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How Do Helmet Laws Affect Motorcycle Accident Cases?

Posted on January 16, 2019

In Pennsylvania, all motorcycle riders and passengers under the age of 21 must wear motorcycle helmets. Riders over 21 may opt not to wear helmets if they have at least two years of motorcycling experience, or if they pass an approved motorcycle safety course. Whether or not you must lawfully wear a helmet in Pennsylvania, going without one could affect your motorcycle accident claim in certain situations.

The Importance of Wearing a Helmet

Pennsylvania lawmakers enforce motorcycle helmet laws for rider and passenger safety. Wearing an approved motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of a serious brain injury by 67%, and the risk of death by 37%, in an accident. Injuries to the head and brain are some of the most common causes of motorcyclist fatalities. Whether state law requires you to wear one or not, putting on a helmet before you ride could save your life.

How it might affect your case, however, depends on the situation. In general, a lack of helmet wearing will only impact a case if the defendant can show a causal relationship between the lapse and the plaintiff’s accident and injuries. An act of negligence that increases the risk of injuries alone, and not the risks of an accident, will not bar a plaintiff from recovery. It may reduce the recovery amount, but only if the courts find the plaintiff negligent.

Motorcycle Accidents and Rider Negligence

Negligence per se is a legal theory that refers to negligence in the form of violating the law. A plaintiff asserting negligence per se generally will not need to establish proof of negligence beyond showing that the defendant violated a law. The legal violation is enough to establish negligence; all the plaintiff would need to prove is causation between the broken law and the injury. Negligence per se is also something a defendant may be able to use against the plaintiff in a motorcycle accident case.

Failure to wear a helmet could qualify as negligence per se if the motorcyclist was breaking the law by not wearing one. In these cases, a defendant may be able to use the lack of helmet wearing as proof of the plaintiff’s comparative negligence. The defendant could allege that the plaintiff contributed to his or her own injuries by breaking the law and not wearing a helmet. This defense would only work, however, if wearing a helmet reasonably could have prevented the injuries in question.

If the injured party is filing a claim for damages such as road rash, a broken arm, or internal organ damage, odds are the defendant could not use lack of helmet wearing against the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s failure to wear a helmet likely would not have prevented these injuries. If, however, the motorcyclist is trying to file a lawsuit against a driver for a traumatic brain injury, and the motorcyclist should have lawfully been wearing a helmet, lack of a helmet could present a strong defense.

Modified Comparative Negligence Laws in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a modified comparative negligence state. This means proof of a plaintiff’s comparative negligence in Pennsylvania can result in a reduction of the plaintiff’s financial recovery in an amount equal to his or her percentage of fault. The injured motorcyclist could lose 100% of recovery if the courts find him or her 50% or more at fault. It is the plaintiff’s duty to establish the defendant was at least 51% at fault for the accident or injuries.

Note that if a motorcyclist was within his or her rights in not wearing a helmet in Pennsylvania, the defense likely would not have the power to use a negligence argument on those grounds. The plaintiff did not break any laws by not wearing a helmet, and therefore did not act negligently in choosing not to wear one. To learn more about how helmet use could affect your motorcycle accident claim in Pennsylvania, contact a Philadelphia motorcycle accident attorney.