Motorcycle Accidents

Washington’s beautifully diverse terrain and adequate climate make any individual that enjoys riding a motorcycle even more intrigued.  The magnificent scenery offered by the Cascade Range, the fascinating Northwest Pacific coastline and the appealing Olympic Peninsula Loop are just a few of the many graceful sceneries and exciting roads for motorcyclists. However, motorcyclists are more vulnerable to injuries and fatalities in an accident compared to other motor vehicle drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2017 there were a total of 231,401 registered motorcycles and eighty (80) motorcyclists were in an accident and suffered fatalities. Regardless of motorcyclists only representing three percent (3%) of the registered “motor vehicle fleet”, a great day can quickly be tragic if you’re involved in an accident. The process that follows a motorcycle accident is exhausting, overwhelming, and challenging. Having to handle the insurance companies might not be the only daunting task in the list of many.

Lawyer for Motorcycle Accidents in Bellingham, WA

There are many people who use motorcycles as a primary means of transportation in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Everett, and other areas of Washington.

Motorcyclists are given a significantly less amount of protection compared to a passenger or occupants in a standard vehicle. Thus, a motorcyclist has a higher chance of suffering a catastrophic injury or death. At times the motorcyclist is not at fault for the accident, and the other driver did not exercise a degree of care. Thus, the motorcyclist is left with severe injuries, permanent disabilities, and in some instances, even death. Pursuing what you’re entitled to after an accident can be a challenging task, with many agencies involved, investigations, documents, and multiple rules or regulations. Still, it is crucial to seek compensation for your losses and damages. Acquiring an attorney for motorcycle accidents during the earliest stages of your case can help you recover more economic stability.

At PNW Trial Lawyers, we are devoted to helping our clients. We work for you and with you to make sure that you receive what you’re entitled to in your personal injury case. Motorcycle accident cases usually involve gathering witness statements, photographs from the scene of the accident, collecting and analyzing information, investigation, contacting insurance companies, review medical records or policies, and much more. You do not have to be alone in this process. Retaining a lawyer with us at PNW Trial Lawyers can help you focus on your recovery while we tirelessly use our skills and knowledge for your case.

At PNW Trial Lawyers, our attorneys have been representing clients in ghastly accidents since 1977.  PNW Trial Lawyers serves clients in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Everett, and in the surrounding areas of Snohomish, Skagit, or Whatcom counties. Do not let the challenging tasks cripple you from pursuing what you are entitled to, retain an attorney to represent you from PNW Trial Lawyers. Contact us today at (360) 483-5201 to schedule a free consultation.

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Overview of Motorcycle Accidents in Washington

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Motorcycle Accident Statistics

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, motorcyclists in Washington State do not account for more than three percent (3%) of the road users. Nevertheless, motorcyclist collisions between the years of 2013 and 2017 accounted for serious injuries and fatalities. Unlike trucks and passenger vehicles that might provide some protection to their driver in an accident, motorcyclists do not have much protection, even if you have a helmet. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are more likely to die in a traffic-related accident than a person in a passenger car.

Motorcycle Accidents Data 2016 – 2018
Year Description of Accident Numerical Account
2018 Motorcyclists killed 4,985
Motorcyclists Fatalities with or without Helmet 80
2017 Overall Number of Motorcyclists involved in a collision 5,326
Motorcyclists killed 5,172
Fatal Collision with a Motor Vehicle 3,019
Motorcyclists Fatalities with or without Helmet 80
2016 Overall Number of Motorcyclists involved in a collision 5,421
Motorcyclists killed 5,337
Fatal Collision with a Motor Vehicle 2,976
Motorcyclists Fatalities with or without Helmet 81

The data above demonstrate that in 2017, there were a total of 5,326 motorcycle accidents and 3,019 of those fatal accidents involved a collision with a motor vehicle in transport. In addition, compared to the total traffic fatalities in Washington State, motorcyclists were a total of 14% in 2017. According to Governors Highway Safety Association, in 2016 motorcyclist’s death as a percent of the total motor vehicle deaths in Washington state was 22.4%.

