Understanding the Impact of Helmet Use in Motorcycle Accident Claims

May Is Motorcycle Awareness Month

Recent reporting through the National Safety Council examined statistics from multiple national safety organizations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that from 2002 to 2017, more than 250,000 lives have been saved by wearing motorcycle helmets.  Motorcycle helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers.  According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, the use of Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant helmets by all motorcyclists was 66.5 percent in 2022.  Helmet use across the U.S. was on the increase until 2018 where we saw a decrease by 4.5 percent.

Forty-Seven Percent Increase in Motorcycle Fatalities in Missouri

Anytime one can increase favorable odds of avoiding death by 37 percent, it seems like a winning bet every time.  Yet, in 2020, the Missouri legislature repealed the mandatory helmet law for all motorcyclists over the age of 26 as long as they could provide proof of financial responsibility ie: (insurance).   Since the repeal of the mandatory helmet law, Missouri has seen motorcycle deaths increase by 47 percent since 2020Motorcyclists in crashes without approved helmets are 3-4 times more likely to die than those wearing helmets.  We can only assume the Missouri Legislature added the “conditions” such as proof of health insurance or financial responsibility (motorcycle insurance), but the reality of the crash data does not demonstrate that motorcyclists are any better insured than before when helmets were required.  There are a really high number of motorcyclists involved in single-vehicle collisions with no coverage (based on reports from the MSHP).  this lack of appropriate coverage is consequential for the injured motorcyclists.  Motorcycle crash injuries are very often catastrophic whether single-vehicle or involving another vehicle.  If a motorcyclists carries liability only–$25K is not meaningful in coverage of any medical bills.   “Financial responsibility” is a term that falls very short when we are talking about most motorcycle insurance policies.

Likewise, those in motor vehicles crashes of any kind have serious problems when they are injured in crashes while uninsured or under insured.

In addition to fatalities, the number of traumatic brain injuries have also dramatically increased.  Unfortunately, there is only so much our modern medical system can do for traumatic brain injuries. Brain injuries are unique in that the injury presents differently for each person.  Also, brain matter does not rejuvenate, brains do not just “rewire” and recovery is rarely like the movies.  Brain injuries are nightmares for the injured and their families.

How Failure to Wear a Helmet May Work Against You if Injured

If you’ve been involved in a motorcycle crash, the state’s governing helmet laws may significantly affect your personal injury claim.  In states with universal helmet law, not wearing a helmet might indicate a violation of the law. This could factor into an insurance carrier’s assessment of fault and potentially reduce your compensation.  However, in states like Missouri and Illinois with no mandatory helmet laws, the legal implications are far less straightforward.  While failing to wear a helmet may not be a violation, rest assured the insurance carrier will insinuate if not argue the injured person would not have been so injured if they were wearing a helmet. They will seek to reduce their driver’s fault or your compensation based on failure to wear a helmet.  We are certain that is the situation as counsel for insurance companies always look for any argument to reduce your compensation.

In fact, insurance carriers and defense attorneys very much like to promote the idea that a motorcyclist is more of a risk taker and possibly less concerned about their own safety.   While it may be true that motorcyclists may be more likely to take risks, it does not mean they are also unsafe.  We know it is a huge mountain of  physical recovery after a motorcycle crash and obtaining fair compensation can be an up hill battle.  If your case goes to trial, the jurors bring with them a lifetime of ideas about motorcyclists.  In any jury trial, jurors bring their own experiences and beliefs into the court, but they also bring their common sense.  Because almost all of us get into motor vehicles, the general public does not view riding in a vehicle as risky as riding a motorcycle.  It is true, riding a motorcycle is more risky.  But, jurors are members of the general public and if your case is litigated, they will be the arbiters of justice.  Thus, the point being that wearing a helmet impacts your literal safety and will come up again if you have to pursue a negligent driver in court.

It is important to remember  that failing to wear a helmet will work against you when dealing with an insurance adjuster and opposing counsel.   Their one mission is to reduce liability (fault) or argue that an injured party is really not as injured as they their medical records may articulate.  Is is fair?  No, but it is how it works.

