What Difference Does it Make if my Lawyer is Experienced in Motorcycle Accident Cases?
I just settled a case that another attorney turned into a nightmare. The client went to a firm that advertised themselves as motorcycle lawyers. He was a new rider with only six weeks experience. He bought a hooligan bike, appropriate only for experienced riders. As he approached an intersection, you guessed it, a car pulled out in front of him. He hit it in the side, went over the top, and had a raft of injuries with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
The police report was divided between those witnesses that said he was way over the limit, and those that didn’t think he was speeding. It was a 25 mph zone, and the witnesses had him anywhere from 25 or so up to 45 or more. The defendant said she was doing 10 mph and that the motorcycle came out of nowhere at an extremely high rate of speed.
The attorneys handling the case hadn’t been able to move it forward, partly because they weren’t getting the information to the insurance company that was needed to evaluate the injuries. When I got the case moving, an adjuster called to see where I was on settlement.
He started out by telling me how great the witness statements were that put my client at a high rate of speed.
The other firm was preparing the client to testify that he was only going 25 miles per hour, that the defendant was going fast when she pulled out in front of him, and the adjuster was playing the same game, but from the opposite side.
Had the case continued in this vein, both sides would have been testifying that they were going slowly, and that the other driver was going too fast. Did anyone really expect the jury to believe that this bright yellow Ducati Monster was being driven at 25 miles per hour if there was no obstructing traffic? Of course not. The jury would have concluded that the motorcycle was speeding. This issue would have been the beginning of blaming the motorcyclist for his own injuries. The jury would have had a good time discussing how dangerous motorcycles are, and the verdict would not have been very good.
I started out by acknowledging that I knew about the witnesses. Actually, I continued, the motorcycle driver himself didn’t really know how fast he was going, and wasn’t going to express an opinion on this at trial. After all, he wasn’t looking at his speedometer. All he knows is that he didn’t feel like he was going too fast.
Further, he didn’t really dispute how fast the driver of the car was going. If she said she was going 10 miles per hour, well, he didn’t really know her speed, either.
What he did know is that she had plenty of time to see him coming. And she pulled in front of him when it was way too late for him to do anything about it. It was worse because he wasn’t that experienced a driver. It took a second to realize that, yes, she really was pulling across his path of travel. By that time, he was on top of her. He tried to brake, but probably didn’t actually get much braking done, if any.
I then noted that if she was going that slowly, she certainly had a lot of time to observe the motorcycle. Further, at that speed, she blocked his path for a long time.
Notice the difference. All that has happened is that the motorcyclist admitted the truth. He didn’t really know his speed. He wasn’t planning on having an accident, and he didn’t make a note of it. He was concentrating on his driving.
Now the jury will not have a reason to think the motorcyclist is lying. His speed didn’t make much difference, anyway. What caused the accident wasn’t his speed, but the driver’s failure to see him, and to pull in front of him. After all, even at 45 miles per hour, he wasn’t invisible. He didn’t come out of nowhere. The driver, going 10 miles per hour by her own admission, had plenty of time to see him.
In fact, the mental picture of someone pulling in front of a motorcycle at 10 miles per hour is much worse for the driver of the car than the mental picture of a car pulling out at a more normal speed. 10 miles per hour sounds inattentive. It sounds like vague driving.
Next, I lowered the standard of care for the driver. I admitted that he was a new motorcyclist, and perhaps not as good as a seasoned biker. No jury would hold this against him, in my opinion. Instead, they would recognize the truth that we all have to start somewhere. This would avoid the jury concocting spectacular evasive maneuvers that the cyclist could have done.
Faced with the obvious fact that my client was going to be believed, that the defendant driver was going to come across as very inattentive especially at her claimed speed, and that the witnesses’ mixed speed estimates were really not relevant to fault, the case settled for full value quickly and easily.
While it doesn’t always work out that a case settles so easily, experience in understanding the issues always creates a better chance of getting such a good result.
Because of experience handling these cases, I knew that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the motorcycle was speeding or not. Therefore, it was foolish to argue about the exact speed. Whether 25 or 45 miles per hour, the cause of the accident was the same. I also knew better than to argue with the automobile driver’s slow speed estimate. The slower the car was going, the more time the driver had to see the motorcycle coming. Why argue that she was going faster? What would be gained even if the jury would believe she was going 25, or even 35, miles per hour?
The ability to deal with the interplay between the cars comes from experience. A motorcycle accident lawyer must be able to understand the interplay between:
- what happened when,
- where the vehicles were,
- what the drivers saw at each point, and
- what maneuvers were available at the possible speeds.
Only by being able to easily understand the importance of each of these factors can the lawyer understand how to present the facts. Only through motorcycle experience is the importance of each fact clear to understanding what happened.