall not use due care to avoid him).
The fact that you are on a motorcycle or that you were not wearing a helmet cannot be considered assumption of the risk or comparative negligence in SC, it should never reduce or bar your recovery when someone else caused the accident, and it cannot be argued to the jury by insurance defense lawyers.