How do motorbike accidents differ from car accidents?
Motorcyclists are by far the most vulnerable category of road users. Over the years, great strides have been made in improving safety features in cars. This means that, even though there are many more car accidents than there are motorcycle accidents in this country every year, the injuries suffered in car accidents are often very minor in nature.
However, without the protections provided by four-wheeled vehicles, even when motorcyclists are involved in what would be considered a very minor collision for a car, very serious and sometimes catastrophic injuries can be sustained.
Unlike the occupant of a car, who will generally derive injuries from the impact alone, motorbike riders also run the risk of being thrown large distances, or being dragged across the road, or being knocked into the path of oncoming traffic.
According to statistics compiled by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), motorcyclists accounted for 12% of road deaths in 2014, despite making up less than 2% of the total national vehicle fleet, meaning that they are six times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than other road users.
Motorbike accident claims differ from other road traffic compensation claims in two ways, being:
- what caused the accident, and
- the nature of the injuries sustained.
Causes of motorbike accidents
A study conducted in 2004 concluded that there were three main categories of motorcycle crash types:
- right-of-way violation accidents (38%);
- loss of control at bends at speed (11%); and
- overtaking/filtering accidents (15%).
70% of motorcycle accidents involve a car, lorry or bus and approximately 55% of accidents occur at junctions.
Research which has been carried out by the RSA has revealed that there are four main scenarios resulting in motorcycle fatalities:
- motorcyclists colliding with the side of a right-turning vehicle when attempting to overtake that vehicle.
- motorcyclists colliding head on with an oncoming vehicles whilst in the course of overtaking the vehicle in front of them.
- motorcyclists losing control while cornering and crossing into the path of an oncoming vehicle or colliding with some stationary object.
- car drivers failing to see motorcyclists when turning, driving through a junction, or joining a main road from a minor road, and colliding with the unobserved motorcyclist as a result.
Car driver error
In accidents involving a car and a motorbike, research has shown that the car driver was at fault in over 50% of cases.
Right-of-way violation accidents occur where one vehicle infringes another’s right of way and causes an accident as a result. While nearly 40% of all motorbike accidents are caused in this way, motorcyclists are to blame in only a small minority of cases, with car drivers being primarily at fault. Usually the reason for the violation is that the car driver simply did not see the motorcyclist before commencing the manoeuvre which caused the collision.
While the existence of oil, gravel and mud or other objects on roads can be dangerous for any vehicle on the road, they are particularly perilous for motorcyclists. The condition of the road surface itself may also be a factor, with potholes or water-pooling being factors which regularly contribute to motorbike accidents.
Diesel or oil spills
Motorcyclists are regularly injured as a result of losing control on diesel or oil which has been spilt on the road by other road users. This can arise from overfilling (or necking) a fuel tank with diesel or by failing to properly secure the fuel tank.
A common accident type is where a motorcyclist crashes on a bend without the involvement of any other road user. Experience shows that in most of these cases this was down to biker error rather than the fault of anyone else, with attempting to take the corner at excess speed or under-cornering being the main causes.
Nature of injuries suffered in motorcycle accidents
As stated previously, modern safety devices such as side-impact bars, airbags, etc. have meant that many injuries that would had previously been common in car accidents are now significantly reduced or avoided altogether. However, the totally exposed nature of motorbike travel means that these are still a very real threat for motorcyclists.
Whiplash is an injury to the neck which is characterized by a collection of symptoms caused when the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles or nerve roots located in the neck become damaged. It can be caused by an abrupt backward or forward jerking motion of the head as a result of a collision. Symptoms include neck pain and stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, pain in the lumbar region, dizziness, irritability and fatigue. The general experience is that symptoms can last between twelve to eighteen months but there are cases where pain and discomfort persist for years.
Soft tissue injuries
Soft tissue injuries are sustained where damage is caused to muscles, ligaments or tendons throughout the body and can result in pain, swelling, bruising and loss of function. These will generally recover fully if the appropriate physiotherapy is used but the process of recovery may be a slow and painful one.
Fractures are extremely common motorbike injuries. Serious injuries involving the limbs are common and, tragically, can result in serious and sometimes permanent disability. Bone fractures to the foot can be extremely painful and may lead to severe long-term disability in some instances. Other bones which can be fractured include the metatarsal, tarsal, and talus. Injuries to the upper leg include fractured tibias, fibulas, and femurs. Pelvic fractures are one of the most common form of pelvic injuries caused by motorcycle crashes and can result in very serious complications.
Unfortunately, amputations are an all-too-frequent consequence of injuries sustained in motorbike accidents. Apart from the disability that losing all or part of any limb will inevitably cause, the psychological consequences of amputation can be grave. Another common complication is a condition known as phantom limb syndrome where the amputee experiences sensations of pain that seem to be coming from the limb which has been removed. The symptoms of phantom limb pain can be constant and severe.
Spinal cord injuries
A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury where the spinal cord is damaged, resulting in the cord’s normal functions becoming disrupted. Depending on where the spinal cord suffers the trauma, and what nerve roots are damaged, the symptoms can vary widely, from serious and chronic pain, to paralysis, to incontinence. Spinal injuries may result in pain, numbness, or a loss of sensation in the injured areas. Loss of muscle function may also occur and this can have additional effects if the muscle is not used as a result, including atrophy of the muscle and bone degeneration. The extent of the injury will depend on where on the spine that the trauma is sustained. Cervical injuries (where the damage is in the neck region) usually result in full or partial tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia, this is the loss of use of all limbs). If the spince is injured in the thoracic region paraplegia may result.
Around 80% of motorcyclists killed as a result of road accidents die from major head injuries. Unlike in car crashes, head injuries can be sustained in accidents involving relative moderate speed levels. Helmets dramatically improve the chances of avoiding serious harm and offer good protection against head injuries in fairly low speed accidents. It is believed that helmets reduce the risk of fatal head injury by around 50%.
Am I automatically entitled to be compensated * if I’ve suffered a motorcycle injury?
Only where it can be shown that your motorcycle accident was caused by the fault or negligence of some other person can you successfully recover compensation for your injuries *.
While the statistics show that the vast majority of accidents involving motorbikes are caused by other road users, one should never be complacent as it is the injured motorbike rider’s duty to show that someone else is at fault if liability is contested.
This is why it is vitally important to instruct a specialist motorbike accident claims * solicitor so that they can carry the investigations necessary to assemble the evidence to prove your case and secure compensation on your behalf.
Who can I potentially recover compensation * from?
This will depend on the circumstances of your accident but the possible individuals from whom you can claim are as follows.
Other road users
If your accident was caused by a car or van driver then obviously they will be the appropriate person to pursue. Thankfully, motor insurance is mandatory in this country which means that you will be able to secure the compensation you are entitled to irrespective of whether the person who caused your injuries has significant means or not. If a pedestrian is the cause of your accident the situation regarding insurance will be less clear cut but it may be the case that their household insurance policy will provide them with public liability cover which you can claim * against.
If your accident was caused by a dangerously designed or badly constructed section of road, kerbing, barrier or piece of street furniture you will be able to recover damages from the county or city council that was responsible. However, if the hazard was caused due to normal wear and tear of the road surface (such as potholes having formed over a long period of time) the local authority will not be deemed legally liable. For this reason, you should consult a solicitor as soon as possible so that they can send a forensic engineer out to inspect the scene of the accident to take photographs, measurements and readings to prove liability on your behalf.
Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI)
If your accident has been caused by another road user but you can’t identify who is to blame for any reason (if, for example, you were the victim of a ‘hit-and-run’ or your accident was caused by a vehicle shedding its load on the road surface before you arrived at the scene) the MIBI may be pursued for compensation * and it effectively acts as the insurance company for the unidentified road user.
Garages or repair centres
If your accident was caused by some failure in the proper functioning of your motorbike, and it can be shown that this resulted from a defective part or a failure to properly service the vehicle, you will be entitled to recover damages * from the whomever negligently sold or serviced the vehicle.
What will I be entitled to recover for?
General damages will be awarded for the pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of opportunity caused by the injury itself. On top of this figure for general damages, special damages will be awarded for all current and future financial losses and demands, including all losses of earnings from the date of the accident to the date you return to work, the cost of all past and future medical treatments and any other out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to the accident.
What are the time limits that apply for bringing a motorbike accident claim?
In the majority of cases your claim for compensation * must be commenced within two years of the date of the accident if it is not to become statute barred. However, in cases where a head injury has been sustained meaning that the motor cycle accident victim was suffering from a cognitive impairment it might be possible to successfully secure compensation even if a claim * was not commenced within the usual two-year period.
If a motorcyclist has been killed in an accident does their family have any entitlement to be compensated?
Yes. If a motorcyclist dies in an accident which was caused by the fault of someone else their surviving family are entitled to bring an action against the person who caused the fatal accident seeking compensation for their loss.
If you have any questions about injuries you’ve suffered in a motorcycle accident, our live chat operator is available to help you with any queries you may have at any time or, you can just give us a call on our nationwide Local number 1890 390 555 during office hours. Our motorbike accident claims * solicitors are based at our offices in Dublin and Cork but assist people from across the country, including Limerick, Waterford and Galway.
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*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.