Motorcycle accidents are an unfortunate reality in Maryland and the surrounding area. With the many busy highways and winding country roads across the state, it is inevitable that motorcycles – like other vehicles on the road – will be involved in serious accidents. Sadly, these motorcycle accidents often result in the death of those aboard the motorcycle, both drivers and passengers. Too often, these accidents are preventable.

MotorcycleDrivers of cars and trucks are responsible for the majority of motorcycle accidents. Whether it is failing to notice a motorcycle traveling next to them or misjudging the speed at which an oncoming motorcycle is approaching, a lapse in judgment or a momentary distraction can result in a driver causing a fatal motorcycle accident. When this occurs, the surviving loved ones in the wake of the accident are left grieving.

In Maryland, those who have lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the parties they believe are responsible for the death of their loved one. These lawsuits must be brought by a proper party – usually a spouse, parent, or child. However, in some cases, courts will allow other relatives through blood or marriage to proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit. Once the court determines that the proper party is bringing the lawsuit, it must be established that the named defendant was responsible for the accident that caused the death of their loved one. A skilled personal injury attorney can assist family members with this task.

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Over the past few years, the advent of self-driving cars has brought much controversy and conversation regarding the safety of the technology. While early versions of self-driving technology have presented some challenges, it is expected that self-driving technology will continue to improve. However, the widespread use of self-driving technology presents both legal and practical questions.

Yellow MotorcycleThe primary concern with self-driving technology is the safety of those on the road, including motorcyclists. Currently, motorcyclists are disproportionately represented in statistics recording fatal accidents. While motorcyclists account for only 1% of the population of drivers, they account for 14% of all traffic deaths. However, according to one industry news report, as the self-driving technology becomes more popular in newer models of vehicles, the dangers for motorcyclists may decrease.

The article uses left-turn accidents as an example. Left-turn accidents currently account for roughly 1,000 motorcyclist deaths per year, but these accidents rarely involve any fault on the part of the motorcyclist. In fact, most of these accidents are due to a driver either failing to see the motorcycle or failing to properly judge the speed at which the motorcycle is approaching. However, with self-driving technology, it will be possible for the two vehicles to “communicate” with each other, eliminating the chance that the car’s operator is unaware of an approaching motorcycle. Additionally, sophisticated algorithms will determine the speed at which an oncoming vehicle is approaching and prevent a motorist from pulling in front of a motorcycle, decreasing the risk of an accident.

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Motorcycle accident victims have a long road to recovery. At first, there are the physical injuries and emotional trauma that are common after most motorcycle injuries. However, even after the body and mind have healed as best they can, accident victims are often left with recurring symptoms, lingering injuries, and mounting medical bills. As a result, many motorcycle accident victims choose to file personal injury lawsuits against the party or parties responsible for causing the accident resulting in their injuries.

Street SweeperWhen a motorcycle accident victim files a personal injury lawsuit, they will need to name all potentially liable parties who may have caused or contributed to the accident. In some cases, this is an easy task. However, in other cases, especially single-vehicle accidents, determining which parties are at fault can be difficult. In some cases, the poor design of a road or a poorly maintained road can create a very dangerous situation for motorcyclists.

An experienced personal injury attorney can be of great assistance to victims when the only potentially liable parties are government entities. This is because many times government entities are protected from some personal injury lawsuits due to governmental immunity.

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Drunk drivers present a danger to all motorists on the road, but motorcyclists are likely those who are the most at risk of serious injury or death when a drunk driver gets behind the wheel. It seems that drivers of cars and trucks have a difficult enough time keeping an eye out for motorcyclists when they are sober. Add alcohol or drugs to the mix, and the chances of a serious or fatal accident skyrocket.

Highway at NightWhen a motorcycle accident is caused by a suspected drunk driver, the injured party may pursue a negligence lawsuit against the at-fault party. Thankfully, the law allows for the injured party to take a “short cut” when it comes to proving their claim against the drunk driver through the doctrine of negligence per se.

