It’s fun to ride motorcycles, but it has its risks, even for the most responsible riders. As the smallest vehicles on the road, motorcycles cut a low profile. Drivers of other, larger vehicles motorists often fail to see motorcyclists until it’s too late. And, in an accident, riders have no protection from impacts with cars, trucks, or road surfaces.
If you have sustained injuries in a Florida motorcycle accident, seek experienced legal advice from a motorcycle accident injury attorney at The Law Office of Michael T. Gibson. You may have the right to recover significant compensation, if you act quickly.
Motorist Mistakes Put Bikers in Danger
Most bikers know they have to exercise constant situational awareness while riding to avoid collisions and other accidents caused by motorists who do not see them. Even with vigilance, however, it is difficult to avoid an accident when the driver of a car or truck does not take care around motorcycles. Some of the most common mistakes car and truck drivers make that put motorcyclists in danger include:
- “Blindness” to motorcycles. Car and truck drivers have a frequent tendency not to spot motorcyclists when they glance in the rearview and side mirrors, even when motorcycles are clearly visible. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “inattentional blindness,” a trick drivers’ brains play on them that filters out (or “blinds” them to) objects they don’t expect to see. Looked-but-didn’t-see accidents are some of the most common types of collisions between motorcycles and cars. To combat them, motorists must specifically train themselves to look for motorcycles.
- Misjudging stopping distance. Motorcycles are smaller and lighter than most other motor vehicles, which means they can slow down and stop faster than everyone else on the road. Motorists often misjudge how quickly a motorcycle can brake or downshift to slow down, resulting in a rear-end collision with the motorcycle in front of them.
- Crowding. Motorcycles have the legal right to occupy a full traffic lane. Motorists sometimes ignore this, and attempt to pass or share a single lane with a motorcycle, crowding and endangering the biker.
- Aggression. Some drivers have an irrational dislike or negative emotional response to motorcycles, which leads them to drive aggressively when sharing the road with motorcycles.
Safety Gear Prevents Injury and Saves Lives
Many motorcyclists enjoy the feeling of riding without a helmet. Although we get why bikers go helmet-less, we would be remiss not to remind every rider that helmets save lives, and sometimes wearing a helmet is a legal requirement.
Under Florida law, you must wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle if you are 21 or younger. Riders over 21 can go without a helmet, but only if they carry insurance with a minimum of $10,000 in coverage for injuries they might sustain in a crash.
Florida law also mandates other safety gear. For instance, all motorcyclists must wear eye protection. Riders of mopeds who are under 16 must also wear head and eye protection.
In addition, while long jackets and long pants are not required by law, it makes sense to ride in clothing that protects you. A leather jacket, jeans, and boots are proper riding gear. Shorts and short-sleeved shirts cannot protect you against road rash or exhaust burns. While the best protection is leather or similar abrasion-resistant pants, even wearing jeans will give you some protection (though likely not enough to prevent nasty road rash).
Florida Requirements for Motorcyclists
You must have a motorcycle license endorsement to ride a bike on Florida roads. To get the endorsement, you must take and pass the Basic Rider Course through an FRTP-authorized sponsor. However, if you have an endorsement from another state other than Alabama, you may get the endorsement without taking the course. If you are moving to Florida from Alabama, and you can show that you have completed a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course, Florida will reciprocate and not require you to take the course again. To get the endorsement, you must have a valid Class E (at the least) driver’s license; complete the course, if required; and get the endorsement within the year after you pass the course.
Additional Riding Practices and Requirements
If you have never ridden before or you have been riding a bike that is not a street bike, you should practice riding before you go out on the road. Different types of motorcycles handle in different ways because of the size of the bike, the type of tires on the bike and the riding style of the bike. Riding a dirt bike or a speed bike is different than riding a cruiser. All three types of bikes handle very differently.
The best place to practice is a large field where you are less likely to suffer serious injuries if you dump the bike. The next best place is a large, empty parking lot. You’ll get more road rash, scrapes and bruises because of the pavement, but you won’t have to worry about other vehicles running over if you do wreck.
Get Ready to Ride
Before you head out on a ride, even if you ride every day, check the bike over to make sure it’s safe. A riding safety checklist should include checking:
- The tires for pressure and wear;
- Both brakes for functionality and wear on the pads;
- The headlight, brake light, turn signals and other lights on the bike;
- All fluid levels;
- The undercarriage of the bike for oil and gas leaks;
- Cargo straps including side bag mountings and other luggage compartment mountings;
- The suspension, especially if it is adjustable; and
- Footrests, gearshift, clutch, and throttle.
Make sure nothing is loose that can fall off. Leaks under the bike could get on the tire if you drive through them and cause you to lose control.
