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Motorcycle Crashes, the Contrubutory Negligence Defense, and Buffalo, MN Injury Lawyers

by | May 26, 2019 | Firm News, Motorcycle Accidents, Personal Injury

In 2016, motorcycle miles traveled hit almost a ten-year low, but the fatality rate was at a ten-year high. So, now more than ever, motorcycle riders risk serious injury every time they pull out of the garage.

A Buffalo, MN injury lawyer knows how to obtain needed compensation for these injury victims. This compensation includes money for medical bills, lost wages, and other economic damages. Accident victims need money to put their lives back together, and this money should not come out of their own bank accounts. Injury compensation usually also includes money for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Generally, all of these settlement funds are tax-free.

Since so much is at stake, insurance company lawyers pull out all the stops in an effort to deny fair compensation. The contributory negligence doctrine is one of the most common defenses in these cases.

The Contributory Negligence Defense: An Overview

Essentially, this doctrine shifts blame for the crash from the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to the victim. Even if emergency responders gave the tortfeasor a ticket, this legal defense may still apply. There is a difference between fault for the crash and liability for damages.

Most people cannot drive more than three or four blocks without violating at least one traffic law. For example, the tortfeasor might have been intoxicated and the victim may have made an illegal lane change. This defense is also common in “who had the light” intersection crashes. In these situations, if the Wright County judge determines that the defense is available, the jury must apportion liability between the two parties. More on that below.

Laws vary by jurisdiction. Minnesota, like most other states, is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. So, if the tortfeasor was at least 51 percent responsible for the crash, the victim receives a proportional share of damages. If the responsibility is below 51 percent, a Minnesota motorcycle crash victim receives nothing. In contrast, nearby Missouri is a pure comparative fault jurisdiction. In the Show-Me State, even if the victim is 99 percent responsible for the crash, the tortfeasor must still pay a proportional share of damages.

Comparative Fault and Motorcycle Crashes

Vehicle weight is a consideration here. If a large pickup truck or SUV rolls through a stop sign, that action has a tremendous effect on the outcome of the crash. However, if a lightweight scooter or motorcycle does not completely stop, the crash probably would have happened anyway.

On a related point, degree of violation is also important to Buffalo, MN injury lawyers. Legally, blowing past a stop sign at full speed is the same as a California stop (failure to stop completely). But in a negligence case, these two acts are very different.

Failure to wear a motorcycle helmet may be a form of comparative fault as well. Minnesota’s motorcycle helmet law only applies to riders under 18 or riders with only learners’ permits. Nevertheless, the insurance company could argue that the lack of a helmet contributed to the victim’s injuries, especially if the victim sustained a head injury. Theoretically, the 51 percent bar would apply.

But hold on a minute. Minnesota law bars the seat belt defense, which is a similar concept. Insurance companies cannot blame vehicle occupants for their own injuries if they were not wearing seat belts. By extension, the same prohibition should apply to motorcycle helmet non-use.

Additionally, not wearing a helmet has nothing to do with the cause of the crash, which is the gravamen of a contributory negligence claim.

Two Ways that Buffalo, MN Injury Lawyers Overcome the Contributory Negligence Defense

Insurance company lawyers are not always entitled to bring up the contributory negligence. First, these lawyers must convince the Wright County judge that the defense applies as a matter of law. The aforementioned California stop situation is a good illustration. In these cases, the judge may well find that the victim’s contributory negligence was so slight that it did not affect the crash.

Second, the jury must apportion fault based on the facts. This second step presents a problem for Buffalo, MN injury lawyers. Many Wright County jurors believe that motorcycle riders are reckless thugs, so they are more willing to embrace the contributory negligence defense. Nevertheless, it’s usually possible to emphasize all the good things that the victim did just before the crash and also bring up positive things in the victim’s background.

Count on Effective Attorneys

Motorcycle crash victims may be entitled to substantial compensation, if they can avoid insurance company defenses. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.