Articles Posted in Motorcycle Accidents

Tragedy struck recently in Fort Wayne, Indiana when a crash between a motorcycle and a car turned deadly, killing the motorcyclist. According to a news report covering the incident, the crash occurred on Sunday, May 24, around 2:40 p.m. at the intersection of Illinois Road and Thomas Road. The motorcycle was driving east on Illinois Road and struck a car that was turning into its path. When authorities arrived on the scene, they found an adult female laying on the ground in critical condition. She was immediately transported to the hospital, where she died shortly after.

Cases like this highlight the dangers that motorcyclists face when involved in accidents. While any motor vehicle accident is of concern, motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable because there is less protection between their bodies and the road, or with other vehicles. Because of this, accidents involving motorcycles are more likely to result in severe injuries or death.

The incident in Fort Wayne is still under investigation, so it is not yet clear who was at fault. If, however, the driver of the car was at all negligent or responsible for the accident, the deceased cyclist’s family members may be able to file a wrongful death suit against them. Indiana law allows the estate of a deceased accident victim to file such claims, and damages may be awarded to the estate or to individual family members, such as the deceased’s spouse, children, or parents. To be successful, the estate typically must prove that the other driver was negligent in some way—for example, that they were texting while driving, or that they failed to follow basic road safety—and that their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident and the victim’s death. If the defendant was texting while driving five minutes before the crash, but then was driving perfectly safely when the accident occurred, it may be difficult to prove causation. If, however, the defendant was texting while driving when the crash occurred, causation will be easier to prove.

Recently, an appellate court released an opinion addressing when Indiana courts can impose individual liability on a government employee. The Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA), provides very few avenues of relief for individuals who wish to recover after suffering injuries that were caused by the negligent acts or omissions of a government employee. However, recovery is possible in certain types of accidents.

In this case, the Indiana State Police issued a trooper an unmarked Dodge charger, commonly referred to as the officer’s “commission.” As part of the officer’s responsibilities, he was required to maintain radio contact at all times, even while off-duty, abide by traffic laws, and to respond to emergencies as needed. On the day of the incident, the trooper completed his shift, and went home to change before his son’s baseball game. As he was driving to the game, he shifted from the northbound lane into the southbound lane to pass the vehicle in front of him. When he entered the southbound lane, he noticed an oncoming motorcycle, and he shifted back. However, in an attempt to avoid the officer, the motorcyclist swerved, causing the motorcycle to roll over, ultimately ejecting himself and his passenger.

The motorcyclist suffered serious injuries and subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the trooper. The trooper moved to dismiss the case, arguing that he was immune from suit because he was acting within the scope of employment while driving his vehicle. Lawmakers designed the ITCA to ensure that government employees can exercise their judgment without constant threats of litigation. Lawsuits against government officials can only succeed if the alleged negligent act or omission was clearly outside of the employee’s employment. These analyses are generally a question of fact; however, in some instances, courts may find that the act was not within the scope, as a matter of law.

Recently, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on a case stemming from an Indiana motorcycle accident. The two plaintiffs were embarking on a cross-country trip on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle. While going through Nebraska, the couples’ bike tire sustained a puncture and deflated. The quick deflation resulted in the husband losing control of the motorcycle and crashing into a median. The husband slid across the highway, and his wife was thrown off the bike. Unfortunately, although both people were wearing helmets, they sustained severe injuries, including traumatic brain injuries.

A few months after the accident, the couple received a recall notice for their helmets. The couple filed a products liability lawsuit against the companies that sold them their helmets, the motorcycle manufacturer, and several other entities. The couple alleged that that the helmets and tires had design and manufacturing defects. The couple did not provide any experts for their helmet claim, and the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. However, the plaintiffs did provide expert testimony for their defective tire claim. The tire defendants filed motions to exclude the plaintiffs’ expert testimony based on a lack of reliability under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The plaintiffs challenged this ruling; however, the appeals court ultimately affirmed the lower courts finding.

Indiana follows the Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard. Under Daubert, a trial judge is responsible for ensuring that evidence is “reliable and relevant.” Typically, courts assess the reliability prong on a case-by-case basis; however, there are certain factors that courts analyze. Some general things that courts look to are whether the expert’s theory has been tested and peer-reviewed. Further, the court will examine whether the method they are putting forth has general acceptance in the relevant community.

