The two basic areas of examination in evaluating any personal injury accident case are liability and damages. Depending on the circumstances of a motorcycle accident case, one or both of these areas may be complicated.
Liability refers to determining who is at fault in an accident. if you are badly injured, but are the one who caused the accident, it is unlikely that you will be able to recover for your damages, even if your injuries are severe. In order to recover for your injuries, you must be able to prove that someone else or conditions caused by someone else caused your accident.
Sometimes liability is straightforward. Here is an example of clear liability. You are at a stop sign on your motorcycle, and preparing to proceed forward. The intersection is a 4-way stop intersection. Each person must stop in all directions once they get to the intersection. You are the only person stopped and you begin to proceed through the intersection after you have stopped. Another car to your right fails to stop at the intersection and hits you in the intersection. The failure to stop at a marked intersection caused the accident. In this case, fault clearly lies with the driver of the car who failed to stop.
Damages refers to injuries that you received as a result of the accident. It also refers to the physical damages that your bike sustained as a result of the accident. Damages also refers to such losses as lost wages, and pain and suffering. The idea of damages in personal injury cases is to make the victim of the accident whole again. The law cannot erase the accident, but it can compensate you in terms of money for the damages you sustain as long as someone else was at fault. If you caused the accident, you will not be able to recover for your losses, even if they are severe. If another caused the accident, but your injuries are minimal, you will likely not be able to recover much beyond your property damages to your bike.
Complicated Liability Issues: Comparative Fault
Jurisdictions deal differently with the issue of shared liability. Sometimes called comparative fault or contributory negligence, this method of liability evaluation looks closely at the fault among all the parties and apportions fault by percentage among the parties reflecting the proportion of their fault in causing the accident.
In some jurisdictions, there is a straight apportionment of liability. If you are 80% at fault, you will still be able to collect 20% of your damages. In others, if you are up to 49% at fault, you will still be able to collect a portion of your damages. Others will allow you to recover damages as long as you are less than 51% at fault. In yet other jurisdictions, you cannot recover any damages if you are found at fault at all. This is a harsh result as in the real world, liability is often apportionable. As a result, very few jurisdictions adhere to this rule. Your attorney will be able to help you understand how liability may be applied in your case.
Settlement Value vs. Trial Value
There is an old saying that in a settlement, no one is really happy. And there is some validity to that. The insurance company often settles a case that has merit to avoid the costs of trial and to limit damages. A claimant may accept a lower settlement offer to avoid having to go to trial. Settlement value is lower, but it is a sure thing.
A jury with a sympathetic plaintiff may be more inclined to give a larger award, but it may be that they will not. Trial is always risky. If you have a claims adjustor who is willing to compromise, settlement may be the way to go. If however, the claims adjustor is not willing to see the case clearly, and sometimes, they do not, trial may be a better option. If liability is clear, trial verdicts are almost uniformly higher than settlements.
Your attorney will have a good understanding of how your case may play out. Although we would like liability to be undisputed, it is often the most hotly contested issue in a motorcycle accident case. Be sure and confer with your attorney about liability and damages in your case and how those issues will affect your recovery.