Articles Posted in Single-vehicle Accidents

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that raises an important issue for Maryland motorcycle accident victims who believe that their injuries were due to a poorly designed road or intersection. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff established that the government’s negligent planning and design of the road were the proximate cause of her injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger on a northbound motorcycle being driven by her husband. The couple approached an intersection in which they did not have a stop sign. At the same time, a pick-up truck was traveling in a perpendicular direction and had stopped at a stop sign. The driver of the pick-up truck looked both ways before entering the intersection; however, as he pulled into the intersection, the plaintiff and her husband collided with the side of the truck.

The plaintiff was seriously injured, and her husband died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the government in charge of designing and maintaining the road, claiming that the road was negligently designed. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the government was negligent in failing to install a four-way stop at the intersection, allowing too high a speed limit, and failing to provide adequate signage in advance of the intersection.

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Motorcycle accidents are often misunderstood by many members of the general public, and this shouldn’t really come as a big surprise because most people don’t ride motorcycles as a primary means of transportation. However, it is more surprising – as well as more upsetting – when police subscribe to the same stereotypes that lead others to assume that any single-vehicle motorcycle accident was the rider’s fault.

While it is true that a large percentage of motorcycle accidents are caused by user error or aggressive driving, those are certainly not the only causes. In fact, other motorists failing to see or yield to a motorcyclist is one of the leading causes of motorcycle accidents. However, news reports routinely place the blame for motorcycle accidents on the rider, rather than consider alternate causes. In some cases, police will also take a “short cut” and, rather than conduct a thorough investigation into what really occurred, will claim that a motorcyclist “lost control” of the motorcycle, leading to the accident.

This can be devastating to the family of a deceased motorcyclist, not only because it leaves them without anyone to answer their questions about what happened, but also because it leaves them with little to no means of recourse.

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Motorcyclists should always take all precautions against getting seriously injured or killed while riding. However, the question often arises:  if a motorcyclist is not wearing a helmet and is in an accident caused by another motorist, can they still recover compensation for their injuries? The answer, as with many questions in the law, is “it depends.”

While it is not possible that a motorcyclist will be completely prevented from filing a lawsuit because he or she was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, there is a possibility that the defendant in the lawsuit will argue that the plaintiff’s failure to wear a helmet should come into play at some point in the litigation.

Generally speaking, a victim of a motorcycle accident may seek compensation for their injuries through a negligence lawsuit. In any negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove four elements. These are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

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Motorcycle accidents can be especially tragic, given the speeds involved and the high likelihood that riders will be ejected from the vehicle. The reality is that, while many motorcycle accidents are not caused by the motorcyclist themselves, some are. And motorcyclists, like all other drivers on the road, owe a duty to other motorists around them. This includes a duty that arises to those riding as passengers on the motorcycle who are legally in the driver’s care.

When a motorcyclist is involved in a serious or fatal accident, and a passenger of theirs is injured as a result, that passenger (or the passenger’s family if the passenger does not survive) may be entitled to compensation from the person operating the motorcycle or that person’s insurance company. To be sure, these lawsuits can be emotional, since the parties often know each other. However, it is important to keep in mind that it is most often not the motorcyclist himself who is paying out any award amount, but the motorcyclist’s insurance company. Indeed, this is exactly the reason Maryland state law requires that motorcyclists maintain adequate insurance on their vehicles.

In tragic cases in which the driver of the motorcycle is killed as a result of the accident, an injured or dead passenger does not necessarily lose their ability to recover compensation. These lawsuits are not uncommon in Maryland courts.

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When someone gets on the back of a motorcycle, they trust the driver of that motorcycle to operate the vehicle in a safe and responsible manner. However, on occasion, the driver of the motorcycle is inexperienced or makes a poor judgment call that results in the motorcyclist and his passenger getting into either a single-vehicle accident or an accident with another vehicle.

In either of these cases, the motorcyclist’s passenger may sustain serious injuries due to no fault of their own. Under Maryland law, that passenger may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against one or more parties. First, if another motorist is responsible for the accident, the passenger can seek compensation for their injuries from that other driver and their insurance company. However, if the other driver involved in the accident was not at fault, or if the accident was a single-vehicle accident, the injured passenger may consider bringing a lawsuit against the driver of the motorcycle.

Motorcyclists, along with all other motorists, owe a duty of care to their passengers as well as other drivers on the road. This duty requires that drivers operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner. Many times, passengers feel as though they cannot bring a suit against the driver of the motorcycle, either because they know the driver or the driver died in the accident. In these situations, an injured passenger should consult with an attorney to discuss their potential rights and how they can pursue compensation.

