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Can a Helmetless Motorcycle Driver Still Sue After an Accident?

Oldham & Smith June 7, 2018

Motorcyclists may enjoy increased maneuverability, but motorcycles lack the crashworthy build of a larger motor vehicle. Helmets can help compensate for a motorcyclist’s exposure by mitigating some forces on the motorcyclist’s head. If another party causes a motorcyclist without a helmet to crash and sustain head injuries, can the party escape blame by pointing to the motorcyclist’s lack of protection? Suppose that a truck driver ran a red light and crashed into a motorcyclist without a helmet. The motorcyclist flies out of his motorcycle and lands head-first on the ground. He sustains brain injuries that cost him millions of dollars due to medical bills and lost wages. Can the motorcyclist sue the truck driver for compensation, or is it the motorcyclist’s own fault for not wearing a helmet?

Relevant Cases

Karen Gaddy, a teenage Floridian, was riding on a motorcycle without a helmet, in direct opposition of Florida’s helmet law, which requires those under twenty-one and those with less than ten thousand dollars of insurance to wear helmets while operating or riding on a motorcycle. A utility company was doing underground work in the area, leaving a ditch near the road. The motorcycle went into the ditch, ejecting Gaddy. Gaddy died after a headfirst landing, and her father sued on her behalf. The utility company tried to defend itself by claiming that Gaddy’s death was her own fault, because despite Florida’s helmet law, she wasn’t wearing a protective helmet. If she was wearing a helmet, the utility company postulated, Gaddy might have survived. Referencing the principles of negligence, the 3rd Florida District Court of Appeal decided that Gaddy’s lack of a helmet could only be used against her case if all three of the following were true:

  1. Gaddy broke Florida’s helmet law.

  2. Florida’s helmet law is designed to protect motorcyclists from head injuries.

  3. Gaddy’s violation of Florida’s helmet law caused her head injuries that led to her death.

The court found the first two statements to be true, but not the third. A neurosurgeon had testified in court that wearing a helmet would “not necessarily” have lessened the blow. The neurosurgeon referenced patients who had died despite wearing a helmet. The court concluded that the utility company hadn’t sufficiently proven the third statement, rendering Gaddy’s violation of Florida’s helmet law irrelevant to her case against the utility company and affirming a trial court’s ruling that the utility company had to compensate Gaddy for her death.

Hire a Motorcycle Accident Attorney

Motorcycle accidents frequently confer major injuries that constitute millions of dollars of damage for which the at-fault party is liable. Rex Utilities v. Gaddy establishes that the at-fault party is liable even if the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet. If you were recently involved in a motorcycle accident, you should contact an experienced personal injury law group like Oldham & Smith for assistance with your specific case. Our attorneys specialize in motorcycle accidents and have proven their success with these types of cases time and time again.