Negligence per se is a legal doctrine that has been in effect in the United States for many years. It stands for the idea that if a defendant is found to have violated a law that was in place to protect the public from a certain danger or harm, a plaintiff who suffered the kind of harm the law was designed to prevent does not need to present evidence of the defendant’s negligence at a civil trial for damages. In the drunk driving context, this means that if a driver causes a serious or fatal motorcycle accident, and he was drunk at the time, the injured party doesn’t need to prove that the drunk driver was legally negligent. This may seem obvious, but the doctrine of negligence per se can make establishing liability in a case much easier and faster.

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Whenever a driver’s negligence causes a fatal motorcycle accident, the surviving family of the deceased may wish to pursue financial compensation for the loss of their loved one. In Maryland, this is done through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Motorcycle at SunsetWrongful death lawsuits in Maryland must meet several criteria before a party is entitled to financial recovery. First, the potential plaintiff must establish that they are the proper party to bring the lawsuit. In Maryland, the law requires that a “primary beneficiary” bring the lawsuit, if one exists. A primary beneficiary is defined as a spouse, parent, or child of the deceased. If there is no living primary beneficiary, a “secondary beneficiary” may be able to file the lawsuit. A secondary beneficiary is anyone related to the deceased by blood or marriage who relied on the deceased for financial support.

Once a party has established they are the proper plaintiff, they must prove the elements of a wrongful death claim. Essentially, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed some duty of care to the deceased and that the defendant’s violation of that duty resulted in their death. In most motorcycle accident cases, the duty owed to the deceased is easily established because all motorists owe a duty of care to those with whom they share the road. However, the remaining elements of a wrongful death case must still be proven.

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Everyone learns the dangers of drunk and drugged driving in the first few weeks of their driver’s education course, but some motorists still insist on getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. In fact, each year across the United States, there are nearly 10,000 deaths attributed to drunk and drugged driving. This figure accounts for about one-third of all traffic-related accidents.

Bike at SunsetSince drunk driving is such a serious problem, state legislators across the country have enacted tough criminal and civil penalties that can be levied against those who cause an accident while intoxicated. In fact, under the doctrine of negligence per se, anyone injured in a drunk driving accident can essentially take a legal shortcut in proving their claim. This is because the doctrine of negligence per se allows for accident victims to bypass the requirement that they prove the defendant’s conduct was negligent. In other words, since drunk driving is specifically forbidden under the law in an effort to reduce traffic accidents, such conduct is presumed to be negligent by the courts.

Distracted and Intoxicated Driver Kills One Cyclist, Injures Two Others

Earlier this month, one woman was killed and another two injured when an intoxicated driver struck all three with her SUV. According to one local news report covering the tragedy, the driver of the SUV crossed over the center median and struck one of the bicyclists head-on, killing her instantly. After that first collision, the SUV’s mirror struck another woman, and the vehicle then struck a third woman. These women were both admitted to the hospital, but they have since been treated for their injuries and released.

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In August, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report of an investigation into a motor vehicle accident that killed five bicyclists and injured four others. According to the report, nine cyclists in Michigan were riding in a four-foot-wide roadway shoulder when a pickup truck veered off the road and plowed into them from behind. In addition to the report, local news organizations have reported that the driver of the pickup truck is being charged with both second-degree murder and operating a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating pain medications and muscle relaxants.

CyclistThe NTSB is a federal agency charged with investigating rail, air, and automobile crashes. According to a recent article, the agency chose to investigate the bicycling accident, due to an uptick in cycling on public roadways. The article also states that in 2013, over 900 bicyclists were killed in cycling accidents, and nearly 500,000 were treated for injuries in hospital emergency rooms. The NTSB last studied crashes involving cyclists in the early 1970s.

