While motorcycles have always interested me, the closest I ever got to becoming a biker was the summer my car broke down and I rode my Schwinn to work. That said, I have friends and family who would sooner give up red meat than quit riding. With summer approaching, more people will be riding their motorcycles to enjoy the warm temperatures and ideal riding conditions. This increase in motorcyclists on the roadways results in a yearly spike in traffic accidents during the summer months. For obvious reasons, accidents involving motorcycles are often much more serious than those involving just cars.
In 2016, motorcycle fatalities in Colorado hit an all-time high of 125 deaths—a 15 percent increase over 2015. Part of the reason for this trend is that more people are riding motorcycles, shown by increasing registration figures. Tellingly, 61 percent of those who died were not wearing helmets. Although helmets save lives, Colorado does not require riders over the age of 18 to wear them. While any injury arising from a motorcycle accident has the potential to be serious, the chances of the injury being fatal or causing permanent impairment are much greater if the rider was not wearing a helmet.
Regardless, if you’re injured in an accident, you have a right to claim for damages against the responsible party. If you’re riding and get in an accident, here are some steps to ensure that you’re fairly compensated:
Make a police report
While the police usually come out and write a report for motorcycle accidents, this isn’t always the case. Even if it seemed like a minor accident, it’s always a good idea to call the police. This helps ensure that everyone’s statement is taken and there’s an accurate, unbiased record of exactly what happened. In the event the police fail to show up, go online within 24 hours after the incident and file what’s known as a “counter report” on your local police website or with the Colorado State Patrol. This is a way for you to memorialize exactly what happened in the accident.
If you’re sore or have even minor injuries, make a doctor’s appointment right away
If you were fortunate enough not to leave the accident in an ambulance, it may still be a good idea to make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Even if your injuries seem small, it’s still important to see a medical professional as soon as possible. This helps rule out serious internal injuries that you may not be aware of. It also documents exactly what your injuries were immediately after the accident.
Be careful about what you say to the insurance company
After an accident, you’re likely to get a call from an adjuster wanting to take your recorded statement. A statement can help them determine what happened in the accident. It also assess the severity of your injuries and your “witness potential.” This means how you come across over the phone. This is important for determining how sympathetic a jury would be towards your case. Before you provide a detailed statement, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Don’t sign anything from any insurance company (including your own insurance)
The insurance company may contact you right away and offer to write you a check for your injuries. Even if you haven’t gone to the doctor and you’re just feeling sore, they may still offer you several hundred dollars if you agree to sign a release. Don’t do it. The insurance company is not your friend. It a common practice for insurance companies to save money by paying a pittance now to get someone to sign away their rights. They try to do this before the injured person has had the chance to speak with a lawyer or knows exactly how severe their injuries might be.
Make sure you’re receiving fair compensation for your bike
Many people ride custom motorcycles with multiple after-market parts and modifications, which can dramatically increase its value. If the bike is repairable, the insurance company owes you compensation to restore the bike to its pre-loss condition. This means the insurance company is responsible for any repairs necessary to make the motorcycle exactly as it was before the accident occurred. If the bike is a total loss (i.e. not repairable), the insurance company, generally speaking, owes you compensation for the motorcycle’s actual cash value (ACV). Some insurance policies now offer replacement cost value (RCV) for totaled vehicles, but actual cash value remains the industry-standard. Determining the actual cash value of a custom bike can be difficult, especially for an insurance adjuster who knows little to nothing about motorcycles. Your chances of getting a low-ball offer for a custom motorcycle are therefore considerable.
Don’t forget to claim “loss of use”
Under Colorado law, insurance companies owe accident victims reasonable compensation for the loss of use of their vehicle for the time it takes to repair or replace that vehicle. The following equation calculates loss of use value:
[Daily Rental Rate for a Similar Vehicle] x [Reasonable # of Days to Repair or Replace Vehicle]
= $ Amount Owed for Loss of Use
This rule applies regardless of whether or not you actually rent a replacement. To illustrate: Let’s say you’re riding your bike when a car hits you. Your motorcycle sustains moderate damage. Several days later, the body shop writes an estimate and says it’ll take about two weeks to fix the bike. Instead of renting a replacement motorcycle, you decide to drive one of the two cars you have sitting at home. The insurance company still owes you what it would have cost to rent a motorcycle from the day of the accident to when the repairs are complete.
While this may seem like gaming the system, it is not. The accident deprived you of the opportunity to ride your bike due to someone else’s negligence. That said, don’t expect the insurance company to know this. If they agree to pay anything, it’s likely to be the rental value of a compact car, not a motorcycle. In this area especially, it helps to have an experienced accident attorney on your side.
If you’re one of the thousands of Coloradans to hit the road this summer on their bike, remember to be safe, wear a helmet, and have fun. And if you find yourself injured in an accident, talk to a personal injury attorney you can trust to ensure that you receive fair compensation.
By David Law