The legal theory of negligent entrustment allows for an Indiana car accident victim to seek compensation from the owner of a vehicle who negligently allowed another person to use the vehicle that was involved in the accident. Since a negligent entrustment claim allows for an accident victim to hold a third party (the vehicle’s owner) liable for the negligent actions of a party (the driver), it is a form of vicarious liability.

Commonly, negligent entrustment claims are brought against those who lend their cars to young or intoxicated drivers. Each state has its own laws when it comes to establishing a negligent entrustment claim, but a universal requirement is that the plaintiff be able to establish that the owner of the vehicle had some reason to believe that the person they allowed to use their car posed a danger to other motorists.

A federal appellate court recently issued a written opinion in a negligent entrustment case illustrating how courts analyze these claims.

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Sometimes car accidents are unavoidable. However, in many cases, car accidents can be prevented by taking certain precautions and with the exercise of common sense. In Indiana, the leading causes of car accidents are reckless driving, distracted driving, and intoxicated driving. In each of these situations, a driver has the ability to avoid the risk factors that contribute to the accident.

Intoxicated driving, in particular, poses a serious threat to Indiana motorists. In fact, there are over 170 fatal traffic accidents each year in Indiana involving alcohol or some other intoxicating substance. While alcohol intoxication is the most common form of intoxicated driving, the law does not distinguish between intoxication by alcohol or intoxication by other substances. Indeed, in Indiana, it is even possible for a motorist to be deemed intoxicated after having taken prescription medication.

When an intoxicated motorist causes an accident resulting in injuries, that driver may be held responsible through an Indiana drunk driving lawsuit. In many cases, the fact that the other driver was intoxicated can make proving allegations of negligence easier for an accident victim, since drunk driving is specifically prohibited by law. While it may make an accident victim’s case easier to prove if the at-fault driver was cited or criminally charged for their conduct, there is no requirement that this be the case.

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State, local, and federal governments, as well as related government agencies, enjoy a general blanket of immunity from personal injury lawsuits. This means that in many cases filed against a government agency or employee, the injured party will not be permitted to recover compensation for their injuries because the named defendant is immune from liability.

However, government liability does have its limits. Importantly, immunity will only attach when the alleged act of negligence is a discretionary one. This means that if the government had a choice in how to conduct the actions in which it is alleged to have been negligent, immunity will attach. Ministerial acts, however, are not covered under the blanket protection of immunity, and governments may be held liable when an allegedly negligent action or inaction was mandated by some law, rule, or regulation. This is exactly what happened in a recent case in front of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams:  The Facts

Adams was riding his motorcycle on a Mississippi highway that was maintained by the Mississippi Transportation Commission. As he was riding along, Adams accidentally entered into a construction zone. As he attempted to exit the zone safely, he struck an uneven part of the pavement and lost control, falling off the motorcycle. Tragically, two passing cars struck him in the wake of his fall, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Recently, a woman sued the Iowa Department of Transportation after her husband was killed on a local highway. However, before she was able to bring her suit in court, she was required to file a claim with her state’s appeal board, an administrative agency.

According to the court’s written opinion, the woman’s husband died in a motorcycle accident. She filed a claim alleging that the drop-off between the paved highway and the gravel shoulder was too steep, and that the Department of Transportation failed to maintain the highway in a safe condition. She asserted that the state Department of Transportation was negligent in maintaining the highway, and that the road’s condition caused her husband’s death.

The state appeal board did not take any action on the woman’s claim for over six months. She then withdrew her claim and filed suit in a court of law. The district court dismissed her suit, stating that the woman did not exhaust her administrative remedies before filing suit as the administrator of the estate, as required by state law. However, the state’s supreme court heard her case and held that she had properly exhausted her administrative remedies, allowing her case to proceed to trial without having the Department of Transportation rule on the issue.