Bicycling Accidents on Maryland Roads

In Maryland, motor vehicle drivers owe bicyclists and pedestrians a duty of care while driving. This means that they must drive as a reasonable driver would under the same or similar circumstances. A failure to take such care is called negligence. Drivers who commit negligence may be liable for damages to injured bicyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers and their passengers.

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The driver of a vehicle who was apparently responsible for causing a fatal motorcycle accident in the city of Detroit last month was arrested approximately one mile from the scene of the crash after abandoning the car he had been driving and attempting to flee on foot. According to a local news report discussing the crash, authorities arrested two young men who admitted their involvement in the crash about an hour after the accident occurred. It was not made clear in the article why the men fled the scene of the crash or if alcohol or drugs were involved, although the accident remains under investigation.

MotorcycleThe Motorcyclist Was Struck by a Vehicle Traveling on the Wrong Side of the Road

According to the news report, the accident occurred during the early morning hours of August 24, when the motorcyclist was traveling westbound on a city street and was struck by a sedan traveling the wrong way in the westbound lanes. When authorities arrived on the scene, both vehicles were damaged in the middle of the road, and the motorcyclist was found nearby. The motorcyclist was declared dead immediately, and the driver of the other vehicle had left the scene on foot, although he was later found by authorities.

Responsibility for Hit-and-Run Accidents When a Negligent Driver is Not Found

Since the driver of the vehicle who appears to have caused the fatal motorcycle accident last month was located shortly after the crash, the family of the deceased victim may be able to receive compensation for their loss by making a wrongful death claim against the driver and the insurance company providing liability coverage for the car. In some cases, the responsible party in a hit-and-run accident cannot be located, and accident victims may have difficulty obtaining compensation for their expenses and loss related to a motorcycle accident.

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When a party receives an unfavorable verdict after a trial, they are able to file an appeal arguing that any number of objectionable issues at trial deprived them of a fair hearing. Most decisions a trial judge makes during a trial, such as evidentiary rulings, jury instructions, and decisions on pre-trial motions, are reviewable by a higher court. A losing party may also appeal to a higher court on the basis that the jury found against the weight of the evidence, meaning that the jury came to the wrong conclusion given the evidence presented.

Bike WheelA weight-of-the-evidence challenge is a difficult one to win, since an appellate court is often hesitant to replace its own judgment for that of the trial judge or jury because they were the ones to hear the witnesses testify. A recent case in front of a Michigan appellate court shows the difficulty one plaintiff had with her weight-of-the-evidence appeal.

Applebaum v. Target Corporation:  The Facts of the Case

Applebaum wanted to buy a bicycle from Target. The accounts at trial varied, but there was some testimony that Target did not have the specific bike she wanted “brand new,” but there was one that had been returned by another customer because the brakes were defective. Applebaum testified that she accepted the bike after an unnamed Target employee told her that it had been repaired.

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Motorcycle accidents can happen anywhere. However, almost half of all serious motorcycle accidents occur at intersections, both rural and urban. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about three motorcyclists die each day in multi-vehicle accidents occurring at intersections.

Traffic LightThe causes of motorcycle accidents vary, but they often include distracted driving, aggressive driving, or a motorist’s inability to see the motorcyclist. While news outlets often report motorcycle accidents in terms of how the motorcyclist is at fault, this is often inaccurate. In fact, the motorcyclist is deemed to be at fault in only about one-third of the total number of accidents. However, since most people have experience driving a car but cannot relate to riding a motorcycle, accidents are often framed in terms of “what the motorcyclist could have done differently,” even when the motorcyclist was the innocent victim of another driver’s negligence.

There are also some situations in which both parties are at fault. For example, if a motorcyclist is speeding through an intersection, but another driver runs a red light, a collision may result. In these cases, both drivers may be at fault. It is important for motorcyclists to understand that in Maryland and Washington, D.C., any accident with shared fault will prevent either party from recovering compensation for their injuries.

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