Florida is a biker’s dream – long, flat roads, sunny skyways and blissful sea breezes. Not only do a lot of Floridians own motorcycles (about 550,000), but riders from all over the country flock to our roads regularly. (The Insurance Highway Safety Institute reports California and Florida have the largest number of registered motorcycles in the U.S. – and by a large margin.)
The sheer volume of motorcycles in the Sunshine State is part of why the Florida motorcycle accident rate is so high. It consistently ranks at the top of the charts for motorcycle crashes, serious injuries, and deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida outranks every other state – even California, which has nearly double the population – for the highest number of motorcycle fatalities. There were 600 motorcycle accident deaths reported in Florida just in 2020 alone. California ranked No. 2 with 539. The lack of motorcycle awareness by other motorists as well as Florida’s high speed limits don’t help matters.
But there are several ways in which suing after a Florida motorcycle accident is different compared to other types of crash cases.
Here, our Broward motorcycle injury lawyers explain.
What Sets Motorcycle Accidents Apart From Other Crashes?
There are several unique factors with motorcycle accidents that alter the way personal injury lawyers and wrongful death attorneys approach these cases. A few of those include:
- Greater injury severity. Right off the bat, motorcycle accidents are inherently more serious. NHTSA reports motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die and 5 times more likely to be seriously injured in a traffic crash compared to occupants of passenger vehicles. The reason is pretty simple: People on motorcycles lack the physical protective barrier of an enclosed vehicle. What might be a fender bender between two cars becomes a direct hit to someone’s body when one is on a motorcycle. Motorcycle operators and their passengers are more likely by far to suffer catastrophic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. The severity of the case in turn means the stakes in litigation are much higher. That may incline insurance companies to invest more time and resources into resisting a full and fair payout. Such cases usually require a fair amount of investigation (to learn the full extent of the impact/loss) and lengthy – sometimes tense – negotiations with insurers. When insurers take a hard line, it also means the case is more likely to go to trial. (The majority are ultimately settled before trial, but ideally a fair settlement can be reached before you ever get to the stage of needing to file a lawsuit.)
- Florida motorcyclists do not have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. F.S. 627.736 requires motorists to carry no-fault PIP coverage, which provides up to $10,000 to the insured after a crash – regardless of who was at-fault. Crash victims are required to tap into this resource first. It’s only if/when they suffer from severe injuries, as defined in F.S. 627.737, that they can step outside that no-fault system and pursue damages against the at-fault driver. Motorcyclists, however, are excluded from PIP coverage requirements. Instead, they are required by F.S. 324.021 to carry insurance or proof of financial responsibility in minimum amounts of $10,000 for property damages, $10,000 for bodily injury/death of one person, and $20,000 for multiple people. If the claim is filed by a motorcycle passenger as a result of the operator’s negligence, this is likely the coverage they’d be making a claim on (as well as their own uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist coverage, if they have any). But if the Florida motorcycle accident injuries were the result of another driver’s negligence, the motorcyclist and/or passenger could directly pursue a claim against that other driver without having to first claim coverage through PIP. If the at-fault driver is uninsured or lacks enough coverage to sufficiently compensate the motorcyclist or passenger for their losses, they may file a claim with their own UM/UIM insurance carrier.
- Road conditions and vehicle maintenance. Poor road conditions like fog/brushfire smoke, heavy rain, fierce winds, debris, dust, etc. often play a role in Florida car accidents. However, motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable because of their smaller size and direct exposure to the environment. Of course, no one controls the weather, but if there is evidence the motorcycle was not properly maintained or equipped, there may be a finding of comparative fault. As stated in F.S. 768.81, one can be held partially responsible for their own personal injuries if they shared part of the blame for what happened. If the motorcycle was not in excellent working order and that played a role in causing the crash or exacerbating the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff could be found comparatively at-fault. Fortunately in Florida, this doesn’t mean you’ve lost your case. It does, however, mean that your damage award will be proportionately reduced. (So if the person injured was 20% responsible, their monetary compensation will be reduced by 20%.) Keeping records to show you’ve made reasonable efforts to maintain your motorcycle may be important in this context.
- Failure to wear protective gear may be factored. Another potential issue with respect to comparative fault is failure to wear protective gear, such as helmets and protective eyewear. Helmets aren’t required for Florida motorcyclists over the age of 21 who carry at least $10,000 in medical benefits. But failure to do so could be used as a basis for a finding of comparative fault if one’s injuries were exacerbated by the decision not to wear one. (Similar outcomes are possible for people in cars who don’t wear seatbelts, which are required for all motor vehicle occupants.) That could mean a substantial reduction in the final damage award.
- Anti-biker bias. This is a subtle issue and not always a significant one, but certainly something we’ve had to contend with on occasion. Negative cultural stereotypes of motorcyclists as reckless and hot-tempered may influence witness statements to police. And while it’s rare for a case to go to trial, if it does, that same bias can be present among jurors. It’s important to have an advocate on your side who will fight to ensure you receive the compensation you rightly deserve.
If you are injured in a Broward motorcycle accident, our dedicated team of motorcycle accident lawyers can help you examine the value and viability of your case to seek financial compensation for the resulting losses.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
F.S. 316.211, Equipment for motorcycle and moped riders