Motorcycling is not only a leisure hobby, it is an efficient mode of transportation for many West Virginians. Motorcyclists, however, are the most vulnerable drivers on our roads, as they lack the protections and safety features of standard vehicles. We encourage all motorcyclists to take reasonable precautions for their own safety by being vigilant of other drivers and wearing the proper safety equipment, especially a helmet in accordance with West Virginia state law. Unfortunately, no matter the extent of precautions exercised, accidents still occur. If you or a loved one are a motorcyclist and your accident injuries were caused by the negligence of another, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.What Makes Motorcycle Accidents Unique?
Motorcycle accidents are unique because the injuries sustained by motorcyclists tend to be extreme, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and severe friction burns. Additionally, due to the vulnerability of motorcyclists as discussed above, the risk of death is quite substantial. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2018, 4,985 motorcyclists were killed in motorcycle accidents in the United States. Furthermore, insurance companies realize that juries tend to be biased against motorcyclists and attempt to exploit this reality to their advantage. Thus, you will need an aggressive attorney to ensure that you are properly represented.Who is Liable? What are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?
When you contact attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta, we can evaluate the nature of your motorcycle accident to determine the viability of a potential claim. The success of a claim is dependent upon the extent to which the injuries, harm, or death was caused by the negligence of others. There are four elements of a negligence claim. Remember, the “Plaintiff” in a lawsuit is the injured party who is filing an action, or claim, against the Defendant. The “Defendant”, sometimes referred to as the “Respondent”, is the party accused of causing the harm. The four elements of a negligence claim are:
Duty: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed a certain duty of care in the specific situation. The extent of the duty of care varies based upon the circumstances of each situation.
For example, drivers are required to exercise a “duty of reasonable care” by operating motor vehicles safely and in a manner that will not cause harm to others. Drivers of motor vehicles owe this duty of reasonable care to motorcyclists in the same respect they owe such duty of reasonable care to other motor vehicle drivers.
Breach: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant breached the duty of care that was required in that specific situation.
For example, if a vehicle driver merges into the lane of a motorcyclist without using a turning signal, causing a collision with the motorcyclist, the vehicle driver will have likely breached the duty of reasonable care to the motorcyclist even if the driver claims that he did not see the motorcyclist because the motorcycle was in his blind spot.
Causation: The third element of a negligence claim is causation. The Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant’s breach of duty actually and proximately caused the Plaintiff’s damages, harm, injuries or loss. Evaluating actual and proximate causation can be a complicated task which requires the skills and knowledge of experienced attorneys.
Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact. Actual cause exists when the Defendant’s actions, or inactions, directly cause the Plaintiff’s harm. In determining actual cause, attorneys must implement the “but for” test: “But for (without) the Defendant’s actions, would the Plaintiff have been injured?” In other words, if the Defendant did not do what he did, would the Plaintiff have suffered the harm that was suffered? If the Plaintiff wouldn’t have suffered the harm without the Defendant’s actions, then actual cause has been established.
For example, if a vehicle driver improperly merges into a motorcyclist’s lane, causing a collision, the driver’s actions were the actual cause of the motorcyclist’s damages. Using the “but for” test, ask the following question: “But for (without) the driver merging lanes, would collision have occurred?” If the answer is that the collision wouldn’t have happened if the driver didn’t merged lanes, then we have established actual cause.
When determining proximate cause, courts will consider whether the Plaintiff’s injuries were foreseeable to the Defendant. If the Defendant’s actions set forth a chain of unforeseeable events that resulted in harm to the Plaintiff, then it may be established that the Defendant did not proximately cause the Plaintiff’s injuries.
Damages: The fourth element of a negligence claim is damages. The Plaintiff must have suffered damages, harm, injuries or loss as a result of the Defendant’s actions. If the Defendant breached a duty of care without causing any damages, harm, injuries, or loss to the Plaintiff, then the Plaintiff has no claim.What Types of Damages/Compensation are Available?
If you are harmed, or if a loved one is killed or harmed in a motorcycle accident, and if you have a viable claim, attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta may seek multiple categories of damages to provide the compensation that you may be entitled to:
Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for the cost of the injury or harm. Furthermore, there are two different types of compensatory damages, actual and general.
Actual compensatory damages can include property damage, lost income, lost employment wages, and medical expenses such as hospital bills, rehabilitation treatment, physical therapy, medical equipment, nursing home care, in-home care and prescription drug costs.
General compensatory damages can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and future losses as a result of lower earning capacity and future medical care.
Punitive Damages: Although punitive damages will only be awarded in specific instances, punitive damages serve as a punishment to the Defendant. Furthermore, awarding such damages sends a message to others in society and in that respect, punitive damages serve as a deterrent for such negligent behavior. Although there is a high burden on the Plaintiff to prove punitive damages, such awards can be substantial in comparison to compensatory damages.
Steps to Take if You or a Loved One is Involved in a Motorcycle Accident:
- Contact 911 immediately and seek roadside assistance and medical treatment for all involved.
- Insofar as you are safely able to do so, identify the other parties involved and exchange information. Take as many photographs of the scene as possible. Take photographs from various angles. Photograph the roadway, surrounding area, debris, license plates and vehicle damage.
- Do not speak with an insurance company or provide any written statement to an insurance company without first talking to Rich & Gutta, PLLC.
- Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.
Regardless of whether you sustain severe injuries or minor injuries, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment immediately after your accident. A doctor will properly evaluate your condition and check for internal injuries that might not be immediately apparent to you. Your doctor will then provide a medical report that will be essential in building your case.Why You Should Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC Immediately?
Preservation of evidence is paramount. This means that time is of the essence and you need an experienced legal team to ensure that, among other things, witnesses are identified, medical and police records are obtained and other evidence is properly gathered. If you or a loved one were involved in a motorcycle accident, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC at (304) 924-7001.
Tips for Safe Motorcycling:
- Always assume that other drivers don’t see you. Many fellow drivers get complacent in their awareness of motorcyclists. Thus, travel at safe speeds and at safe distances from other drivers. The time and distance in which you have to react to a potential collision is precious.
- Always wear proper safety equipment, including a Department of Transportation certified helmet.
- Pay particular attention to weather conditions, as motorcycles are more vulnerable to adverse conditions such as rain and heavy wind.
- A particularly dangerous time to ride a motorcycle is the period of time at the beginning of a rain or when roads are slightly damp or wet. The accumulative amount of oil drippings on the road from leaking vehicles can be substantial. Wetness and dampness cause the oil to separate from the road and float, causing slick driving conditions. After substantial rain, this oil may be washed away, but initially, driving conditions can be dangerous.
- Pay attention to newly paved roads, as oils from new pavement can cause dangerously slick driving conditions.
- Be cognizant of potholes and other hazardous road conditions, as motorcyclists are especially susceptible to these hazards.