Colorado Personal Injury Legal Guide: Motorcycle Edition

Auto accidents are the second most common source of accidental injury. While modern vehicles and roadways are designed to be as safe as possible, there are human factors that inevitably lead to accidents every day. In a car, injuries are minor most of the time, but on a motorcycle, it couldn’t be more different; motorcycle injury is usually  devastating to a human body. A car is a metal cage designed to survive an impact with something at high speed. A motorcycle is a gasoline engine with two wheels and a seat. Other than what is on his body, a motorcyclist has nothing protecting himself from any impact, and therefore, from injury. This leads to more deaths from motorcycle accidents than from any other type of auto accident.

Motorcycles are much more dangerous than cars.

When you are injured and it is someone else’s fault, your insurance company has certain obligations to you based on the terms of your policy. However, no insurance policy includes representing your claim in court, nor do they even represent your interests in their dealings with the adjustor from the other driver’s insurance company. They are interested solely in limiting their responsibility for property damage occurring in the accident, and that will be the extent of their efforts. They almost always do nothing to resolve injury issues, leaving it up to you and your own attorney to seek out a resolution. Many insurance providers do have the option to have bodily injury coverage (including liability coverage in case you are at fault for someone else’s injury), but this coverage has a cap on the dollar amount it covers, and is subject to arbitrary limits you might not even be aware of, such as non-coverage for certain types of medical care (such as an MRI, for example). For these reasons, if you are a Colorado motorcyclist and you are injured by another driver, it is paramount to have legal advice and representation. It could be the difference between being compensated justly for what happened to you and getting nothing at all, and having to live with the costs of an unfortunate incident.

Motorcycle Injury Valuation

The “value” of a case is a best guess at what a jury would award the plaintiff, as well as what the defendant might be willing to settle for. In a personal injury case, this is usually calculated as the sum of all damages accrued, including vehicle repair costs, medical bills, court fees, and compensation for time in recovery, lost hours at work, and a plethora of other claims the plaintiff could make.

Valuation is typically predicted by a plaintiff’s attorney as a careful estimation on what he/she thinks a jury would award based on what the defense would be able to pay, as well as the other circumstances and facts of the case.

There are two categories used to calculate damages:

  1. “Special Damages;” or those that can be precisely added up and accounted for, such as the costs above.
  2. “Pain and Suffering,” which is subjective and decided by the court.

The value of a case is significantly reduced if there is little evidence that the defendant will be held liable. The stronger the case from the get-go, the more likely an injured motorcyclist is to receive a large settlement or award.

Another major factor in case valuation is the liability limits of the defendant’s auto insurance. A favorable verdict will likely exceed these limits, but it does not mean that it will be paid—the defendant’s non-insurance assets may render them incapable of paying more (making the insurance liability amount the upper cap to a verdict reward).

If you were involved in a motorcycle accident in Colorado, you may be wondering what your case is worth. Your Colorado lawyer will have access to a database of verdicts and settlements that he or she will search to find similar circumstances to yours within the jurisdiction the accident happened. This data will further help you find the potential value of the case.

What Does my Insurance Cover?

Auto Insurance policies are tricky. When they work as intended, they act as a safety net which figuratively cushions the blow to an individual involved in an accident. However, insurance companies are not charity organizations. They are primarily interested in maximizing profits and minimizing costs, and insurance payouts for accidents are one of their primary costs. Therefore, you should not expect your insurance company to have your best interests at heart, regardless of how comprehensive you believe your coverage is. How much they pay, and whether they pay at all, is ultimately their choice and subject to their terms. A personal attorney is your best option to not only deal with whatever legal proceedings are necessary as a result of your accident, but also in dealing with your insurance company. A lawyer can help you understand and benefit from your auto policy and your contract(s) with your insurance provider.

Property Damage Coverage – The first thing that insurance companies do after an accident is contact each other to determine who is responsible for the property damage that occurred in the collision. They are obligated to adjust claims to pay for costs such as sales tax, title fees, and any other transfer or registration fees if a vehicle is “totaled.”

If a vehicle is a total loss, the responsible insurance provider will base their valuation using a method consistent across all auto insurance providers, from a 3rd party appraisal service. They will take specific factors into account, as well, such as “unique characteristics of a total loss vehicle, such as classic status, unique finishes, mileage and/or, special accessories.” So if, for example, a highly customized motorcycle is destroyed by an accident, the value of the customizations is taken into account when determining the value of the loss.

This may not always work to your benefit, however. Sometimes, they use modifications as a reason to minimize the cost of reimbursement to the insured motorist. These vary, but anything that affects speed, aerodynamics, weight distribution, or electronics could be construed by the insurance company to be a “hazard” or “detrimental” to the vehicle’s operation.

One of the benefits of having a motorcycle injury attorney is they will be able to monitor your insurance company’s handling of your claim. The unfortunate truth is that they are more likely to treat you fairly and honestly if they know a lawyer is watching them. If you’re able, you should get an attorney as soon as possible after a motorcycle accident in Colorado, especially if you have been injured as a motorcyclist.

Medical Coverage – Also known as “Medpay,” All insurance companies operating in Colorado must, under the law, offer at least $5,000 in medical payments coverage to their customers. You may decline this coverage, but it is wise to retain it, as medical expenses can be exorbitant, in some situations. This coverage pays for medical bills immediately following the accident as well as going forward. This coverage is different from your regular health insurance. It ensures that you aren’t stuck with insane medical bills while your health insurance approves your claims, and ensures that you get the potentially life-saving, time-critical care you might need in the event of a motorcycle accident in Colorado.

