Motorcycle Rider Rights in Massachusetts
Massachusetts motorcyclists have certain legal responsibilities on the road and rights following an injurious crash. Our team of the experienced Boston motorcycle accident attorneys is committed to helping riders and passengers avail themselves of these rights and pursue compensation for damages when others’ wrongful conduct was the cause.Motorcycle Rights in Massachusetts
First and foremost, motorcyclists by law have an entitlement to the road, just like any other motorist. Those in larger vehicles sometimes disregard this due to their relative size differences and sometimes that’s what leads to collisions.
Although most Massachusetts crash victims must first avail themselves of monetary compensation through the state’s no-fault PIP insurance as outlined in MGL ch. 90 section 34M, motorcyclists don’t have that option because per 211 CMR 3.00, it isn’t required insurance for them. Some riders have optional medical payment (Med-Pay) coverage or they initially rely on health insurance coverage. They are required to carry $40,000 minimum per crash in bodily injury liability coverage and $5,000 coverage for property damage.
Beyond that, if the crash was due to negligence of another driver, you have the right to file a liability claim against the at-fault driver and sometimes other third-parties, like the driver’s employer (per the vicarious liability doctrine of respondeat superior or a claim of negligent hiring and retention).
There are certain standards of fault, as outlined by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance under 211 CMR 74.00, wherein an operator’s fault will be presumed at more than 50 percent. These include things like:
- Rear end collisions;
- Out-of-lane collisions;
- Collisions on the wrong side of the road/ operating in the wrong direction;
- Single-vehicle collisions;
- Collisions while making a left turn or U-turn across the travel path of a vehicle traveling in the same or opposite direction;
- Leaving/ exiting a parked position, parking lot, alley or driveway;
- Opened a vehicle door.
These circumstances create a rebuttable presumption of fault, which means the burden of proof shifts from the injured plaintiff to the alleged at-fault defendant. That 50 percent standard is important because the Massachusetts comparative fault law prohibits claims by plaintiffs who are more than 50 percent to blame for a crash.
Although such claims are filed directly against individual persons, businesses or government entities, it’s usually the auto insurance companies or general liability carriers that ultimately pay.
Once you have identified all defendants and established negligence, you still bear the burden of proof to show damages (losses such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment and loss of consortium). This is done by presentation of actual bills, as well as possibly testimony from a forensic accountant or economist and personal testimony from you and loved ones.Motorcycle Accidents Are 37 Times Deadlier Than Car Accidents
While motorcycles account for about 2.5 percent of all registered vehicles in the U.S. and only 0.4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, they are involved in 10.5 percent of total traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die than a passenger car occupant.
Approximately 90 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle or vehicles. Every driver has a common law duty to use reasonable care. The definition of what is “reasonable” isn’t specifically outlined in statute, but we can take from Massachusetts jury instructions on negligence. There, it is explained motorists owe a duty to other members of the public in operating their vehicles to do so with a degree of care that a reasonably prudent person, using ordinary caution and prudence, would exercise in those circumstances. Failure to do so is negligence, and it forms the basis of most motorcycle accident lawsuits in Massachusetts. Violations of safety regulations are considered evidence of negligence, but are not necessarily conclusive proof of wrongdoing.
This applies to all road users, but motorcyclists especially are at a disadvantage for a few reasons:They are more vulnerable to serious injury because they lack the protections provided by air bags, seat belts and a vehicle frame. They are more likely to be struck by drivers of other vehicles because those motorists don’t “see” them until it’s too late. Part of this is because motorcycles are smaller. However, it’s also because many drivers haven’t trained their eyes to look for motorcyclists. Some don’t even bother looking in their blind spot, which might more easily conceal a motorcyclist. This may not be an intentional oversight, but it is the responsibility of all drivers to be adequately aware of their surroundings and other nearby vehicles. Drivers of cars and trucks tend to be more aggressive than those riding a motorcycle. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this, as well as a peer-reviewed study. Motorcyclists feel more vulnerable and thus drive less aggressively. Aggressive driving can take many forms (including speeding, improper lane change, failure to signal, tailgating, obscene gestures, excessive horn honking and failure to yield) and motorcyclists face an outsized risk of danger.Massachusetts Motorcyclist Responsibilities
Although motorcyclists face a greater threat than most other road users, they nonetheless share almost all the same rights and responsibilities. That means they too must use reasonable care. They also have the right to pursue compensation from another motorist if injured on the road is caused by another’s negligence.
Riding a motorcycle can be exhilarating, but operators must follow the law and maintain predictability on the road. This begins by identifying the classification of your bike and tailoring your actions accordingly. There are three basic categories:
- Motorized bicycle/ moped. Has a maximum speed of 30 mph with a cylinder capacity that is 50 cc or lower with an automatic transmission. Riders are subject to all typical traffic laws, except they can pass on the right and must signal with hands when turning or stopping. They can also be ridden in bicycle lanes, but not on off-street recreational paths. All riders and passengers must wear helmets.
- Motorized scooter . Subject to regulation as outlined in MGL ch. 90 section 1E, scooter operators need a valid driver’s license, may not travel at speeds in excess of 20 mph, have the right to use all public ways except highways where bicycles are prohibited, must keep to the right of the road and the bike must have operational turn signals so both hands can remain at all times on the handlebars. Scooters are prohibited on any road after sunset and before sunrise. No passengers are allowed on scooters, and all operators must wear helmets.
- Motorcycle. Motorcycles are motor vehicles with a seat or saddle for the rider with no more than three wheels. Tractors or motor vehicles designed for golf clubs, industrialized three-wheeled trucks and motorized bicycles are not considered motorcycles. All riders and passengers must wear helmets and have a Class M permit on their license. Lane-splitting is prohibited, but operators may ride two abreast.
The Massachusetts Motorcycle Guide outlines statutory expectations of motorcyclists, special rules that may apply and how to navigate certain unique challenges. They are also responsible to check all equipment to make sure it meets the standards as outlined in MGL ch. 90 section 7.
All motorcyclists must ride defensively because one can never be sure other motorists will take notice of your presence. Riding defensively means being prepared, alert and using great caution by maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles. One must also adequately communicate intentions of movement with proper signals, brake lights and lane position.
It’s important to:
- Follow the road laws, including the special rules for motorcycles.
- Help drivers know you are there by using high beams on the highways, avoiding riding in a blind spot, signaling before moves, obeying the speed limit and observing all traffic lights and signals.
- Avoid drinking and driving.
However, even the most defensive rider is not immune from an injurious crash when other motorists fail to use reasonable care. Note that even if you aren’t wearing a helmet or licensed, it doesn’t absolve other motorists for breaches of their duty of care, which means you can still pursue damages for injuries they cause.
Our dedicated team of Boston motorcycle accident attorneys are committed to protecting your rights and fighting for a favorable outcome in your injury claim.
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