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Comparative Fault’s Impact on Florida Motorcycle Accidents

08/8/2023
Motorcycle Accidents
BY

In 2023 Florida changed its legal framework in regard to comparative fault. There may be no area of personal injury law where this will have a greater impact than matters which involve a motorcycle accident. Given that such cases often involve serious injuries, and the issue of blame is often hotly disputed, it is important to understand how our state’s new laws impact riders who have been hit by a car or other vehicle. This article will discuss how the new law impacts the rights of a victim. If you or a loved one are in need of assistance, contact our office today to speak with a lawyer.

This article will address multiple points. Subjects which will be discussed include:

  • Understanding Florida’s new comparative fault law
  • The importance of comparative fault in motorcycle accident cases
  • How not wearing a helmet can impact a victim

Each of these topics will be discussed in turn.

Florida Has Adopted the “Modified Comparative Negligence” Standard

Governor Desantis signed legislation in 2023 that moved Florida from a system of “pure” comparative negligence to a system of “modified” comparative negligence. These two systems are similar in that they allow a victim to receive compensation even if they were partially to blame for the accident. Any compensation received will be reduced by the victim’s share of the fault. So, for example, if a victim suffered $100,000 in damages, but was ten percent responsible for the wreck, then they would receive $90,000 ($100k – 10%). The determination of fault is made by the jury in cases that go to trial.

Pure and modified comparative fault systems differ in that the former will allow a victim to receive damages even if they were largely to blame for the accident. The latter, which is our new system, will prevent a victim from recovering any compensation if they are more than fifty percent to blame for the wreck. So, if a victim is found to be fifty-one percent, or more, responsible for an accident, then they will receive nothing regardless of the extent to which they have been injured.

Comparative Fault Can Have an Important Impact on Motorcycle Accident Cases

Comparative fault is an important issue in any auto accident. This includes car accidents as well as truck accidents. The issue is especially important, however, in motorcycle accidents. This is due to the fact that it is much more common for a defendant to claim that the motorcycle rider was partially at fault. Such claims may involve accusations that the rider was weaving in and out of traffic, that they were too close to one side of the lane or the other, that they were following too close, etc. The determination of fault is largely subjective. One jury may view a set of facts and say that the victim was ten percent responsible for the wreck while another set of jurors may assign a larger portion of the blame to the victim.

Consider the following example. Joe Rider is following too closely behind a car. The driver of the car is not paying attention to what is in front of them. They slam on the brakes to avoid hitting another vehicle. The motorcycle rear-ends the car and Joe flies off of his bike, over the car, and suffers extreme injuries. Both Joe and the driver were both clearly negligent. It is possible that one jury will split the blame fifty-fifty. Another may say the driver is more to blame while a third jury may assign the bulk of the fault to Joe. The allocation of fault, again, is left for the jurors to determine based on the evidence and their own opinions of the matter.

How Florida’s Motorcycle Helmet Law Impacts a Comparative Fault Determination

Florida does not require a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet as long as he or she is carrying insurance providing for “…$10,000 in medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of a crash while operating or riding on a motorcycle.” Fla. Statute 316.211(b). This means that, unlike some other states, a rider is not automatically barred from receiving compensation for their failure to wear a helmet. Not wearing a helmet, however, is a factor that can be considered when fault is being allocated to each party. While not wearing a helmet should not be seen as the cause of the accident, it may result in a finding that the injuries were the fault of the victim.

Suppose a motorcycle rider is not wearing a helmet and is hit by an oncoming car. The rider was following all applicable traffic laws. The rider lands on his side and suffers serious injuries to his shoulder and arm. While how the jury will rule will depend on the given case, this scenario should not result in damages being limited due to the rider not wearing a helmet; wearing a helmet would not have prevented the injuries. Now suppose, instead, that the victim landed on his head and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The evidence shows that the head injury would have been far less severe if the rider had been wearing a helmet. Under this scenario, the jury may well find that the rider is more than fifty percent responsible for his own injuries. In this case, the rider would be barred from recovering damages.

Contact Us Today To Speak With a Florida Motorcycle Accident Attorney

If you or a family member have been in a motorcycle wreck, serious injuries have likely been sustained. It is important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Failing to immediately protect your interests can leave you or your family without the money needed to make up for lost income and to cover future medical expenses. Our firm focuses on personal injury law so you may focus on moving your situation forward. Contact us online or call us at 800-780-8607 to speak with a Florida motorcycle accident attorney.

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