If your insurer claims that you elected not to have medical coverage or refuses to pay, your attorney can challenge it, and force them to provide proof that you opted out. It’s important that you receive these benefits in case of an accident, as it acts as a buffer for time delays or other snags that may arise from your medical insurance provider.

Auto insurance companies are obligated to pay these benefits within 30 or 45 days of a claim. If they deny your claim or delay payment, they can be penalized by paying twice the claim plus your attorney’s fees. In most cases, simply having a motorcycle injury attorney available to you will prevent this from happening (since the insurance company wishes to avoid going to court unless absolutely necessary).

Bodily Injury Coverage – Also called “Bodily Injury Liability Coverage,” this is a required part of every auto insurance policy in Colorado. It covers a motorist for injuries inflicted on other people. When you seek to recover damages from a driver who hurt you, the money would come from their liability coverage. In Colorado, the minimum bodily injury coverage is $25,000, and the maximum is $50,000.

In theory, this should allow you to get reimbursement for your injuries—but in practice it is rarely so simple. Oftentimes the other driver’s insurance will offer an absurdly small amount as a settlement to you. While they are required to be reasonable when assessing claims, remember that their primary concern is minimizing costs, and if there is any feasible way to do so, they will. In Colorado, insurance companies’ primary legal responsibility is to their insured drivers. And because by law the individual driver is responsible for his or her damage to others, their insurance company usually cannot be sued for your damages. That means if you find yourself with an unreasonably low offer from the insurance company of the driver who hit you, your only option will be to sue the driver, and not their insurance.

A motorcycle injury attorney can prepare a lawsuit in such a case. However, having a motorcycle injury attorney in the first place (i.e. before the insurance claim) will often prevent an unreasonably low settlement offer.

Settlement demands are typically made after your medical treatment is complete. This way, your attorney can gather the documents such as medical bills and records for submission to the other driver’s insurance company. The fact that the settlement demand comes from an attorney’s office will drastically improve your chances of receiving your requested amount.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)

If you are in a motorcycle accident and you are not at fault but the other driver does not have insurance or has insufficient bodily injury liability coverage, this enables you to receive benefits from your own insurance company. This is another required policy provision in Colorado, and its coverage amount must be equal or greater to the bodily injury coverage you receive.

UIM coverage is important to have, as it covers you if the other driver leaves the scene of the accident (“hit-and-run”). Unfortunately, your insurance company may try to avoid paying a UIM claim. A motorcycle injury lawyer can help you compile the evidence, documents, and other materials you will need to successfully claim your UIM settlement from your insurance company.

Bias Against Motorcyclists

Unfortunately, there is a statistical bias against motorcyclists.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, in 2016 Colorado saw 125 motorcyclist deaths. Because motorcycles are inherently more dangerous to ride than cars, many people harbor bias, and in some cases resentment, toward motorcyclists. Drivers tend to see motorcyclists as more aggressive and foolhardy, and this presents a problem for injured riders seeking their just due from someone else’s negligent driving.

Increased Risk – Being much smaller and lighter than cars, motorcycles are comparatively quite fast and nimble, but this increased capability comes at the cost of safety. Since there is nothing between the rider and the outside environment, any impact is very hazardous. While motorcycles are easier to control in some ways, they lack the stability of four wheels, meaning they are susceptible to loss of control or stability from things that would not affect a car much, such as grooved pavement or road debris.

Motorcycles also require more skill to ride. A motorcycle is fundamentally different than a car, and requires practice to learn how to handle. A disproportionate number of fatalities among riders happen to people without enough training, who attempt risky maneuvers or unsafe speeds. Many new riders aren’t even aware that Colorado requires you to have a Motorcycle Endorsement added to your license before you can ride in the state.

There are two types of Colorado Motorcycle Endorsements: “M,” which allows you to drive two- and three-wheeled motorcycles, and “3,” which allows you to drive three-wheeled motorcycles. You can get these endorsements through the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), either by passing the motorcycle written exam and driving test (very similar to the process of obtaining a regular license), or by completing a Motorcycle Operator Safety Training (MOST) course. Being an aware, experienced, and cautious motorcycle rider is the best defense against accident and motorcycle injury in Colorado.

A free resource provided by CDOT is the Colorado Motorcycle Operator’s Handbook [PDF], containing information about licensing and regulations in Colorado, but also a helpful and informative guide on how to operate a motorcycle on all kinds of roads and in all sorts of conditions. It also has safety tips regarding equipment (such as helmets), as well as a great deal of other useful information.

Bias – Courts are set up to prevent personal bias or extrajudicial judgment from affecting just compensation for injured motorcyclists, but it happens all the same. Many people distrust motorcyclists, and members of a jury may hold this prejudice. Statistically, juries are less likely to award favorable verdicts to motorcyclists, regardless of the circumstances involved. Because this bias is so difficult to avoid, creating a solid case is extremely important for an injured motorcyclist.

Hiring a motorcycle injury attorney is not only helpful for dealing with the aftermath of an accident and ensuring that you get the treatment you need, it also provides you with an advocate who can walk you through the process of dealing with the insurance companies, and if necessary, the courts.

As always, if you have legal questions about motorcycle injury and what you might be able to gain from a legal suit, you can call Robinson & Henry at (303) 688-0944 for a free legal consultation.

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