Motorcycle passengers are almost entirely dependent on the driver of the cycle for their safety. To be sure, the passenger can wear a helmet. But drivers still bear the primary responsibility for keeping passengers safe.
A recent Colorado motorcycle accident is an example of this reality. In late August 2011, a husband and wife were taking a motorcycle ride. When the couple arrived in Loveland, the ride turned tragic. The husband slowed the motorcycle to meet the speed of traffic where Interstate 23 meets U.S. 34 and then lost control of the cycle.
Both husband and wife were thrown from the motorcycle; emergency responders pronounced the wife dead at the scene and rushed the husband to the hospital for treatment of his injuries. This unfortunate event illustrates the dangers of motorcycle accidents and also suggests some of the questions regarding liability for passenger injuries that can arise in the aftermath of the accident.
Dangers of Motorcycle Accidents
Motorcycle accidents can be particularly devastating because motorcycles lack the protections that cars and other vehicles afford to drivers and passengers. A motorcycle does not have the built-in safety features of other vehicles such as a steel frame engineered to absorb the impact of a crash surrounding the driver and passengers, as well as airbags, seatbelts and a substantial windshield. Motorcycles have only two wheels, so they are less stable than other vehicles on the road, as well, adding to the risk of an accident.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data shows that there were 88 motorcycle accident fatalities in Colorado in 2009. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, motorcycle accident fatalities accounted for one of every five motor vehicle accident deaths for the year.
Nationwide, there were 4,462 motorcycle fatalities in 2009, according to NHTSA data. NHTSA statistics also show that per vehicle mile travelled in 2008, a motorcycle rider was 37 times more likely to die in an accident and 9 times more likely to be injured in an accident than passenger vehicle occupants.
Liability Between Motorcycle Passengers and Drivers: Negligence
Principles of the legal concept of negligence govern liability for injuries in a motorcycle accident, much in the same manner as in any other motor vehicle accident. In order to bring a successful negligence claim, a plaintiff needs to show that the defendant:
- Had a legal duty of care towards the plaintiff
- Breached that duty of care in some manner
- The breach of the duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
- The plaintiff actually sustained injuries
Negligence in the Context of Motorcycle Accidents
A passenger who is injured in a motorcycle crash and wants to recover damages from the driver of the motorcycle will have to show all of the elements of negligence. If a passenger is killed, a wrongful death action by family members would also have to show these elements to succeed.
All drivers owe their passengers a duty of care, no matter the type of vehicle, so the main thing that the plaintiff will have to show is how the defendant breached that duty.
There are various ways that a motorcycle driver could breach the duty of care. The driver could have been violating any number of traffic laws, such as speed limits, ignoring passing restrictions or driving while intoxicated. The plaintiff could try to show that the driver was driving recklessly, such as going too fast for conditions even if the driver was not exceeding the legal speed limit on the road.
When trying to show that the driver’s breach of his or her duty was the cause of the passenger’s injuries, the passenger will have to demonstrate that it was reasonably foreseeable that an injury would result if the driver took the action that he or she took.
The defendant may try to avoid liability by arguing that the passenger assumed the risk of injury by agreeing to ride on a motorcycle, knowing that there was a chance that the passenger could sustain an injury if there were an accident. The defendant may also try to show that it was the passenger who caused the accident or that the passenger took some action to make his or her injuries worse than they otherwise would have been.
Consult an Attorney
Motorcycle accidents can be particularly devastating because of the nature of the vehicle and its lack of protections that other vehicles on the road have. It is important for those involved in motorcycle accidents to receive compensation for the expenses that result from such accidents when they were not at fault. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.