Motorcycle accident claims can be extremely difficult due to insurance complexities and what are often very serious injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 4,985 people killed in 2018 while riding a motorcycle in the United States. Motorcyclists were also found by the NHTSA to be killed 28 times more often than those involved in a car accident. These figures are sad, but not shocking when you consider the dangers associated with riding a motorcycle. If you are a rider in Florida, then you know first hand how dangerous it can be on the roads. Our law firm is located in St. Petersburg and we see way too many cases involving unfortunate motorcycle crashes that result in serious injury or death. Our roads are particularly dangerous because of the traffic congestion, the amount of elderly drivers, and the number of tourists and snow birds. The combination of these factors make operating a motorcycle in Pinellas County or anywhere in Tampa Bay a danger zone. I hear from many of my clients that getting into an accident is not a question of “if”, but “when”.
At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we specialize in motorcycle accident injury claims. Over the decades, we have handled countless cases for injured riders and their families. Due to our experience in handling the insurance claims, we have put together this article to assist motorcycle accident victims when dealing with this difficult process. Insurance companies devote tremendous resources to avoid having to pay compensation for claims and you should be aware about how to avoid their traps and excuses.
Common Injuries from Motorcycle Accidents:
Because of the lack of protection, even the most minor accidents can lead to serious injuries. Our experience from handling numerous motorcycle crash cases are that the following injuries are the most common:
Whenever the driver of a motorcycle is knocked to the ground at high speed and makes contact with concrete or asphalt, there is a high likelihood that road rash will occur. These scrapes and abrasions are extremely painful, take a long time to heal, and result in scarring.
When the skin makes contact with hot surfaces on the bike such as the engine or tailpipe, second and third-degree burns can occur. The scarring from these burns is a major factor in adding value to the claim.
Soft Tissue Injuries
These types of injuries include sprains, strains, or any damage that is not a broken bone. Many soft tissue injuries are considered to be disc injuries, or damage to tendons and ligaments.
Fractures or Broken bones
Any time the body makes an impact with something hard at a high speed, broken bones are likely. We see a lot of fractures to ribs and wrists from hard crashes.
There are many types of internal injuries such as punctured lungs, ruptured spleens, kidney injuries and the like.
Head trauma regardless of whether one is wearing a helmet is one of the most common causes of serious injury or death to motorcyclists.
Neck and Back Injuries
While not always debilitating, herniated discs and bulging discs in the back and neck can have life-long consequences.
We see damage to the knee as a common area of injury when a motorcyclist is thrown from the bike.
Ways to Increase the Value or Amount of Compensation of Your Claim:
Report the Accident to the Police:
Regardless of the severity of the accident, always call and report the incident to law enforcement. This step is extremely important because it legitimizes the accident and allows an independent third party to investigate and make a determination as to the cause. Having a police report is a very helpful tool for getting the claim handled quickly and without a lawsuit. Many people think that because an accident is minor, all they have to do is exchange information and keep the police out of it. What they do not know is that the insurance company is not bound by what is said as the scene and has no obligation to honor what their insured might have told you. Therefore, it is always a good idea to report the incident even if it means that you might have to wait and the other driver may get a ticket for causing the accident.
Taking photos is also extremely important for the claim. If you can take pictures at the accident scene of the damage and of any witnesses, that would be helpful. After leaving the scene, take pictures of the damage to the motorcycle and and visible injuries. Because so many motorcycle accidents result in unsightly road rash, these graphic pictures can really help the value. Also, once the injuries heal, always take pictures of any permanent scars.
Get Contact Information for Witnesses:
It can be very confusing at the accident scene and it is likely that you are in pain and in shock. But, getting witness contact information can be the difference in proving your claim. While the police are supposed to get all of this information, sometimes people leave before law enforcement arrives. Also, the police (especially the Florida Highway Patrol) are notorious for writing down incorrect contact information. Whatever you can do to write down the names and phone numbers of the people who witnessed the accident can really help to resolve the claim.
Seek Medical Treatment Immediately:
One of the biggest mistakes that people who have been involved in a motorcycle accident make is to wait to get medical treatment. For some reason, people try to “tough it out” to see if the pain subsides. Inevitably, when the pain either remains or gets worse, they then start looking for a doctor which delays the treatment even more. If you have waited days or even weeks to get medical treatment, expect that the insurance company is not going to pay you full value for your claim. Their rationale is that if you waited to go to a doctor, then you are not injured that badly.
