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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Being involved in a serious motorcycle accident can take its toll on the body and mind. First is the physical recovery, often involving months of therapy. After the body has mended itself, it often takes time for the mind to heal, since being involved in a motorcycle accident is a traumatic experience that is not easily forgotten or overcome. However, once a motorcycle accident victim does heal both body and mind, there is often the issue of how they are going to pay for the medical expenses and make up for the time away from work.

Motorcycle EngineInsurance companies should be the solution. Since all drivers are required by law to maintain a base limit of coverage, an insurance company should be there to help the accident victim recover, providing monetary compensation to help the injured party overcome the financial hurdles that come along with being involved in a serious accident. However, insurance companies are motivated by their own bottom lines, and all too often they try to avoid paying out on even the most worthy claims. A recent case in front of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the difficulties that an accident victim may face when dealing with an insurance company.

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A bicyclist who was injured in an October 2014 crash with a sport utility vehicle has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the SUV and may receive a damages award or settlement from the case, despite the fact that law enforcement officers declined to issue a citation after the crash or find that the driver of the SUV was at fault for the collision. Although bicycle and motorcycle accident victims can more easily prove their case when the other driver is cited after a crash, a law enforcement officer’s determination of fault is not absolute to the question of the other driver’s negligence.

BicyclistThe Bicyclist Crashes into an SUV that Turned into Its Path

According to a local news article discussing the recently filed lawsuit, the accident occurred when a bicyclist, who was traveling in a bike lane adjacent to the right shoulder of a city street, crashed into a sport utility vehicle that was making a right-hand turn into the bicycle’s path. The article notes that after the crash, the law enforcement officers who responded decided not to issue a citation to the driver of the SUV. The article suggests this decision was based on the statements given by witnesses that the bicyclist was traveling excessively fast in the bike lane, and the driver of the SUV could not have known that the fast-moving bicycle would crash into him, based on those facts. The article also notes that the SUV driver admitted to noticing the cyclist as he passed by him earlier, but no citation was issued.

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A recently published news report discusses the tragic death of an Illinois man after a tow truck allegedly swerved into his lane of travel head-on, forcing the motorcyclist to lay down his bike to avoid a collision with the truck. Although the man operating the motorcycle was tragically killed in the incident, a passenger who was on the back of his bike survived the crash, likely as a result of the motorcyclist’s quick decision to avoid a high-speed, head-on collision with the truck. According to the article, another motorcyclist who was accompanying the deceased man on the ride also was forced to lay his bike down to avoid colliding with the truck, although this second biker survived the incident with mild injuries.

Tow TruckThe Tow Truck Driver Failed to Stop After the Fatal Crash

According to the friends with the deceased man at the time of the accident, the two motorcycles were traveling side by side on a two-lane undivided highway in Montgomery County, Illinois, when a tow truck and a vehicle it was towing approached the group in the opposite lane of travel and crossed over the center line into their direct path. The bikers were then forced to intentionally crash and dismount from the motorcycles to avoid the near-certain death that would result from crashing head-on into such a large vehicle. According to the news report, the driver of the tow truck failed to stop after the fatal accident. Authorities continue to seek the driver of a black roll-back tow truck with orange and yellow lettering in connection with the crash.

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Auto accidents that involve automobiles and two-wheeled vehicles, whether bicycles, motorcycles, or motorized scooters, share common characteristics demonstrating the unique dangers that are faced by commuters using smaller vehicles on our nation’s roadways. Not only are the users of two-wheeled vehicles more likely to suffer an accident based on the negligence of another driver, but also they are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in an accident as a consequence of the difference in mass between the vehicles.

BicyclistOther Drivers Owe a Special Duty of Care to Motorcyclists and Bicyclists

There are several reasons why accidents between normal vehicles and smaller, two-wheeled vehicles are more common than between two normal vehicles alone. A primary cause of the increased accident risk is the fact that motorcycles and other small vehicles can be more difficult for another motorist to see, resulting in an unintended collision. Although bicycle and motorcycle operators should use additional caution when commuting around larger vehicles, the drivers of the larger vehicles have a legal duty to exercise due care while on public roadways, and this duty includes paying attention to the road and keeping an eye out for smaller vehicles. If the driver of a larger vehicle fails to see a smaller vehicle and causes an accident, the driver of the larger vehicle may be accountable for damages to the motorcyclist even if the driver of the other vehicle never actually saw the smaller vehicle before the collision.

Motorcyclists and Bicyclists Should Use Approved Safety Equipment to Ensure Their Safety

Motorcyclists should always employ fully functional safety equipment to protect themselves while on the road. This includes lights, reflectors, proper signaling equipment, protective clothing, and a helmet. Using approved safety equipment while on the road can help save a motorcyclist’s life in the event of an accident and additionally support their case for compensation from a negligent driver who may have caused the crash. A motorcyclist or bicyclist involved in an accident who failed to use safety equipment or follow traffic laws before an accident may lose their right to collect the full amount of damages from a negligent driver who caused the accident.

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Serious and fatal motorcycle accidents have a number of potential causes. In some cases, it is the motorcyclist who is at fault for driving recklessly, or operating the bike without the proper level of experience. However, these accidents are far less common than most would believe from reading the news media, which seems to imply that most motorcycle accidents are the fault of the motorcyclist. However, that is simply not the case.

Motorcycle HeadlightCauses of Motorcycle Accidents

Single-vehicle motorcycle accidents account for just one-third of the total of all motorcycle accidents. Of these, it is true that operator error is listed as a potential cause about 65% of the time. However, the vast majority of motorcycle accidents involve at least one other vehicle. Of those accidents, just one-third involve motorcyclist error as a potential cause. In fact, the most common cause of all motorcycle accidents is the other driver’s failure to see the motorcycle. Of course, there can be many reasons for this, including that the other vehicle’s operator is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The determination of fault has nothing to do with the fact that a serious motorcycle accident can have irreversible effects on a family.

Motorcyclist Liability to Passengers

Even when it has been determined that a motorcyclist was in fact at fault in a motorcycle accident, the operator, as well as their passenger, may be able to recover for their injuries through the driver’s insurance coverage. In cases where a motorcyclist causes a serious accident that injures a passenger, the passenger may be entitled to monetary compensation through the driver’s insurance policy. Indeed, this is the very reason that insurance coverage is mandatory in Maryland.

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