Overcoming Bias: How to Get Fair Compensation in Motorcycle Accident Cases

Michael GrossmanSeptember 15, 2015 5 minutes

Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat. Motorcyclists are not bad people, nor are they typically reckless. The overwhelming majority of motorcyclists, in my experience, are more safety conscious than the average car driver.

But, as the saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the bunch, and there are enough motorcyclists out there that do drive like maniacs that it has affected the public's impression of bikers as a whole. While this is incredibly unfair and unfortunate, it is the reality of the world that motorcyclists live in. Consequently, when a biker is injured in an accident, they are at an inherent disadvantage, and the'll need a lawyer's help to solve that problem.

Just how widespread is this problem?

Lest anyone panic, I should probably clear the air by saying that even though bias against bikers is a potentially big problem, a good lawyer will know how to get his client fair compensation despite the added obstacles.

The first step, of course, is recognizing that there are indeed obstacles that need to be overcome. Again, the chief concern that any injury lawyer should have for a client who is a motorcyclist is that the jury would perceive his client as being automatically guilty just because of the client's choice of vehicle. So, the lawyer needs to be prepared to fight that bias from the word go.

Bias against motorcyclists is often encountered every step of the way as they seek fair compensation for their injuries, not just at trial. My firm has litigated perhaps 100 or more motorcycle accident cases, and we've had to put a stop to unfair judgments being passed on perfectly innocent bikers by a wide variety of sources, including:

  • Police officers who assume that the motorcycle rider was being reckless even when no evidence or testimony from witnesses supports such a conclusion
  • Witnesses who often equate loud engines with uncontrolled acceleration
  • News media who like to report on motorcycle wrecks and imply that the biker was at fault when they know nothing about what really happened
  • Paramedics who have failed to apply timely treatment to bikers because they see them as 2nd class citizens
  • Doctors who will speculate as to the cause of an accident (not their job / completely inappropriate) in medical records by saying things like, "Motorcyclist, age 23, injured in apparent reckless driving accident"
  • Potential jurors who during voir dire (the jury selection process) openly admit that they can't judge bikers fairly
  • Insurance adjusters (I had an insurance adjuster once say to me that he would never pay full value on a motorcycle case, no matter how at-fault his insured is, because, and I quote, "We can always get a jury to put some fault on a dead biker." For the record, I taught him a pretty good lesson a few months later in court)

Some of what is listed above represents isolated incidents, and some of it we've seen play out in dozens of cases. Nevertheless, the potential for such bias exists in every case involving a motorcyclist who was injured or killed, so any lawyer worth his salt should be prepared to face such issues.

How a lawyer can deal with these issues.

There's only one way a lawyer can deal with these issues: let the evidence do the talking. I and every other personal injury lawyer out there have seen police officers completely botch investigations and produce inaccurate accident reports. It happens, so, as a general rule of thumb, it behooves a lawyer to be skeptical of any allegations until he sees some sort of compelling evidence. But even though these mistakes do indeed happen, it's usually pretty rare. Most normal car accident police reports, are pretty reliable, and it's really only a small number that are in error.

However, when it comes to motorcycle accidents, in particular, improper police investigations and police reports based on poor reasoning are far more common, so a smart lawyer will turn his skepticism up to 11, and then do his own investigation when representing a motorcycle accident victim. Evidence is important in all cases, but it is vital in motorcycle injury and wrongful death cases.

How do you get the most amount of compensation for a motorcycle accident?

Many people labor under the false impression that, when someone injures a victim in a car accident, the wrongdoer's insurance is required to pay said victim. That's not how America's justice system works. Every citizen, even the ones who cause car accidents, are afforded due process of law. So the idea that the insurance carrier will just cut victims a check because they have to is completely bogus. In reality, the only thing that dictates the value of a settlement is the insurance carrier's concern over what a jury would make them pay.

Remember when you were a child and you'd do something wrong, something you knew your parents would punish you severely for, and you sibling saw you do it? Well, if you were like most kids, the first question out of your mouth was, "What do I need to give you in order for you NOT to tell mom and dad?" That's more or less how settlements work.

The jury (mom and dad) alone have the ability to punish the insolent child (the insurance carrier). Much the same way that the kid who's knows he's about to get in big trouble is willing to offer something of value to make the problem go away, so too is an insurance carrier. But, just the same way that a problem child will only pay a small amount of the punishment handed down from mom and dad is minor, yet they'd pay a small fortune of the offense is such that mom and dad will really punish them good, insurance carriers are only willing to pay a significant amount of money if they think that a jury will really make them pay a significant amount of money. And let me tell you, convincing a jury to punish a wrongdoer is an art. It can be derailed by any number of outside factors. As such, when an insurance carrier thinks they can use the fact that an accident victim is a biker as a means of turning the jury against the injured biker, that affects the amount they're willing to offer to settle for.

You can see how if the injured party can convince the insurance carrier that they have a the ability (through their lawyer) to prove to the jury that the biker was in the right and that the other driver was in the wrong, that will result in the insurance carrier fretting over the punishment the jury may levy against them, and, consequently, the insurance carrier is willing to make a reasonable and significant settlement offer to make the case go away. Without proving to the insurance that he knows how to make the jury overlook their inherent bias against motorcyclists (which begins with keeping really biased jurors out of the courtroom in the first place), a lawyer will never be able to do his client much good. That's why understanding this bias and knowing how to work around it is the only way that motorcycle accident victims can get the most compensation for their injuries.