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Types of Motorcycle Accidents

  • Head-On Collision – In the case of a head-on collision, a motor vehicle strikes a motorcycle from the front. Most head-on collisions involving a motorcycle and another motor vehicle results in the biker having devastating injuries and in severe cases, death.
  • T-Bone Collision – These collisions are mainly common at intersections and the driver of the motor vehicle, strikes the motorists on the side.
  • Lane Splitting – This action is not legal in Washington State, however, when it occurs riders to get injured in these types of crashes. Lane-splitting typically occurs in traffic and it is when the motorcyclists drives between two lanes of slowly moving or stopped motor vehicles.
  • Left-Turn Collision – This usually occurs because the driver of the motor vehicle cannot see the rider. The size of the motorcycle makes it less visible for other motor vehicles when they are making a left-turn.
  • Rear-End Collision – This type of collision can cause motorcyclists to go over their handlebars and cause the bike to fall on top of themselves.
  • Fixed Object Collision – Motorcycles do not have the same type of protection that a passenger motor vehicle has and colliding with fixed objects can cause severe injuries or death.
  • Hit and Run – This occurs when the other driver hits a motorcyclist and leaves the scene of the accident. This is dangerous because the rider could be left with serious and extreme injuries that can leave him/her in life-altering conditions.

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Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

  • Speeding – According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), during the year of 2016, a thirty-three percent (33%) of motorcycle riders involved in a fatal collision were speeding.
  • Impaired Driving – This could be under the influence of drugs, alcohol or any other substance.
  • Road Hazards or Dangerous Road Conditions– Since motorcycles are small and do not provide the rider with a lot of protection, there are substantial elements on the road that can be hazardous. A motorcyclist travels on the road and experiences potholes, slick pavements, roads with uneven heights that might cause them to collide with a fixed object, road debris, etc.
  • Sudden Stops – At times drivers would follow too closely behind the other driver and an abrupt stop can result in a rear-end collision.
  • Car Doors – Drivers or passengers at times open the door of their parked vehicle without noticing the incoming motorcyclists or bicyclists
  • Inexperienced Drivers – New drivers entering the roads are likely to make unsafe decisions (i.e., knowing when to turn, forgetting to signal, stopping abruptly, etc.).
  • Motorcycle Defect – If you have a defective part or poor design on your motorcycle because of the manufacturer. The manufacturer could be held liable for injuries or death as a result of using the defective
  • Weather Conditions – At times the weather changes without warning causing drivers to have to adapt their driving styles to the weather. If it is snowing, raining or the road is iced this makes it extremely difficult to do so or impossible.

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Economic & Non-Economic Damages After Motorcycle Accidents

The days to come after the accident can bring overwhelming pain physically, mentally, and can affect your loved ones. In some cases, motorcyclists are disfigured, burned, or paralyzed. These accidents can be horrendous and leave the victims with future financial implications. They have to assess their situation and prepare for the looming road ahead of medical bills, loss of employment, etc.

Below are some common catastrophic injuries from a motorcycle accident:
  • Amputations
  • Brain Damage & Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Disfigurement & Facial Injuries
  • Dental Injuries
  • Fractured & Broken Bones
  • Internal Injuries (e.g., broken ribs)
  • Paralysis
  • Rider’s Arm
  • Road Rash
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Wrongful Death
Below are economic damages from a motorcycle accident:
  • Medical Expenses – This includes the accruing medical bills from the moments after the accident, in which the victim was hospitalized. The expenses also cover the future cost such as therapy, rehabilitation, home health nurse, medications, wheelchair, hospital bed at home, mental health treatment, etc.
  • Loss of Income – Being hospitalized and recovering from injuries can cause the victim to lose time from work. At times victims of a motorcycle accident are left paralyzed or with intensive brain injury, which deteriorates their potential to earn an income. There are also situations in which, the employer might let go of the employee.
  • Property Damages – This includes the damages to the victim’s vehicle and the need for future transportation (e.g., rental vehicle, having to take public transportation, etc.).
Below are common intangible damages to the victim:
  • Pain & Suffering – Victims experience mental anguish and emotional distress throughout their rehabilitation and recovery process as they come to terms with their new lifestyle.
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

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What to do After a Motorcycle Accident in Washington

Motor vehicle accidents have casualties regardless of the type of vehicle; however, motorcyclists are not provided with the same steel protection of a standard motor vehicle.

