Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Recovery for Injuries

Many states have laws requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. These laws are a key factor in determining your ability to recover for head and neck injuries sustained in an accident. Monetary recovery depends on your state’s motorcycle helmet law, the nature of your injuries, and whether or not you were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

Helmet Laws and Motorcycle Safety

Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is significantly safer by reducing the amount and severity of head injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that for every 100 motorcyclists killed in a crash while not wearing a helmet, 37 would have survived if they had been wearing one. This alone is a staggering figure, but when taking into account the enormous reduction in non-fatal injuries that helmets are also responsible for it is easy to see why many states enforce helmet laws for motorcycle riders. These laws vary by state; in some all riders are required to wear helmets, but in others only those under a certain age must wear them. Only three states don’t have any helmet law at all: Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire. To see a list of state helmet laws, check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website at www.iihs.org (click “Laws & regs,” then “Helmet use laws”).

Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Recovery for Injuries

If you are in an accident as a motorcyclist, your state’s helmet laws play a large role in whether you can recover for any resulting head or neck injuries. Here are some possible scenarios and what your chances of recovery are in each one.

  • Wearing Helmet, No Head or Neck Injury: If you received no head or neck injuries as a result of an accident than whether or not you were wearing a helmet is irrelevant, but pointing out that you were wearing a helmet will help show that you are a responsible rider.
  • Not Wearing Helmet, No Head or Neck Injury: Similarly, if you are not wearing a helmet but still don’t receive any head or neck injuries the fact that you were not wearing a helmet is irrelevant. This is true even in a state that requires you to wear a helmet.
  • Wearing Helmet, Head or Neck Injury: If you were wearing a helmet and suffered head or neck injuries because of an accident the helmet is important to your claim and potential recovery amount. Wearing a helmet shows that your injuries were not made worse by any carelessness on your part and it also shows that your injuries could have been much worse had you not been wearing a helmet which will illustrate how dangerous the other driver’s actions were.
  • Not Wearing Helmet, No State Helmet Law, Head or Neck Injury: If you were not wearing a helmet but suffered head or neck injuries it may be difficult to recover for your injuries- this is true even in states with no helmet laws. By not wearing a helmet you can be considered to be “comparatively negligent”—meaning you might be found partially responsible if by not wearing a helmet you contributed to the severity of your own injuries. Insurance adjusters will likely produce evidence showing that wearing a helmet usually significantly reduces head injuries. You must prove that you would have sustained the same injury whether you were wearing a helmet or not. However, if an insurance adjuster believes a helmet would have reduced your injuries then your recovery compensation amount will be reduced.
  • Not Wearing Helmet, State Helmet Law, Head or Neck Injury: If the state law requires you to wear a helmet and you were not wearing one during an accident and additionally received head or neck injuries it will be extremely difficult to recover damages for your injury. You may still be entitled to recover for other injuries, but not wearing a helmet with a law requiring it automatically qualifies you as comparatively negligent. A motorcyclist in this situation might still be able to obtain some compensation by proving the injury would have still occurred even while wearing a helmet, but this is a tall order –if possible at all- and requires knowledgeable and experienced personal injury lawyers.

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