Are Accidents Handled Differently in North Carolina if they Involve Motorcycles?
The same laws apply to automobile collisions, whether they involve a car, an SUV, or a motorcycle, but there are different factors that come into play when motorcycles are involved in an accident. Motorcycle accidents are 26 times more likely to result in a fatality than other kinds of collisions. Many of the reasons are obvious; motorcycles just offer less protection than a sedan, SUV, or truck. But many of the reasons are less obvious to people who don’t ride motorcycles.
Differences Between Motorcycle Accidents and Car Accidents
Bikes typically have stopping power that is considerably less than that of a car. We see lots of accidents involving cars that turn in front of motorcycles. A good portion of those accidents involve drivers of cars who incorrectly assumed the driver of the motorcycle would slow and allow the to turn in front of them. Unfortunately, a bike simply cannot stop as quickly as a car. The result is that either the two vehicles collide, or the driver of the bike has to swerve or lay his bike down. Any of these eventualities are likely to result in substantial injuries to the driver of the motorcycle.
Insurance Companies Will Be Cheap in Payouts
With little damage to the car, some insurance companies will dispute whether the driver of the motorcycle was legitimately hurt in the collision, and try to avoid paying out a fair settlement. In many cases, the insurance adjusters will simply deny liability in the claim, meaning they will dispute that their driver was at fault in the collision.
What it Means to be a Contributory Negligence State
North Carolina is a contributory negligence state. That means that if a driver contributes to his own injury, he cannot by law recover from another driver or his insurance. This law, which is unique to North Carolina and a handful of other states, can be very harsh on victims of accidents. If you in any way contribute to a collision, you can be barred from recovering anything. Adjusters will constantly say, “If you are 1% at fault in a collision, and my driver is 99% at fault, we do not have to pay you anything.” Common sense would say that the other driver, or his insurance, should pay 99% of your medical bills, pain and suffering, wage loss, and property damage expenses. But the law says otherwise, and can let that driver escape free and clear.
Insurance companies will use this rule any time they can to deny a claim, and this rules seems to come up most often in cases involving motorcycles or other bikes. For example in the scenario above, where a car turns in front of a motorcycle and the bike runs into the side of the car, or the driver has to lay down the bike to avoid a collision, the adjuster will almost always argue that the driver of the motorcycle was 1% at fault for failing to avoid the collision.
Motorcycle Victims Should Always Discuss Options With an Attorney
Because of the contributory negligence rule, it is very important that motorcycle drivers contact an attorney before they agree to provide a recorded statement to an insurance company. The driver will provide the statement, assuming that the adjuster just wants to confirm who was at-fault in the collision, knowing that the driver of the car who failed to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic must be at fault. But in reality, the adjuster is simply asking for the statement to dig for anything that might show that the driver of the bike was 1% at fault in the wreck.
Be Careful With Adjusters
For these reasons, the adjuster will ask questions about when the driver of the bike last got his eyes checked, and when was the last time he took any medications (like allergy pills) that can make you sleepy, and how far the vehicles were when he first noticed the car had its turn signal on, etc. Their goal, in obtaining these statements, is to get you to admit that in some way you could have avoided the accident, which will allow the adjuster to argue that you were 1% at fault, and therefore should not recovery anything.
First, it important to note that the contributory negligence rule can easily be mis-read, and is constantly mis-read by adjusters. The rule does not actually say anything about “1%”. What the rule actually says is that if a driver, “by his own negligence, contributes to his injury” he should be barred from recovery.
The part of the law reading, “by his own negligence” is critically important. A driver can only be 1% at fault if he was “negligent.” Negligence is when a driver fails to comply with a duty. For example, he failed to yield the right of way, or he failed to see his way clear before entering an intersection, or he failed to comply with a speed limit. But a driver does not have a duty to anticipate that another driver is going to do something negligent and avoid the resulting collision.
So a driver is not 1% at fault just because he happened to wake up that morning and drive on the roadway. A driver only contributes to an accident if he is negligent, and failed to perform a duty he is required by law or common sense to perform.
Second, it is important to remember that until you have been a part of a recorded statement, it is almost impossible to prepare yourself for it. Adjusters take dozens of statements every month. They are used to asking questions in a manner that lead you to say what they want you to say. You need to be prepared for their questions, and the ways they will ask them before you provide a statement. Especially where you may be shaken up or angry about recently being involved in a collision, and waiting anxiously for someone to take car of your repairs and get you a rental car.
And third, it is important to retain an attorney who has experience with motorcycle wrecks, and how bikes operate. Just like the adjuster is getting statements from you, your attorney may need to obtain statements from witnesses, or locate videos of the collision, knowing that liability will almost always be contested in motorcycle cases. It is very common for witnesses to be prejudiced against motorcycles. We hear all the time, things like, “You just can’t tell how fast those things are going,” or, “The girl just turned in front of him because she didn’t see that little bike.”
Particularly at night, drivers of motor vehicles will tend to read the speed of an oncoming motorcycle incorrectly, and this applies not just to the drivers involved in the wreck but also to the witnesses. Therefore it is imperative that you talk to these witnesses and pin them down as to what they actually saw. Did the witness actually see the bike and get a chance to estimate its speed? Did he even see the impact, or only look over after hearing it? Often witnesses will initially want to blame the motorcycle, but when pressed for specifics, will admit that the driver of the motorcycle did nothing wrong.
The same thing can apply to investigating officers, who sometimes take statements from the driver of the car, then type that into their report as if it were the only side of the story. Well, perhaps that was the only side of the story in the officer’s mind, but only because the driver of the motorcycle was taken away by ambulance and was not there to give a statement. In those instances, it can be important to try and get an accident report amended, or get a statement from the officer asking whether he took any measurements of the skid marks, etc.
We Want to Talk
For all these reasons and more, if you were involved in a motorcycle collision, talk to an attorney. Our lawyers have experience with collisions like your and will be happy to talk to you about your rights.