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On December 10, 2010, the Plaintiff in Marquez v. Kobler, (Indiana Court of Appeals 2013) was on bicycle, crossing an intersection in Indianapolis, when he was hit by an oncoming car that was turning left. An ambulance responded to the accident and the man was hospitalized with injuries. The bicyclist filed an Indiana negligence lawsuit against the driver who hit him. The suit argues that the plaintiff had the right of way at the intersection, and the defendant was negligent when she failed to yield, and should pay damages to the plaintiff as a result. The defendant argued that she was not entirely liable because the bicyclist was himself negligent by entering the intersection in the pathway of her vehicle, regardless of his right of way.The Accident

Mr. Kobler was riding his bicycle to work on the day of the accident when he stopped at the intersection of Sheila Drive and Pendleton Pike (U.S. Highway 36), and the traffic light was red. He intended to cross Pendleton Pike and travel north on Sheila Drive. The defendant, Ms. Marquez, was facing south on Sheila Drive, and intended to make a left turn and travel east on Pendleton Pike. There was a car in front of the defendant’s car in the left turn lane. When the light turned green, the plaintiff immediately started to propel his bicycle into the intersection and cross the street. The car in front of the defendant quickly made a left turn onto Pendleton Pike, crossing in front of the plaintiff as he entered the intersection. The defendant followed the car in front of her, noticing the plaintiff in her path immediately before she collided with him.

The Defendant’s Argument at Trial

The defendant argued that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the accident because the car in front of her crossed in the plaintiff’s path, and if he was paying attention he would have known to look for another car that could be turning left before he continued to cross the street. The defendant wanted the jury to hear this evidence, and have the option to find that the plaintiff was comparatively at fault, which could reduce or eliminate the defendant’s liability. Because the plaintiff undisputedly had the right of way under these circumstances, his attorney argued that the defendant was entirely at fault as a matter of law. Considering this, the plaintiff’s attorney moved the court to prevent the jury from finding him partially at fault, and instead to restrict their decision to the amount of damages. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff, ruling that there was no issue for the jury to decide with regard to liability, and that the defendant was 100% at fault for the accident. The defendant then appealed the decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
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Last week, Indiana police arrested a man who allegedly fled the scene of a deadly motorcycle crash that occurred this past August. According to a report by ABC Local, the man was riding a motorcycle on I-74 when he bumped into another motorcyclist. The driver of the other motorcycle lost control and crashed. Both the driver and his passenger were pronounced dead at the scene.The specifics of the crash are still under investigation, but witnesses say that the recent arrestee was at fault. Once booked, police charged the man with Fleeing the Scene of a Fatal Accident.

Motorcycle Accidents Are Increasingly Common

Although taking a leisurely cruise over the many nearby country roads sounds relaxing, the truth is that motorcycle safety is of critical importance but is often overlooked. Although it should be obvious that motorcycles do not provide the same amount of protection as cars, drivers of both motorcycles and cars sometimes act as though motorcyclists are invincible. But they aren’t. For example, in 2008 there were 175,000 non-fatal motorcycle accidents; between the years of 2001 and 2008, there were 34,000 lives lost in motorcycle accidents.
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A motorcyclist who suffered severe injuries in a traffic collision may collect underinsured motorist benefits under several policies, the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruled in Manner v. Schiermeier, No. SC92408, slip op. (Mo., Jan. 8, 2013). The court rejected the argument of the two defendant insurers that exclusions for “owned vehicles” precluded coverage of the plaintiff’s vehicle. It found that neither insurer expressly defined “owned” in its policies, and that they did not meet their burden of proof regarding the exclusions. The court also allowed “stacking” of the policies, which could entitle the plaintiff to the maximum coverage amount under each policy.

Nathaniel Manner was seriously injured in an accident with Nicholas Schiermeier in September 2004. Schiermeier’s vehicle struck Manner’s Yamaha motorcycle while he was riding it. After Manner filed suit, Schiermeier’s insurer paid him $100,000, the maximum coverage amount. The insurer agreed with Manner that his total damages equaled $1.5 million, leaving Manner with a substantial amount of unpaid damages. Manner therefore filed claims on four policies that named him as a beneficiary, each of which had $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. Manner had purchased three policies from American Family Mutual Insurance Company for the Yamaha motorcycle and two Ford pickup trucks. He also made a claim as an additional insured on his father’s policy from American Standard Insurance Company for a Suzuki motorcycle.

Manner added the insurance companies to his lawsuit as defendants after they denied coverage, claiming a total of $400,000. In a motion for summary judgment, the insurers argued that Manner was excluded from coverage on the the pickup truck and Suzuki motorcycle policies. Each policy had an owned-vehicle exclusion that excluded bodily injury claims involving a vehicle that the insured, or anyone in the insured’s household, owns, and that is not directly covered by the policy. The owned-vehicle exclusions applied to the Yamaha, the insurers claimed, because Manner owned it and it was not insured under any of the three policies. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and Manner appealed.
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