Safe Riding Practices
Riding responsibly goes a long way in preventing motorcycle accidents. Follow the rules of the road, including speed limits. Make sure you have plenty of space between you and other vehicles. Before you change lanes, be sure to check behind you and use your signal. And, most importantly, always keep an eye on other drivers—don’t rely on them to see you.
Never ride while you are under the influence of alcohol and drugs, even prescription drugs. Your reflexes become seriously impaired, and you need those reflexes to avoid other drivers who do not see you. You may also need those reflexes if something in the road or if something breaks on your bike, causing you to lose control.
Motorcycle Accident Injuries
Because bikers have no protection around them other than a helmet, eye protection, and clothing, motorcycle accident injuries are often catastrophic. Injuries may include:
- Brain injuries;
- Head and neck injuries;
- Severe lacerations and abrasions;
- Torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and other soft tissue injuries;
- Broken bones, compound fractures, and crush injuries;
- Back and spine injuries; and
Florida No-Fault Insurance
Florida’s insurance laws require anyone who registers a car or truck in the state to carry no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) insurance. But motorcyclists are not required to carry PIP coverage, unless they intend to ride without a helmet. Even so, it is advisable for motorcyclists to purchase a PIP policy, so that they do not risk paying for their own injuries out-of-pocket.
If you are in an accident that is not your fault and you sustain catastrophic or fatal injuries, then the at-fault motorist (and his insurance) may have liability to you or your family members. This is an exception to the no-fault law.
Be wary of discussing the details of your accident with any insurance adjuster. Although you cannot avoid reporting an accident to a no-fault carrier (assuming you carry no-fault insurance), never take blame for an accident or make any statement that an insurance company could interpret as an admission that you were at fault. Those sorts of statements could be used against you or your loved ones in seeking compensation from the other driver for damages after catastrophic or fatal injuries.
Motorcycle Accident Damages
Generally speaking, you may have the right to recover three categories of damages in a legal action to hold someone else liable for your injuries: special, general, and punitive. Special damages, also often referred to as economic damages, reimburse you for out-of-pocket costs of an accident. General (or “non-economic”) damages compensate for “pain and suffering” and other types of harm that does not have a fixed dollar amount associated with it. Punitive damages are only awarded if the defendant’s behavior was grossly negligent or intentional. You cannot collect damages if the accident was 100 percent your fault.
Special (Economic) Damages
- Medical expenses;
- Future medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Future lost wages; and
- Repair or replacement of personal property, including vehicles.
In calculating economic damages, it is important to let your attorney know if you have underlying health conditions that may cause a longer recovery time. Issues such as diabetes, cancer, or a compromised immune system due to a disease or prescription medication including chemotherapy could cause recovery to take longer. When estimating future medical expenses and future lost wages, insurance companies use the average amount of time it takes a person to recover from a specific injury. To get enough compensation to cover those future costs, your attorney needs to know about these underlying conditions.
General (Non-Economic) Damages
- Pain and suffering;
- New emotional issues such as depression or post traumatic stress disorder that you did not have before the accident;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss of consortium;
- Loss of use of a limb;
- Inconvenience; and
- The death of a loved one.
The factors that influence the appropriate amount of general damages are, as you might imagine, more variable and subjective. The degree of impact an accident has on your life can depend on your age, general state of health, and how active you were before your accident.
The court awards punitive damages only when a defendant’s behavior is grossly negligent or done with the intention to harm you. For example, a court might award punitive damages if the defendant was driving under the influence or if the defendant was texting while driving and those behaviors were the direct cause of the accident. In some cases, you may collect punitive damages even if you were partially at fault.
Florida and Orange County Motorcycle Accident Statistics
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), Florida had 2,285 motorcycle wrecks in just the first quarter of 2019. In those accidents, 2,087 people sustained injuries and 145 people died. In Orange County for the same time period, 152 motorcycle crashes resulted in 150 injuries and four deaths.
National data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that historically, more than five thousand motorcyclists die annually in motorcycle accidents on U.S. roads. According to the NHTSA, fatalities occur 27 times more frequently in motorcycle accidents than in passenger car accidents. Of the bikers who died in crashes on U.S. roads in 2017, 29 percent did not have a valid motorcycle license, and 27 percent were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash (compared to just 21 percent of people killed in car accidents caused by impaired driving).
Contacting a Motorcycle Accident Lawyer
Always contact a motorcycle accident attorney as soon as possible. You have a limited time to take legal action to recover damages. Once the statute of limitations expires, you cannot seek compensation.
Also, contacting an attorney sooner rather than later means that you will have a better recall of the accident. You can give the attorney more information to help your case. If you were injured in a motorcycle accident or if you lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, contact a motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as possible.