Helmet Laws

Massachusetts has one of the most stringent motorcycle helmet laws in the nation.

M.G.L. 90 § 7 requires that all motorcycle operators and passengers – including those in motorcycle sidecars – “shall wear” state-approved helmets and protective headgear. The law passed in 1967, and it hasn’t been significantly altered or amended since, though there have been several legislative attempts.

At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, we are fully committed to protecting the rights and interests of motorcyclists and those who love them – regardless of whether they were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident.

We do, though, recognize that helmets can save lives. The fact is, most sporting activities have their own approved protective gear for participants. Motorcycling is no exception.

Riders who don’t wear helmets are 40 percent more likely to sustain a fatal head injury. That’s why the Commonwealth has taken such a hard line on the issue. Massachusetts is one of 19 states with a “universal helmet law” requiring helmets for all riders, regardless of age or experience.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports an average of 5,000 people are killed and 88,000 are injured on motorcycles each year (several dozen of those being in Massachusetts).

We know that head injuries are the No. 1 cause of death to motorcyclists, and those who did die largely were not wearing helmets. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest the number of serious and fatal head injuries would be reduced had riders and passengers been wearing helmets. The agency reports for every 100 motorcyclists without helmets killed in crashes, more than a third would have survived had they been wearing one.

What’s more, a rider who isn’t wearing a helmet could face obstacles to receiving full compensation in civil litigation if there is a finding of comparative negligence (i.e., one’s injuries would not have been as severe had he or she been wearing one, and thus he or she is at least partially to blame for the extent of the injuries). In those cases, damages may be limited to what a rider would have suffered had he or she followed the law.

However, a rider who wasn’t wearing a helmet is not automatically forbidden from bringing a claim for damages.

Motorcycle Helmet Requirements

Motorcycle helmets that meet the “approved state standard” are those that are in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218. These guidelines set the standards for the level of impact the helmet can absorb, the temperatures and other conditions it can withstand and the way the helmet is positioned on the head.

Some motorcyclists opt instead to wear noncompliant “novelty helmets,” but these have been shown to fail in almost all motorcycle crash safety tests. In terms of liability, it could harm the plaintiff’s injury case if he or she were shown to have used a noncompliant helmet. However, the exception might be if a noncompliant helmet manufacturer placed misleading labels on the device to make it appear as if it met federal standards. The NHTSA passed a final rule specifically barring this practice in 2011. Manufacturers caught violating this rule in cases where motorcyclists wearing them subsequently suffered head or neck injury might find themselves on the defense side of the table in a products liability lawsuit.

When purchasing a new or used helmet, riders should check it for:

  • Cracks
  • Loose padding
  • Frayed straps
  • Exposed metal
  • Blind spots

Massachusetts law also requires operators and passengers to wear eyeglasses, goggles or a protective facial shield if the motorcycle doesn’t have a windshield or screen.

Comparative Fault for Lack of Helmet

When it comes to injury law, Massachusetts follows a model of modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar. This means even if an injured person shares some of the blame for his or her injuries, he or she is not barred from pursuing and receiving compensation, so long as that share of the blame doesn’t exceed more than half.

Whatever percentage that person is to blame, damages will be reduced by that amount.

So if a person wins $100,000 in a personal injury lawsuit but is found 20 percent comparatively negligent, he or she will only be entitled to receive $80,000.

As it pertains to motorcycle injuries, plaintiffs must not only grapple with a reduction of damages by a finding of fault for the actual crash, but also for a finding of fault with regard to the extent of injuries. So if a person was not wearing a helmet and suffered severe head or neck injuries, damages may be reduced by whatever amount expert witnesses opine a helmet may have reduced the injury.

However, damages for non-head or neck injuries suffered by the motorcyclist should not be affected based on whether he or she was wearing a helmet.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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