Motorcycles are great vehicles for a fast and exciting ride or a leisurely drive to soak up the scenery. Unfortunately, they also present a higher risk of accidents and injury than a passenger vehicle. It can take significant time and resources to deal with your injuries after a motorcycle accident, and the last thing on your mind might be calling a motorcycle accident attorney.
It does not pay to wait to contact an attorney. You must bring a legal claim within a specified period of time, and a large amount of work must be accomplished before that deadline passes. Read on to understand the time limitations for filing a lawsuit and the steps that you will need to take before that is possible.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
Plaintiffs must file a lawsuit within a certain period called the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations exists to help ensure that decisions are based on evidence that has not deteriorated or that has become less reliable over time. Imagine a witness trying to accurately recall the series of events or small details ten years after an accident. A jury is not likely to find their testimony very credible.
The statute of limitations varies from state to state. In Florida, for example, the statute of limitations for a motorcycle accident is four years. Four years sounds like a long time, but it will pass much more quickly than you may think. In most states, the statute is far shorter.
Regardless of where you live, you will need to complete these time-consuming actions before you file a lawsuit:
- Time managing your injuries and the accompanying medical demands;
- Gather evidence related to the accident to assess which party is responsible for the accident
- Prepare an initial damages assessment to include in your lawsuit
We explore each of these steps in more detail below, but the primary takeaway is not to do it yourself, or wait to contact an attorney to help move your case forward. Reach out to a motorcycle accident attorney today for more information, then let your lawyer do that work for you.
Motorcycle Accident Injuries
Motorcycle drivers and passengers are at an increased risk for accidents and injuries, and the injuries can be more severe.
The following factors contribute to the injury risk:
- Size: The small size of a motorcycle makes it more likely to end up in a driver’s blind spot or missed when a driver takes a left-hand turn.
- Road hazards: Motorcycles are less stable than passenger vehicles, so they can be more susceptible to accidents when there are poor road conditions or inclement weather.
- Maintenance: Maintenance is important to the safe driving of a motorcycle, including maintenance for tires, brakes, and the drive chain. A motorcycle that has not received proper drive chain maintenance can experience inconsistencies with the back wheel of the bike.
- Insufficient education: Approximately one-third of motorcycle accidents involve an unlicensed or improperly licensed motorcycle driver. Many motorcycle drivers learn to ride from family or friends and lack important defensive driving skills.
Not only are injuries more common in motorcycle accidents, but they are also more severe. Motorcycles do not provide the protective exterior of a passenger vehicle or the added safety features like airbags. If a motorcyclist wears protective gear like helmets, gloves, eyewear, or special clothing, this will provide some protection but still not at the same level as a car.
Only 14 percent of motorcycle accidents do not involve a fatality or injury. In a recent year, 88,000 injuries resulted from motorcycle crashes, more than 1,000 injuries for every 100,000 registered motorcycles.
The following injuries commonly take place after motorcycle accidents:
- Traumatic head and brain injuries: Motorcycles lack a sturdy protective frame, greatly increasing the likelihood that the motorcyclist will be ejected from the motorcycle. As a result, head and brain injuries are common. If the driver or passenger is not wearing a helmet, the risk is even greater. Head and brain injuries can leave the victim in a coma, vegetative state, or suffering from brain death.
- Spinal cord injuries: The spinal cord enables the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. A motorcyclist’s core often suffers a significant impact in a crash, causing a spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injuries present with varied symptoms, from numbness to muscle weakness to paralysis.
- Neck and back injuries: An accident victim may suffer from whiplash, slipped discs, herniated discs, or nerve damage. Neck and back injuries often require long-term physical therapy.
- Broken bones: The hard impact with the ground is likely to result in broken bones. If the break is severe, it may necessitate surgery or physical therapy.
- Road rash: If the motorcyclist’s body is dragged or scraped along the ground, it can suffer abrasions called road rash. If the road rash is extreme, it can require skin grafting to heal.
- Cuts and bruises: Some drivers walk away with only cuts and bruises. While certainly more minor, these injuries can still interrupt the driver’s daily life.
If you have suffered a serious injury, it can take time to secure treatment and recover after the accident. While a full physical recovery is not required before filing a lawsuit, it is important to have a reasonable picture of the medical costs associated with the injuries. While important and necessary, this recovery time has the potential to reduce the remaining amount of time available to file a lawsuit.
Assessing Responsibility for the Accident
Before you can file a lawsuit, you need to gather and review the evidence and determine which party or parties were at fault. Any party who acted intentionally or negligently in a way that caused the accident could be held responsible for your injuries.
