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Motorcycle Accidents: Some Thoughts from a Trial Attorney
Timothy Shay

Friends, summer is now upon us and many of you enjoy riding your motorcycles. I would like to share my experiences as a trial attorney involved in the litigation of cases where my clients have sustained severe and permanent injuries or death in motorcycle accidents. I have been practicing law for over 33 years and have found unfortunate commonalities with litigating these claims.

First, Illinois is only 1 of 3 states that does not require motorcyclists to wear a helmet. In 2017, the Illinois Department of Transportation Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering Evaluation Section conducted a survey on motorcycle helmet usage in Illinois. During the survey period, a total of 1,692 motorcyclists were observed. Of those, 44.6% were observed wearing helmets. The City of Chicago had the highest helmet usage rate, at 51.1%. Unfortunately, downstate counties had the lowest usage rate, at 39.9%. Helmet usage on interstates and highways was 50.4%. On residential roads, the helmet usage rate was only 38.8%.

Although various motorcycle groups in Illinois continue to challenge any legislation requiring the use of a helmet while operating a motorcycle, the facts demonstrate that motorcyclists and/or their passengers who were involved in accidents and were not wearing a helmet were at significantly higher risk of incurring serious or fatal injuries. From my own experiences as a Plaintiff’s attorney who litigates these claims, I have witnessed the long-term effects of closed head injuries suffered by motorcyclists, due to no fault of their own. These motorcycle accidents leave a profound effect on those who are injured, as well as their families.

When I litigate these claims, I am forced to confront the issue of helmet usage with potential jurors. Potential jurors remain consistently negative toward Plaintiffs, whether motorcycle operators or passengers, who were not wearing helmets and sustained injuries. In fact, in a recent case, a mistrial was declared because of the bias of the potential jurors toward my client who sustained a closed head injury while not wearing a helmet. The responses from potential jurors were overwhelmingly negative, including the suggestion that any operator of a motorcycle that was not wearing a helmet was “crazy”.

In May 2017, the Illinois Department of Transportation issued Crash Facts and Statistics for calendar year 2015. Again, the statistics were alarming. During 2015, motorcycle accidents accounted for only 1.1% of total crashes, but accounted for 15.8% of fatal crashes. Not surprisingly, the statistics showed the greatest number of motorcycle crashes occurred on Saturdays. 2,643 motorcyclists were injured in 2015. More importantly, 905 of those motorcyclists suffered severe injuries, and 147 of them were killed. There were also 4 passenger deaths.

Alcohol inevitably played a role in the fatal crash statistics. As stated earlier, motorcycle operators accounted for 15.8% of motor vehicle collision fatalities. Of those fatalities, 113 were tested for alcohol consumption, and 50.4% were positive with a BAC of .01 or greater. 141 motorcycle passengers were killed in 2015, and 815 of those passengers sustained severe and permanent injuries.

On a personal note, I find that most motorcyclists possess insufficient insurance due to the high cost of insuring a motorcycle. These low limit motorcycle insurance policies are glaringly insufficient when a motorcyclist is injured by another driver who has little or no insurance to cover the motorcyclist’s injuries. Due to the fact that motorcycle operators and their passengers have virtually no protection from an impact with a car or truck, it is almost certain they will sustain severe and permanent injuries. In my 33 years in practice, I have encountered only 1 case where the insurance policy was sufficient to cover the sustained injuries to my client. In all other cases, the insurance policies of the at-fault parties, coupled with limited underinsured motorist benefits for the motorcycle operator, were insufficient to compensate my clients for the severe and life-altering injuries they sustained.

Please be careful when operating motorcycles. I urge you to wear all personal protective gear available to you, including a helmet. Please make sure to also contact your insurance agent and verify you have sufficient automobile coverage of no less than $250,000.00 in uninsured and underinsured motorist benefits.

Always feel free to contact my office at 217-523-5900 in Springfield or 217-425-5900 in Decatur for a free consultation or if you prefer, use the contact form found here.