Motorcyclists Have Equal Rights and Responsibilities on Our Roadways

Our roadways are for licensed drivers and riders.  Whether you drive a Lamborghini, an 18 wheeler,  passenger vehicle or a motorcycle, we all have the same right to the roadway and responsibility to follow the rules of the road.  The size of the vehicle you occupy doe not dictate a greater right to the roadway.   Everyone knows that motorcyclists are more vulnerable and the vast majority of motorcyclists take safety very seriously because their survival depends on safety. We all consciously know that a large vehicles can do greater damage to other vehicles. No matter the vehicle that you operate, you have an obligation to follow the rules of the roadway and keep a look out for other vehicles. Keeping a look out for all other vehicles is a responsibility each vehicle operator has to take seriously.

We can get a little dodgy in St. Louis traffic regarding motorcycles.  As of yet, we have not had a single motorcycle crash trial where a potential juror did not bring up the large motorcycle groups that ride dangerously. No,  we’re not talking about Hell’s Angels nonsense, but large groups of street riders blowing through lights on one wheel.  Many of us have encountered motorcyclists speeding through downtown streets, through red lights on one wheel.  If you are in a passenger vehicle when these motorcyclists speed past you or you narrowly avoid them, it can be frustrating.  Dangerous driving while operating any vehicle endangers us all.  The only problem with stunt riding motorcycles in a large group (aside from the safety aspect) is that it does give a bad name to the 99 percent of motorcyclists who practice upmost safety. Each motorcyclist wants their safety record to reflect their own safety efforts and not the practices of stunt riding. Likewise, you may have a sports car and do want to be associated with the bad stereotype of a sports car driver who speeds dangerously and drives recklessly.

At our firm, each client has a unique story and a journey of physical recovery after a collision that is specific to them.  We continue to encourage all motorcyclists to wear a helmet regardless of mandates. Likewise, we encourage all motorists to wear seat belts.  We strongly encourage these safety measures so that hopefully, you will not be in a serious injury crash or ever need our services.

If You Have Been Injured in a Motorcycle Crash, It is Most Likely Serious

Anytime you are seriously injured in any type of motor vehicle incident, it is not wise to go through the process alone in dealing with the insurance carrier.  You should NOT discuss your injuries with an adjuster right away. If you are seriously hurt, you should never speak with an adjuster without an attorney.  So many really nice people operate under the belief that if they are really transparent and really explain the severity of their injury, then the insurance carrier will treat them fairly.  Or, you may assume that since you are a really intellectual person, you can outsmart the adjuster.  We are sorry to say that neither of these concepts are true.

The insurance claim process for those injured is not designed for your benefit.  While you may assume your own insurance carrier cares or advocates on your behalf, that is incorrect.  Sometimes we speak with folks that think “hiring an attorney” is going to be just another thing to deal with or that the attorney is going to take all of the money.  Most people have horror stories from their uncle or neighbor’s friend who was in a crash.  Ultimately, each collision is uniquely different as the parties involved.

Variables Impacting a Case

Severity of injury is the most important portion of any personal injury case.  The fact pattern including where, how and when the crash occurred is also important. Lastly, but just as important is the coverage.  If you are uninsured and hit head -n by someone with no insurance, there is no insurance claim to make.  The reason auto insurance is required is to protect you.  At the same time, auto insurance is a product that we are all required to buy in order to legally operate a motor vehicle.  Yet, if you have needed to file a property or injury claim with your own insurance carrier, it can often feel as if they are doing you a favor by honoring the contractual agreement you have with them.  It is the only product or service that we are required to buy but villainized when we do.  That is nonsense.

If you are injured in a motorcycle crash, get the medical help that you need and do not discuss details with any auto insurance carrier until you can take advantage of a free consultation with a motorcycle crash accident expert. Sometimes folks that call us do not need us.  We do not begrudge a second sharing information to better prepare someone to go through this process even if we do take them on as a client.

We are available seven days a week toll free 1-800-685-3302 or locally 314.276.1681



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The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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