Settlement Factors in a Motorcycle Accident Case

What factors come into play when figuring out the settlement value of a motorcycle accident injury claim?

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

When you're trying to figure out how much you might receive in a personal injury settlement after a motorcycle accident, here's what to know:

  • The clarity of the fault picture (who caused the accident) and the extent of the rider's injuries usually carry the most weight in valuing a motorcycle accident injury case.
  • Availability and amount of insurance coverage always factors in.
  • Anti-motorcyclist bias exists, and may play a part in an injury claim or lawsuit after a motorcycle accident.
  • Every motorcycle accident case is unique, but past verdicts and settlements can be informative.

"Valuing" a Motorcycle Accident Injury Case

In the context of an insurance claim or lawsuit after a motorcycle accident, "valuing" a case means coming up with a best guess at what a jury might award the injured rider (the plaintiff), and also guessing what the at-fault driver (the defendant and their insurance company) would be willing to pay.

Valuing a case also means figuring out what the injured rider would ultimately be willing to accept to settle the case before a personal injury lawsuit needs to be filed (and before that lawsuit goes to 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 injuries and other losses ("damages") and how likely a jury is to find the defendant liable (at fault for the accident).

The Injured Rider'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:

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 motorcycle accident injury case is the likelihood that the 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 their chances at trial when fault is in clear question. Similarly, an injured rider will be more inclined to accept a low settlement because they runs the risk of getting nothing at trial.

Learn more about determining fault in a personal injury case.

Availability (and Amount) of Insurance

If a defendant has few other assets, a motorcycle accident injury settlement will usually 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.

Overcoming Bias Against Motorcyclists

Personal bias or preconceived judgement should not play a role in compensating an injured motorcyclist, but there's no escaping human nature. Some people have a negative opinion about motorcyclists, and members of a jury may carry their own biases into their decision-making processes.

Juries may be less likely to award a fair verdict to a motorcyclist—compared with what they might award to an injured driver of a passenger vehicle. 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.

Motorcycle Verdicts and Settlements

According to Jury Verdict Research (published by Thomson Reuters) the median motorcycle injury verdict (after a personal injury trial) is around $73,700.

Here's a look at some real-world settlements in injury cases brought by injured riders:

  • $1,600,000 settlement after plaintiff slid on loose gravel and suffered crushed vertebrae and nerve damage.
  • $355,000 settlement after rider 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.

Next Steps After a Motorcycle Accident

Having the right lawyer on your side can be crucial in a motorcycle accident injury case, especially if your injuries are significant. An experienced lawyer will know how to put your best case together to ensure the best outcome. Use the tools on this page to connect with a lawyer near you, or learn more about when to hire a lawyer for an accident case.

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