Work with your attorney to assess the responsibility of all parties, including:
- Negligent driver: If the motorcycle collided with another vehicle, the other driver could be held responsible if their negligent actions caused the accident. Any failure to comply with a driving law or regulation is strong evidence of negligence, including speeding, failure to check a blind spot, driving while distracted, or driving under the influence.
- Employer: If the other driver was operating within the scope of their job duties at the time of the accident, the employer could be held responsible. An employer often has a more robust insurance policy.
- Local government: A poorly maintained roadway or malfunctioning traffic signal is incredibly dangerous for a motorcyclist. It is the responsibility of the local government to maintain the roads and all traffic signs and lights. If the local government has failed in their responsibility, they may be responsible for the accident. It is very difficult to pursue a claim against a governmental entity for recovery. Work with your motorcycle accident attorney to determine whether it is possible to recover from the government.
- Vehicle manufacturer: If any motorcycle or vehicle in the accident malfunctioned and the malfunction contributed to the accident, the manufacturer could be held responsible for the resulting injuries. Common malfunctions include:
- Failure of safety features, including blind-spot alerts;
- Cracks or breaks in the motorcycle frame, making it less able to withstand impact;
- Stalling issues;
- Defects in tires;
- Brake issues; and
- Improperly installed parts like handlebars
An expert generally must analyze the vehicles and identify any malfunction.
No matter who was at fault, you must gather evidence that demonstrates their negligent actions. One important piece of evidence will be a police report. The police report will document the accident scene, include witness statements and contact information, and detail any citations issued to a party to the accident. Citations can be important evidence of negligence.
Determining fault and cataloging supporting evidence is a complicated and time-consuming process that must be pursued before filing a lawsuit. The amount of time will depend on the unique facts of each case. Your attorney would work with you to build this into the timeline for your case.
Preparing a Damages Claim
Before you file a lawsuit, it is important to assess all the damages suffered because of the accident and your injuries. These extend well beyond your doctors’ bills and other medical costs. A comprehensive damages demand is included in the lawsuit filing and used to evaluate any settlement offers from the defendant or their insurance company.
You could work with your attorney to assess your damages, including:
- Medical expenses: Medical expenses are an essential component of a damages claim. Keep track of all costs associated with the treatment of your injuries, including hospital bills, doctors’ bills, and prescription medicine. Estimate the cost of future care, including assistive devices and physical therapy.
- Lost income: Injuries often require the victim to miss work, work a reduced schedule, or perform light work. The defendant could be responsible for these lost wages. If the victim will never return to a full work schedule or becomes limited in their career advancement due to their injuries, they could also be entitled to recover for their future lost earning potential.
- Property damage: A motorcycle rarely comes out unscathed after an accident. The defendant could be responsible for repair or replacement if your motorcycle is damaged or destroyed. They could also be responsible for other property damage, including to helmets, other protective equipment, or electronic devices.
- Emotional distress: Surviving a motorcycle accident leaves many victims with lasting emotional trauma, including depression, anxiety, or PTSD. A victim might suffer depression because their injuries drastically alter their way of life. They might experience stress or a PTSD trigger whenever they hear a loud noise or see footage of an accident. No matter what form the emotional trauma takes, the victim deserves compensation.
- Loss of enjoyment: Our lives are composed of large and small things that bring us joy. A victim’s injuries often strip them of their ability to participate in activities that previously brought them joy or fulfillment. If found liable, the defendant should compensate the victim for this negative impact on their life.
- Punitive damages: Punitive damages punish the defendant instead of compensating the victim. To recover punitive damages in Florida, the defendant must have engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. These damages cannot exceed the greater of three times the plaintiff’s compensatory damages award or $500,000.
Certain damages require the input of an expert. For example, an economist may need to assess the loss of future earning potential, and input from a medical expert may be required to provide support for the cost of future medical care. Working with experts adds additional time to the process of preparing for a lawsuit.
Work with your attorney to assess all the injuries you have suffered and to compile evidence to support your damages demand. Once you have established your losses, you will need a strategy for recovery. While the defendant likely has insurance, their insurance may not cover the full extent of the damages you have suffered—or the insurance company might be unwilling to pay. You may want to consider whether to make or entertain any settlement offers before filing a lawsuit.
While accepting a settlement offer will resolve the matter more quickly, it may not compensate you for the full extent of your injuries. No matter what strategy you decide, you can rest assured that the defendant will do their best to drag out the matter in hopes of passing the statute of limitations.
After you have dealt with immediate medical needs, one of your first steps should be to contact an experienced attorney. An attorney would work with you to establish a reasonable timeline for your case to ensure you do not miss your opportunity to file a lawsuit and secure a recovery.