My protective gear did not prevent an injury during my motorcycle accident, who can I sue?
Motorcycle accidents can be very frightening, especially if you’re thrown from your bike or suffer a painful injury. Unfortunately, the risk of injury (or death) in a motorcycle accident is about 80 percent, compared to 20 percent for a car accident. This is because there are more safety features available in a car or larger vehicle, like seat belts, airbags, and the heavy metal of the car frame and doors.
Many motorcyclists understand these risks and take steps to reduce the risk of injury by purchasing protective gear. This is an important step in riding as safely as possible. A helmet can reduce the risk of death in a bike crash by 37 percent, and the risk of head injury by 69 percent. Other protective gear such as heavy or padded clothing, gloves, and boots can further reduce the risk of injuries like broken bones or internal bleeding. But no protective gear is guaranteed to prevent 100 percent of injuries. The fact that you were injured while using safety equipment doesn’t necessarily mean you have a case against the equipment manufacturer.
However, if your safety gear was truly defective, failing to live up to a specific product claim or meet minimum safety standards for that class of item, you may be able to file a defective product claim. Additionally, there may be other parties you can sue if their negligence caused your accident or injury in some way. It can be difficult to sort out who, if anyone, you might have a claim against. The best solution is to contact a South Carolina motorcycle accident lawyer for a free consultation. They will be able to advise you on the options so you can decide how to move forward.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at common motorcycle safety equipment, and what you need to know:
A motorcycle helmet should have one of the following stickers to show the safety standards it meets:
- This stands for the US Department of Transportation and indicates the helmet meets federal standard FMVSS 218. Many helmets sold in the US are DOT-certified, but some imported or specialty helmets have other certifications, and a helmet can carry more than one standard.
- This meets the criteria set by the Economic Commission of Europe’s current 22.05 standard. More than 50 European countries utilize ECE-rated helmets.
- This rating is provided by the Snell Memorial Foundation to products submitted for voluntary testing. Only a few racing bodies require the SNELL M2020 rating.
- A newer standard, this certification indicates a helmet meets criteria assigned by a global racing organization for track use.
- SHARP gives “star ratings” to helmets instead of certifications.
DOT testing is done by independent contractors, who place a head-shaped “headform” inside a helmet. This headform contains sensors meant to register how much force the headform absorbs through the helmet. Then the testers put the helmet in a jig, and from there it’s dropped at a chosen rate of speed onto an anvil. Sensors track how much impact energy is absorbed during impact to predict how much energy your head would absorb if you were thrown off your bike and hit your head. DOT has the following criteria:
- Strict rules for the helmet’s retention system.
- Requirements for field of vision.
- Penetration resistance standards.
- An intense impact test protocol.
- Maximum allowable energy transfer of 400g.
ECE testing is done with the knowledge that European motorcycle accidents typically happen at lower speeds than those in the US. Standards include other safety features besides energy absorption:
- Approved face shields have to meet optical quality criteria
- There are rules regarding shell rigidity of the helmet.
- A smooth anvil called a curbstone is used for testing, and only a single hit is tested.
- The helmet has to be struck at specific places, which means some manufacturers may add extra protection in these areas, but if the helmet in use is hit in other areas, protection may not be as robust.
Many in the motorcycle industry consider SNELL testing to be the most demanding, as it’s designed to test helmets for racing. An accident at high speeds can easily result in a very high impact on the helmet. As a result, SNELL requirements include:
- Testing with three different kinds of anvils – smooth, hemi, and edge.
- To pass the certification test, a helmet must have no more than 275g maximum of energy transfer following two strikes. This is considered extremely low.
- Testers focus on finding the weakest area on the helmet – the proverbial weak link – and hitting it to see how it does, but they also insist on testing multiple other points as well.
- After testing is completed, the helmet is “autopsied” and testers search for any issues inside the liner or with other sections.
SHARP testing is only done on helmets that already have ECE certification and offers a color-coded rating to consumers. Its criteria include:
- Both high and low velocity strikes instead of just the low-velocity hits used in ECE tests.
- Five impact points are hit in testing.
- They also use crash data from European bike accidents in calculating the helmet’s rating, in addition to their own tests.
Check Your Fit
All of the above certifications are based on tests with well-fitting headforms. If your helmet isn’t a good fit, it will be far less effective in keeping your head safe. It should fit snugly and shouldn’t shift when you move your head. When trying on a helmet, turn your head from side to side and make sure it isn’t blocking your peripheral vision.
There are three styles of helmets – the full helmet, the ¾ helmet, and the ½ helmet. The full offers the most complete protection, including extra coverage near the base of the head and a visor to shield your eyes. The 3/4 helmet only covers the side, top, and back of your head, with less coverage in the chin area. The ½ helmet has the least coverage, protecting the top of your head and only part of the side and back. It also lacks a visor and is meant to be worn with safety goggles for eye protection.
What If There Was A Problem With My Helmet?
If it turns out that your helmet had a DOT sticker, but it did not perform up to DOT standards in an accident, then the helmet may have been defective. It’s also possible a DOT sticker was fraudulently placed on a helmet that did not meet these standards. Either way, it is possible you might have a claim against the manufacturer or distributor in this case. If you believe your helmet failed when it shouldn’t have, it’s important to hang onto it for later examination (if at all possible). Your attorney can help you determine if there was a serious issue with the helmet.
It’s important to protect the rest of your body when riding as well. It’s great to be comfortable, but regular clothes don’t offer the right level of protection for riding a motorcycle. A good-quality riding jacket made of leather, Kevlar, or another heavy, protective material is a must. Riding pants also have extra padding in areas most likely to make contact with the ground, such as around the knees. Riding boots provide protection for your feet and ankles, and gloves keep your hands safe while helping you have a strong grip on the handlebars. If any of these items are poorly made, they may not offer the level of protection promised.
How Do I Know If My Gear Was Defective?
If you were hurt in a motorcycle wreck and feel that your safety equipment should have worked better, the first thing to do is to look over the piece in question. Does it look like some portion of the item failed? Is there a broken strap or component? You might also lookup the item online and see what, if any, promises were made by the manufacturer.
However, it can be difficult for the average person to tell if their safety item is defective. In some situations, depending on the speed and angle of the impact, it simply isn’t realistic to expect any safety item to prevent all injuries. Your motorcycle accident attorney can go over the details of your accident with you, and help determine if there was a problem with your safety equipment, or if you just got into a particularly bad accident.
If the protective gear was not to blame, there may still be other parties you can sue to receive damages for your injuries:
- If another driver’s negligence led to the accident, you can make a claim against their insurance or sue them directly. They may say that the accident was your fault to avoid paying your claim, but an experienced attorney can fight back against those arguments.
- Protective gear is not necessarily the only kind of defective product that can cause injury in a motorcycle crash. In some cases, a faulty component, poor repair work, or another issue with the bike itself may have been the problem. If this is the case, you may have a claim against the component manufacturer or the company that did the repair work.
- Depending on the kind of motorcycle insurance you purchased, if you had a single-vehicle wreck, your own insurance may pay for some or all of your medical bills and repair costs.
- Occasionally there may be less common situations where the actions of a third party cause an accident, and the third party is liable.
The best way to determine who, if anyone, you can sue is to schedule a free consultation with a motorcycle accident attorney. They will ask you about what happened, then explain your options for seeking compensation.
Auger & Auger has been representing motorcycle accident victims and their families for more than 25 years. We have worked on countless motorcycle personal injury cases, including some that involve wrongful death or defective products claims.
You deserve to know your options for receiving full compensation. If you or a close family member has been injured in a motorcycle crash, you can call us at (855) 969-5671 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your possible case.