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Earlier this month in Baltimore County, one man was killed when he struck a disabled car on the side of the road on his motorcycle. According to one local news report, the accident occurred just after 9:30 in the evening on I-795 near McDonough Road.

Evidently, the motorcyclist was heading north on I-795 when he attempted to avoid a vehicle that had slowed down or come to a stop in his lane. Upon doing so, however, the motorcyclist lost control of the bike and struck a disabled car that had been left on the side of the highway. The motorcyclist was thrown from his bike and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by emergency responders.

Potential Liability in Single-Vehicle Motorcycle Accidents

In Maryland, many motorcycle accidents involve only the motorcyclist. These types of motorcycle accidents are termed single-vehicle accidents, and many Marylanders mistakenly believe that they cannot seek financial recovery in a single-vehicle accident. However, that is not always the case.

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Earlier last month in Alexandria, Virginia, a motorcyclist was killed after he was ejected from his bike and then hit by a passing car. According to a report by WUSA 9, the accident occurred at 11:30 in the evening on Interstate 495 just before the exit to Van Dorn Street.

The motorcyclist was traveling in an area of the highway that was under construction. The right three lanes were closed to through traffic, leaving motorists no choice but to use the left three lanes that had recently been milled. The freshly milled pavement had a 2-3 inch lip at the start and the end of the milled section.

Evidently, the motorcyclist lost control of his bike when he drove over the lip from the milled surface to the regular road surface. He was tossed from his bike and landed in the next lane, where another motorist hit him. Emergency responders pronounced the man dead at the scene.

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Last week, an Aberdeen man died as a result of a tragic motor scooter accident, just north of Bel Air.

According to a Maryland State Police accident report, the 68 year old man was riding northbound on the Bel Air Bypass on his 2007 Vespa Piaggio scooter midday Friday, when a deer suddenly ran out in front of him. This caused him to lose control, overturning the scooter and causing him to collide with the median curb.

State police stated that due to serious injuries, the man was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he was later pronounced dead.

This was reportedly the third major accident involving a deer within Harford County over the past eight months. In November 2012, a man died after the body of a deer came through the windshield of a dump truck that he was driving. The deer had initially been hit by a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. In March, a motorcyclist was seriously injured when he collided with a deer, as well.

In this case, authorities believe that the fact that the deer was crossing the road during the daytime may have caught the driver off guard. Authorities remind drivers to be extra vigilant when traveling in areas with marked deer-crossing signs, and reduce speed when necessary to ensure safety.

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So many things can go wrong when traveling down the highway in a motor vehicle that it sometimes amazes us more people are not involved in passenger car and commercial trucking accidents more often in this country. Actually, to say this does not acknowledge that there have been huge strides in automotive safety over the past several decades, to the extent that we forget how hazardous it used to be for our parents and grandparents when they were in their youth.

We say that things can go wrong when driving a car or truck on the road these days, but these are relatively stable vehicles when compared to motorcycles. And although bikes have gained in the area of safety due to the improvements in braking technology and other traffic safety enhancements, the fact still remains that motorcycles are about as raw a driving experience as one can get nowadays, having changed very little from even fifty years ago. As Baltimore personal injury attorneys, we also know that riders simply don’t enjoy the cocooning quality of today’s sedans, SUVs and even light trucks.

So when something does go wrong on the road, with either the vehicle itself or the outside conditions affecting that car or truck, the driver and passengers have a large amount of designed-in safety features that hopefully will protect them, or at the very least, reduce the extent of their injuries should a collision occur. Not so with motorcycles and their riders and passengers.

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It’s not a secret that injuries received in a motorcycle crash can far exceed those sustained in a car accident of the same severity. The fact that bike riders are mostly unprotected when compared to that of their four-wheeled counterparts is the main reason why there are so many more motorcycling fatalities on a percentage basis versus automobile and trucking accidents. The term “donor-cycle” did not find its way into the common vernacular without good reason.

Understanding that a motorcycle provides next to no protection to its rider is the first step to understanding the risks involved with operating one of these exciting, albeit dangerous machines. Whether one rides a Honda, Harley, Suzuki or Ducati — or any other of the numerous cruisers, crotch rockets and dirt bikes out there — the chances of being hurt during a traffic accident are usually on the high side. As personal injury attorneys, I and my staff of legal professionals are well aware of the range of injuries that can be sustained in a motorcycling wreck.

A serious crash, in fact any crash for that matter, can take place out on the open road or in dense traffic. In cities like Bowie, Annapolis and Washington, D.C., motorcyclists must vie for position in heavy vehicular traffic where any of a number of cars, SUVs, commercial trucks or city buses could inadvertently collide with a rider and his mount. But urban accidents are not the only source of bike-related injury accidents; riding in the countryside has its own risks, with inviting stretches of road that may have hidden dangers.

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