Massachusetts Motorcycle Helmet Laws, Accidents and Injuries
Motorcycles are hugely popular in Massachusetts – and gaining traction. The number of bikes registered by the state Registry of Motor Vehicles recently spiked 30 percent in a single year. Data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates there were 8.4 million motorcycles on U.S. roads in 2013 – 400,000 more than in 2009.
As recreational riding has gained popularity with people of all ages, the number of Massachusetts motorcycle accidents has increased dramatically.
The Boston motorcycle accident lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know the risks. Motorcyclists and their passengers are 26 times more likely to be killed and five times more likely to be injured in a crash, compared to occupants of passenger vehicles.
An estimated 5,000 people are killed every year and roughly 90,000 injured in motorcycle crashes nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2013, motorcyclists accounted for 15 percent of all traffic deaths and 4 percent of all those injured in traffic accidents. This is also true in Massachusetts, in spite of the fact motorcycles make up just 3 percent of all registered vehicles.
Between 40 and 60 motorcyclists die in Massachusetts each year.
Although motorcyclists still grapple with the stubborn stigma of being reckless risk-takers, the reality is most of these crashes are caused by the carelessness and inattention of other motorists. Motorcyclists bear the brunt of these actions because they are not as well protected as those in passenger vehicles.
The most common causes of motorcycle accidents, as identified by the NHTSA, are:
- Head-on collisions, in which a car strikes a motorcycle from the front;
- Cars making left-hand turns in front of motorcyclists
- Following too closely
- Driving under the influence
- Road hazards, such as potholes, wet pavement, uneven lanes, dead animals or other debris in the roadway
Crashes between other kinds of vehicles are fairly common too, but the difference is motorcyclists are not shielded from an impact. Massachusetts is one of a dwindling list of states to require motorcyclists and passengers to wear helmets.Helmet Law
Massachusetts helmet law is one of the strictest in the country. While 47 states plus the District of Columbia have some type of motorcycle helmet law, only 19 have a “universal helmet law.”
A universal helmet law requires helmets for all riders. The rest only require them for certain riders – usually, operators or passengers who are under the age of 18 or 21 or those with no or limited medical insurance.
The NHTSA reports nationally, about 60 percent of motorcyclists wear helmets. The government estimates that for every 100 motorcyclists killed in crashes not wearing helmets, 37 would have survived if they had been wearing one.
The helmet law in Massachusetts was enacted in 1967. Where many states have repealed universal helmet laws in recent years, Massachusetts actually strengthened its law in 1998.
Mass. Ann Law ch. 90, Section 7 states:
Every person who operates a motorcycle or is a passenger on one or in a sidecar attached a motorcycle “shall wear” protective headgear that conforms to the minimum standards of the state. The law was amended to further require no person operating a motorcycle may permit anyone without a helmet to ride along – unless that passenger is over 18 and is participating in a parade that is properly permitted.
Massachusetts courts have repeatedly backed this law, finding it does not violate one’s right to privacy, due process or equal protection. Fine for a first-time offense is just $35, though it will result in a “step” increase on one’s insurance surcharge for six or seven years.
But perhaps the bigger issue for helmetless riders involved in Boston motorcycle accidents is the potential for reduced compensation for injuries, based on an argument of comparative fault.Comparative Fault
Massachusetts comparative fault, also sometimes referred to as “comparative negligence” or “contributory negligence,” limits the amount of monetary compensation an injured motorcyclist can receive based on his or her own contribution to the accident and subsequent injuries.
Motorcycle accidents aren’t caused by a rider’s decision to wear a helmet, but the severity of one’s injuries could be affected by this decision. If a motorcyclist’s injury claim doesn’t pertain to his head or neck, then the issue of comparative fault as it relates to a helmet is irrelevant. However, if a motorcyclist does suffer head or neck injuries and was not wearing a helmet in a state with a universal helmet law, he or she may have a more difficult time recovering damages for those injuries.
Comparative negligence in motorcycle accident cases extends beyond just riding helmetless. It could mean:
- Driving under the influence
- Committing some other traffic infraction/moving violation that contributed to the cause of an accident or severity of injuries
The good news is that unlike other states, Massachusetts doesn’t bar claims entirely just for the presence of the comparative fault.
Mass. Ann. Law ch. 231 Section 85 states contributory negligence will not bar recovery in any action by any person in negligence lawsuits stemming from death or injury – so long as the negligence attributed to the injured person is less than that of the defendant.
So for example, a jury may find the motorcyclist shouldered 25 percent of the blame for the crash while the driver of the passenger vehicle is 75 percent liable. If the jury awards plaintiff $100,000 total in damages, that figure will be reduced by 25 percent, so he or she would only receive $75,000 after comparative negligence is factored.
Some of the most common injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents include:
- Head injuries
- Road rash (from sliding across the pavement after a crash)
- Muscle damage (including neck and back injuries)
- “Biker’s Arm”(permanent nerve damage in the arms and/or upper body)
- Leg injuries
Massachusetts law requires all registered motorcycles must carry auto insurance to protect the rider, passenger and others in the event of a crash.
Registered motorcycles in Massachusetts must be covered by:
- Liability insurance (minimum $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident)
- Personal injury protection (PIP) (minimum $8,000)
- Property damage coverage ($5,000 per accident minimum)
However, Massachusetts makes uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage optional.
Although Massachusetts is a no-fault state when it comes to auto accidents, those who suffer severe personal injuries or relatives of those who are killed can sue the at-fault driver for additional damages. However, if that driver does not have insurance (as required by law) or has insurance, but it doesn’t cover the full extent of damages, plaintiffs can file to collect UM/UIM coverage from victims’ own insurance carrier.
Mass. Ann. Law ch. 175, Section 113L details provisions relating to uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Although it is not required, securing UM/UIM coverage is a very good idea because nationally, 1 in 7 drivers (or roughly 14 percent) has no insurance. If you are injured in a motorcycle accident due to the negligence of an uninsured/underinsured driver, this type of coverage may be the only way to fully recover damages.Challenging Findings of Fault
A key determination in most motorcycle accidents is the finding of fault.
Challenging findings of fault involves not just challenging investigating officer assertions, but insurance company findings as well.
Officer observations, opinions, and conclusions may be entered into the record, and are given great weight. So if there is information within that report that is incorrect or may be damaging to the plaintiff’s case, an attorney may seek to challenge or suppress all or part of that record.
Another key consideration by the insurance company is the type of accident. Insurers will look to 211 CMR 74.00 to see whether an accident meets the criteria of a case with presumed fault, such as a rear-end collision or a crash with a parked car. Even if a fault is presumed, your injury attorney may want to intervene to provide evidence that may bolster your case.
Insurance companies will conduct a thorough investigation of the crash, but the bottom line for them is not compensating you, but rather limiting their own liability.
An experienced motorcycle accident attorney in Boston can help counter unfair findings of fault to identify strategies that may help your case.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL