Settlement Factors in a Motorcycle Accident Case

An overview of the key issues related to negotiating an injury settlement following a motorcycle accident.

If you're involved in an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit, you're probably wondering how much your case might be worth. There are too many unique factors in any given motorcycle accident to accurately predict the outcome in terms of a dollar figure. But this article discusses the main considerations when attempting to value a motorcycle accident case, and gives some examples of past verdicts and settlements.

Overcoming Bias and Prejudice Against Motorcyclists

Personal bias or preconceived judgement should not play a role in compensating an injured motorcyclist, but there's no escaping human nature. Many people distrust -- or even dislike -- motorcyclists, and members of the jury are not immune from this prejudice. Juries may be less likely to award handsome verdicts to motorcyclists - compared to the driver or passenger of a car. Insurance adjusters are aware of this bias, and may reduce their settlement offer appropriately. For this reason, the burden of making a concrete case, and proving the key issues described in this article, becomes even more important for an injured motorcyclist.

How the Parties Value a Potential Case

"Valuing" a case means coming up with a best guess at what a jury might award the person suing (the plaintiff), and also guessing what the person being sued (the defendant) would be willing to pay. It also means figuring out what the plaintiff would ultimately be willing to accept to settle the case before trial. That's a lot to keep track of. But the two biggest factors in valuing the case are the extent of the plaintiff’s damages -- meaning how bad the motorcycle accident was and how significant the resulting injuries are -- and how likely the jury is to find the defendant liable (at fault for the accident).

The Plaintiff’s Damages

Estimating the potential outcome of a motorcycle accident case is quite difficult for one main reason: at trial, it will most likely be a jury that ultimately decides just how much money the defendant must pay the injured motorcyclist.

Some personal injury damages, like medical bills and lost wages, are easier to predict because "concrete" costs like these will mostly be based on the amount the plaintiff demonstrates he or she has paid or lost and/or will continue to pay or lose. For subjective, less concrete damages like "pain and suffering," predictions are at best an educated guess based on awards in similar motorcycle accident cases in the past. Because every case and every jury is different, even the best analysis will still only predict pain and suffering damages within a broad range.

How the motorcycle accident affects a particular plaintiff is also key in valuing damages. For example, if a plaintiff is left with a permanent limp, but was formerly a very active person who enjoyed participating in a variety of sports and outdoor activities, his damages based on "loss of quality of life" will likely be higher in the eyes of a jury than if he had been relatively physically inactive before the injury. If the motorcycle accident left plaintiff permanently disabled in a way that does not affect his livelihood, that plaintiff’s damages for lost earning potential will be lower than a plaintiff whose livelihood is affected.

Likelihood That the Defendant Will Be Found Liable

The other major factor in valuing a case is the likelihood a defendant will be found liable, at trial, for the traffic accident. If the plaintiff has little or no evidence proving the defendant was at fault for the plaintiff’s motorcycle accident injuries, the value of the case goes down considerably.

Even if the potential damages are high, a defendant will be less willing to settle and more inclined to take her chances at trial when fault is in clear question. Similarly, the plaintiff will be more inclined to accept a low settlement because he runs the risk of getting nothing at trial.

Another factor affecting predictions of whether a jury will find the defendant liable is the well-known fact that juries are by and large unfavorable to motorcycle riders. This does not mean that if the plaintiff was riding a motorcycle the jury will automatically find in the defendant’s favor -- but it does lower the plaintiff’s odds if the evidence of the defendant’s liability could go one way or the other.

Amount and Availability of Insurance

If a defendant has few other assets, a settlement will not exceed the liability limits of the defendant’s auto insurance. Jury verdicts can and do exceed insurance liability limits, but that does not mean the plaintiff is able to collect the full amount of the verdict. If there is no other way to collect, a plaintiff’s best option is usually to accept a settlement amount that equals the insurance coverage limits, even if actual damages are much higher and easy to prove.

Motorcycle Verdicts and Settlements

Following is some data on the median "average" motorcycle injury verdict, and related settlement and court verdicts.

  • According to Jury Verdict Research (published by Thomson Reuters) the median motorcycle injury verdict (after a personal injury trial) from 1999 to 2006 was $73,700.
  • $1,600,000 settlement after plaintiff slid on loose gravel and suffered crushed vertebrae and nerve damage.
  • $355,000 settlement after plaintiff was killed when defendant’s truck, pulling a small trailer, turned left in front of the motorcycle at high speed.
  • $300,000 verdict for plaintiff after truck turned left in front of the motorcycle. Plaintiff’s injuries were limited to aggravation of pre-existing herniated disc, soft tissue injuries and a torn knee ligament.

Your lawyer should have access to a database of verdicts and settlements, and will use that to find cases with similar injuries and circumstances to yours, and the settlement or trial verdict amounts in your jurisdiction.

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