The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
Top Three Insurance Company Defenses in Motorcycle Crash Claims
March 10, 2019
As the calendar inches toward spring, more motorcycles will be out and about in and around Brainerd. One would think that there is safety in numbers, but in this context, that’s normally not the case. There is a saying among area riders that there are only two kinds of bikers: Those who have gone down and those who will go down.
Because bikers are almost completely exposed to danger in these cases, they may be entitled to substantial compensation for their serious injuries. Because the stakes are so high, big insurance company hire high-priced lawyers to fight these claims tooth and nail. In that environment, victims need a tough Brainerd injury lawyer to level the playing field.
There is a big difference here. Top Brainerd injury lawyers repeatedly employ proven methods that get results. But insurance company lawyers keep trying the same legal loopholes, even though they hardly ever work. Albert Einstein supposedly said that “the definition of insanity is repeating the same process and expecting different results.” That does not mean insurance company lawyers are insane, but it does mean the approaches they use in motorcycle crash claims are often ineffective.
Last Clear Chance
This legal loophole is usually the first line of defense. If it applies, the last clear chance doctrine completely excuses negligence conduct in vehicle collision cases.
In vehicle collision claims, the last clear chance doctrine often comes up in head-on crash claims. Assume Stan drifts over the center line and hits Ollie, who is in the other lane traveling in the opposite direction. The police accident report will almost certainly blame Stan for the crash. But if Ollie could have avoided the wreck, perhaps by changing lanes, and he did not do so, he is legally responsible for the collision.
Roughly a third of motorcycle crash claims involve that same scenario. Often, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) attempts a left turn against traffic and moves directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Many insurance company lawyers claim that the rider could have avoided the crash, perhaps by slamming on the brakes or suddenly changing lanes.
But as all good Brainerd injury lawyers know, there is a big difference between controlling a four-wheel vehicle and controlling a motorcycle. Cars and trucks can make emergency maneuvers, like sudden stops or quick lane changes. But even experienced motorcycle riders often lose control of their bikes if they attempt these things. That’s especially true if the road is wet, the pavement is uneven, or there are any other adverse environmental circumstances.
The heart of the last clear chance defense is that the victim had a reasonable and practical opportunity to avoid the crash, and not just a theoretical chance. So, in most motorcycle crash cases, the last clear chance defense does not apply.
If the last clear chance loophole does not work, insurance company lawyers typically try the contributory negligence defense. This doctrine is probably the most commonly used defense in vehicle collision cases.
Let’s return to the Stan/Ollie example and modify the facts a bit. Assume that Stan crossed the center line as before, but also assume that Ollie was speeding. A Brainerd injury lawyer could argue that Ollie’s excessive velocity contributed significantly to the crash. If Ollie was moving slower, this argument goes, he would have had time to avoid Stan.
Theoretically, the same thing could apply in a left-turn motorcycle crash. But remember that motorcycles are harder to control than four-wheel vehicles. So, even if the rider sped or made an illegal lane change in the moments before a crash, it probably would not have mattered. The rider could do nothing to stop the wreck.
Contributory negligence is usually a fallback because Minnesota is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. So, even if the victim was 49 percent responsible for the wreck, the victim still receives a proportional share of damages. In other words, at best, contributory negligence usually only reduces the amount of compensation the tortfeasor must pay.
If their first two defenses are unsuccessful, many insurance company lawyers get desperate. In their desperation, they appeal to the base instincts of Crow Wing County jurors. In this instance, that’s the motorcycle prejudice.
Assume Ollie, who was the victim in the Stan/Ollie crash, rode a Harley-Davidson, wore a leather jacket, and lead a motorcycle riding club. Insurance company lawyers might try to portray Ollie as a reckless thug who had little regard for fellow motorists.
Back in the heyday of the Hell’s Angels, the motorcycle prejudice usually worked pretty well. Recent violent incidents like this one reinforce that stereotype.
However, the motorcycle prejudice is not nearly as strong now as it was back in the day. Once the jury understands the facts (e.g. Harleys have loud mufflers to improve their visibility and bikers wear leather jackets for protection), they are less likely to fall under the sway of the motorcycle prejudice. Come to think of it, the same thing applies to most other kinds of prejudice as well.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Motorcycle crashes often raise complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.