  • Call 911 – If you were involved in a collision with another vehicle or object, call a police officer. If a police officer goes to the scene of the accident, they will write a police report containing information about the collision (e.g., date, time, location, persons involved, witnesses, etc.). Be sure to let the police officer know if you are in need of medical attention.
  • Scene of Accident – Stay at the scene of the accident until a police officer arrives. However, if the accident occurs at a highway or any location with extensive traffic be sure to attend to the injured party. Make sure the injured party does not suffer further injuries by traffic or any environmental hazards at the scene (e.g., oil spill).
      • Administrating First Aid & CPR – It is important to evaluate the existing condition of the injured party, check for a pulse, adequate breathing, and determine if the injured person is not bleeding profusely from their wounds.
        • It is important to treat victims of a motorcycle collision as victims with a spinal cord injury. Do not remove their helmet, unless they are not breathing.
        • Make sure the victim is lying still, help support their head and neck.
        • Obtaining Information – After an accident, riders will be conscious for a small period of time. During this time, it is important to gather some information until the Emergency Medical Service personnel arrive, they will need this information.
          • Full name of the victim, Family member to contact (i.e., emergency contact, including phone number), Age, Doctor, any allergies, etc.)
        • Be sure to continue to check their pulse.
      • Collecting Information – Be sure to obtain insurance information from all parties involved in the accident, drivers’ licenses, license plates, police officers’ badge number, and police report number. Do not disclose any information that can be used against you.
      • Pictures – It is important to document the damages and injuries sustained. Take pictures of all the vehicles and the damages, all the injuries sustained, and the scene of the accident.
      • Contacting the Insurance Agency – It is important to inform your insurance agency as soon as possible after the accident. Do not admit fault and provide them with the basic information from the accident.

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      Washington Laws for Motorcyclists

      Per RCW 46.04.330 a motorcycle is a motor vehicle that is meant for travel on no more than three wheels in contact with the ground. In addition, (1) the driver is able to ride the motor vehicle and it is designed to be steered with a handlebar. As an alternative, (2) the motor vehicle is designed to be steered with a steering wheel and the seats are “partially or completely” enclosed and equipped with safety belts. However, the definition of a motorcycle excludes farm tractor, power wheelchair, moped, electric-assisted bicycle, motorized foot scooter, and electric personal assistive mobility device. Washington State has various laws to motorcycle licenses and the requirements needed to acquire one.

      Basic Legal Requirements for a Motorcycle License

      Below is a list of Washington State laws that any motorcyclists or anyone who is interested in driving a motorcycle should know, however, there are requirements based on age. For instance, if the driver is under eighteen (18) they must pass an approved rider course and apply for a motorcycle endorsement.

      • RCW 46.20.500 – In order to operate a motorcycle in Washington, it is crucial to obtain a driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement. However, there are exceptions:
        • RCW 46.20.500(6) – A person may operate a motorcycle as defined under RCW 46.04.330(2). The motor vehicle has partially or completely enclosed seats that is equipped with safety belts and a steering wheel. The driver must have a valid driver’s license to operate the vehicle but does not need an endorsement.
      • RCW 46.20.515 – The law states the examination requirements in order to have the endorsement necessary to operate a motorcycle. The exam emphasizes the skill set necessary to maneuver traffic and avoid collisions. Once the course is completed, the individuals has 180 days to submit their Certification of Completion to the Washington State Department of Licensing’s Driving office location.
      • RCW 46.16A.030 – It is important to register your motorcycle with the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL).
        • RCW 46.16A.030(1) – Indicates that a vehicle must be registered
        • RCW 46.16A.200(5)(a) – Indicates that license plates must be displayed
      • WA HB 1014 – The House Bill 1014, which came into effect on July 28, 2019, indicates the minimum liability insurance requirements to be held by motorcyclists. It is required by law for motorcyclists to have their insurance on them.
      Motorcycle Equipment Requirements
      • RCW 46.37.530 – Establishes other types of equipment (e.g., goggles, mirrors, and helmets) that are essential for safety. It is stated that a motorcycle must:
        • RCW 46.37.530(1)(a) – Be equipped with “mirrors on the left and right sides,” to give the driver a view of two hundred feet (200 ft) to the rear of the motorcycle.
      • RCW 46.37.530(1)(b) – Have a windshield unless the driver is wearing glasses, goggles, or a face shield that conforms to the rules adopted by the Washington State Patrol.
      • RCW 46.37.530(1)(c) – Driving or operating a motorcycle on a “state highway, county road, or city street,” without wearing a helmet is unlawful. The helmet must be “fastened securely while the motorcycle… is in motion,” it must also meet the standard requirements established by the United States Department of Transportation.
        • 49 CFR 571.218 – The Federal Code establishes the minimum performance requirements for helmets that are meant to be used by motorcyclists and other motor vehicle users.
      • RCW 46.37.380 – The law regulates the warning devices a motor vehicle should be equipped with, explaining that the horn should be able to emit sound from a distance that is not less than two hundred feet (200 ft).
      • RCW 46.37.390 – A motor vehicle must be equipped with a muffler that is in good working condition and in “constant operation” to prevent excessive noise.
      • RCW 46.37.522 – Requires every motorcycle and motor vehicle driven to have its head and tail lamps lighten when the vehicle is in motion.
      • RCW 46.61.610 – The motorcycle must be equipped with a seat that is “firmly attached to the motorcycle at the rear or side of the operator” and must contain foot begs or be equipped with seat belts that are in compliance with 49 CFR 571.
      • RCW 46.61.611 – Requires the motorcycle’s handlebars or grips to be no more than thirty (30) inches than the seat or saddle of the motorcycle.
      Motorcyclists Laws of the Road

      All motorcyclists must obey all traffic laws just like drivers that are operating standard motor vehicles.