My advice after every motorcycle accident is to go to a hospital or urgent care center. If your injuries do not rise to that level, find a doctor who specializes in motorcycle injury cases and get in to see him or her that same day. While the excuse that insurance companies make to avoid paying more is ridiculous, it is reality. Therefore, get immediate medical treatment and eliminate their opportunity to use this excuse.
Notify the Insurance Companies and Be Polite:
In order to set up the claim, you will need to notify the insurance companies of the accident. It is likely that the insurance company for the vehicle that caused the accident will already be aware of the incident. You should be aware that you have an obligation to cooperate with your own insurance company, but not the one for the at-fault driver. That being said, you should have very little reason to speak to your own company since it will be the other company that will cover the damage to the bike and pay for your losses. I advise clients not to go into detail about the extent of the injuries with the other insurance company. Once a motorcycle accident attorney is hired, the insurance company will direct all communications through the attorney’s office.
If you do speak with an insurance adjuster, try to remain patient and be polite. The old saying goes that you get more bees with honey. If you are nice to an insurance adjuster, the more likely it is that you will be treated fairly. You would be surprised about how often I am told by insurance adjusters that my clients got more money or their claim handled faster simply by being friendly and prepared.
Document the Damage to the Bike:
It might be tempting to take your motorcycle to a repair shop or even to dump it in a junkyard, but the damage needs to be properly documented. Make sure you take pictures of the damage, get a copy of the repair estimate and a receipt if you scrap the bike. Without this proof, you may have issues showing how severe the damage was and missing out on money that you could have recovered for the damage. A little bit of patience could result in thousands of more dollars in recovery.
Document Your Out-of Pocket Expenses and Lost Wages:
Proper documentation of your losses is important in any type of insurance claim. In order to recover every dollar of compensation owed, you must submit proof to the insurance company. If you have lost time at work, you can get a note from your employer. You must also submit pay stubs to determine the wages.
As far as out-of pocket costs to be recovered, these often include rental car expenses, prescription medication, medical equipment and insurance co-pays. I advise my clients to periodically submit this information to my office so that it can be maintained. Some of my more ambitious clients even have prepared spreadsheets, which is always appreciated.
Stay Off Social Media
While stating that you should not be posting about the motorcycle accident on social media sounds like common sense, you would be amazed about how many people make this mistake. Since I am Facebook friends with many of my clients, I regularly see posts not only about the accident itself, but pictures of trips and excursions while the claim is pending! Further, I have observed people making posts about working long shifts or doing yardwork. Obviously, if you are supposed to be hurt from a motorcycle accident, you should not be putting it out there about all of the activities that you are doing. For example, even if you were in pain on a trip, often the pictures that are posted are of smiling faces appearing to be having a great time. I promise you that insurance companies check your social media pages and these posts will cost you money. Since one of the factors in determining how much the case is worth is how it has affected your life, don’t hand the insurance company a reason to discount what you have been through. Before you post something, assume that the insurance company will see it and spin it in a way against you. While I advise my clients never to post about the accident (they all don’t listen), if you are on social media, make sure that your settings are set to private.
If There Is a Death From a Motorcycle Accident, Will an Estate Have to Be Opened?
Unfortunately, yes. If the insurance company issues a check after a death, that person is not capable of cashing the check. Also, the insurance company has no idea who the next of kin is and cannot get involved if someone (even a creditor) makes a claim to the money. Therefore, an estate must be opened and a personal representative appointed to manage it. Usually the personal representative is a spouse or a child. Obviously, setting up an estate costs money and requires the services of an estate attorney to get set up. It has been our experience that some insurance companies will even pay for an attorney to perform this service. Fortunately, at our office, Rachel Drude-Tomori handles the estate and probate issues related to motorcycle deaths for us. Having a probate and estate attorney in house is an advantage that very few motorcycle accident attorneys can claim. While cases involving a death are always tragic, at least we have the resources to provide accurate answers to family members about what steps need to be taken.
Consult With an Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorney
Motorcycle accident cases happen unexpectedly and often have tragic consequences. At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we understand how difficult these cases can be on the victim and their family. Our goal is always to ensure that the injured motorcyclists get all of the medical care that he or she needs and that we recover as much compensation possible for what they went through.
If you or a loved one has been injured or has been killed in a motorcycle accident in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County or anywhere in the Tampa Bay region, we have the resources and expertise to help. Please contact us to answer any questions and our consultations are always free.