      • RCW 46.37.530(d) – It is unlawful for any persons to transport a child that is under the age of five (5) on a motorcycle or a “motor-driven cycle.”
      • RCW 46.61.612 – A driver of a motorcycle is not allowed to place both feet on the same side of the motorcycle.
      • RCW 46.61.614 – No persons who is riding a motorcycle is allowed to attach himself/herself or the motorcycle to another vehicle on the roadway.
      • RCW 46.61.608 – When operating motorcycles in traffic, the rider has the right to use a full lane as well as share the lane with other motorcyclists. Nevertheless, no more than two motorcycles are allowed to ride alongside each other.
        • RCW 46.61.608(3) – Lane splitting is against the law in Washington State. No persons can drive a motorcycle “between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.”
      • RCW 46.61.184 – The exception to Motorcyclists abiding by the traffic laws is that some motorcycles do not weight enough to trigger a light change. Therefore, a motorcyclist must come to a full stop at the intersection, if the traffic signal fails to operate after the driver waited one light cycle, he/she may proceed after “exercising due care” and not violating the rights of pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.
        • Senate Bill (SB 5141) – If a motorcyclist approaches an intersection in which the traffic control signal uses a vehicle detection device and fails to detect the motor vehicle because of its “size,” the motorcyclist must “come to a complete stop.” After the signal fails to operate after one full light cycle, the motorcyclist may proceed through the intersection and exercise due care.
      • WAC 468.510.010 – The law applies to HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes designation and the vehicles that are allowed to use HOV lanes. Motorcycles are included as authorized vehicles to use HOV lanes.
        • Senate Bill 5142 (SB 5142) – Entails that Federal Law requires states to allow motorcycles free access to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes unless it is a safety hazard.

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      A Brief Overview of Motorcycle Insurance Requirements in Washington

      As of July 28, 2019, motorcyclists must carry evidence of insurance and be covered for at least the minimum requirements. The House Bill 1014 which was passed on April 19, 2019, pertains to the financial responsibility of motorcycle operators/drivers.

      It has become mandatory to have motorcycle insurance coverage. It is crucial to at least acquire the minimum, which covers the damages that the driver caused to another driver and their property. Below are the minimum coverage requirements provided by Washington State’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner:

      • Death to another person or injuries to one person: $25,000
      • Death to two or more persons or injuries to two or more persons: $50,000
      • Damages to another person’s property: $10,000

      Liability coverage only provides coverage to the other person if you are responsible for causing the collision that resulted in injuries or property damages. There are many drivers who enter the road with their vehicles being uninsured or underinsured. Being in a motorcycle accident is very costly since the state’s minimum does not take into consideration the medical expenses, lost income, and any other non-economic damages.

      There are various insurance coverages to help victims cover medical expenses, and different coverages can be applied to cases depending on a multitude of factors. It is extremely important to have coverage while on the road.

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      Different Types of Liabilities in a Motorcycle Accident

      In case of a motorcycle accident, the parties involved could be wondering who should be held accountable. However, determining who should be held liable is a complicated process that requires multiple factors. For instance, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the other party was liable because of negligence, product defect, or the collision happened because of an unsafe road. Depending on who is liable, the plaintiff must follow a different set of procedures and laws.

      Liability in a Motorcycle Accident with Another Motor Vehicle

      Filing a claim after a motorcycle accident can be time-consuming. However, it is important to strive for the compensation that you are entitled to. Underestimating the injuries caused by a motorcycle accident can be life-threatening. In a negligence case, it is imperative to demonstrate that the driver at fault (defendant) owed a duty of care and failed to exercise that duty which directly caused the injuries suffered by the plaintiff.

      Requirements for a Negligence Case
      • Determining Who is Liable – Determining who is at fault is important. At times the police report will state who is at fault, or the insurance companies. However, if the lawsuit goes to trial then the jury will decide who is at fault.
        • Police: Once the call is placed to 911 and a police officer enters the scene of the accident, he/she creates a report including the information of all parties involved in the accident. The police officer will conduct an interview compiling evidence in order to create an accurate account of what transpired. The officer will interview the drivers and any witnesses from the scene. The report is submitted to the officer’s department. The report may contain a statement of who is at fault based on the information acquired and the officer’s professional judgment. After determining who is at fault the officer might issue traffic citations. Regardless of who the officer constitutes as responsible for the accident, that does not mean that the person can be held legally liable in a lawsuit.
        • Insurance Companies: After a claim is filed, the insurance companies (from the defendant and the plaintiff) assign an adjustor to oversee the investigation. The adjustors research the accident, speak with witnesses, look at the extensive medical reports, analyze the damages to the vehicles, and verify the policies of the policyholders. Overall, insurance companies determine who is at fault based on the legal definition of negligence in Washington (or based on the state where the accident occurred).
        • Jury: If the lawsuit goes to trial, the jury will determine who is held liable based on the presentation of evidence provided by all parties involved in the accident. Some examples of evidence are the plaintiff demonstrating that the defendant was negligent, testimony from drivers, witnesses’ statements, the police officer who investigated the accident and medical professionals.
      • Proving Plaintiff’s innocence – The motorcyclists must not only demonstrate that the other driver was negligent (i.e., showing that a relationship exists between the defendant and plaintiff, demonstrating that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, and evidence of the defendant breaching their duty), but must also prove that the plaintiff is innocent. Motorcyclists have negative stereotypes such as, being reckless drivers, it is crucial to demonstrate that the motorcyclists did not violate any traffic laws and were not negligent.
      Liability of the Manufacturer & Product

      There are different types of defects that can pertain to liability such as, marketing, design, or manufacturing. The Washington Product Liability Act (WPLA) is a complex law meant to protect consumers. It can be complicated and difficult to determine who should be held liable. Multiple parties can be held accountable because they play an essential role in the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of the product.

      Liability of the Government Entities

      Filing a claim against a government entity (i.e., public agency, school bus, unsafe road, construction zone, city bus, etc.) can be difficult. Colliding with potholes or improperly marked zones would not automatically entail that a claim can be filed against the state. In addition, filing a claim against a public agency is very time-sensitive. It is imperative to retain a lawyer for the proper procedures to be followed. For example, if the motorcyclist was in an accident because of poor road maintenance, an attorney can establish the condition of the road. Furthermore, the attorney can also find out if it was known to the government and file the proper forms against the proper government entity. There are precise and strict regulations and requirements that must be followed to take legal action against the government.

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      Additional Resources

      National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Visit the website of the NHTSA to learn more about motorcycle accidents, the statistical data, and safety tips. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has safety tips in regard to staying on the road and a guide on how to select the right motorcycle helmet. Although the percentage of motorcyclist’s fatality has decreased between 2017 and 2018, it significant to know how you can stay safe on the road.

      Office of the Insurance Commissioner Washington State – Follow the link to the website to learn more information about Washington State mandatory insurance requirements for auto and motorcycles. The site is up-to-date and also includes the new requirement for motorcyclists. In other words, motorcyclists must carry liability coverage and evidence of insurance, they are no longer exempt from the state’s requirements that only vehicle owners carry liability insurance.

      Washington State Motorcycle Manual – Visit the link to view the “Motorcycle Operator Manual” provided by the Washington State Department of Licensing. There is information about permits, endorsement fees, approved two-wheel and three-wheel motorcycle endorsement courses, safety gear, and strategies for when riding on the road. The manual is extensively detailed on the helmet requirements including the different varieties they come in and what helmets meet the requirement by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

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      Attorney for Motorcycle Accidents in Whatcom County, WA

      Although motorcyclists only make three percent of the road users in Washington State, they have a high fatality and injury rate compared to other motor vehicles. If you or a loved one were in a motorcycle accident, do not underestimate your injuries, it is crucial to obtain medical attention. If you or anyone you know is in a motorcycle accident, it is imperative to consult an experienced legal professional. Our PNW Trial Lawyers is here to help, we serve clients in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Everett, and in the surrounding areas of Snohomish, Skagit, or Whatcom counties.

      The physical pain, emotional strain, and the occurring and future financial burden of motorcycle accidents can be overwhelming. Depending on the severity of the injuries, certain medical expenses can become permanent. Therefore, consulting with a lawyer for motorcycle accidents can assist you in obtaining the compensation you deserve.

      At PNW Trial Lawyers, we understand the importance of recovery, representation, and fair compensation. Our attorneys are dedicated to our client’s well-being. We can assist you with your claim and obtaining the documentation (e.g., medical history reports, witness statements, police reports, etc.) necessary. Filing a claim either against another driver, manufacturer or government entity can be challenging with its own procedure, nevertheless, our team of lawyers at PNW Trial Lawyers can help you from beginning to end. Call (360) 483-5201 today for a free consultation.