Articles Posted in Motorcycle Accidents

I have a love/hate relationship with dogs. I love my dog, but I hate dogs who chase me on my bike or who snarl at me on my runs. When I go bike riding out on the country roads near Geneva, NY where I live, I even carry a small pepper spray canister to defend myself from man’s best friend.

Yes, I protect myself from “unleashed” dogs.  But unfortunately, New York State negligence law does not.  Believe me.  As a NY personal injury lawyer who handles dog bite / attack cases, I know first hand!

The problem in New York – unlike in other states – is that to hold a dog owner liable for injuries, you need to show the owner knew or should have known the dog had “vicious propensities”. If you do, the owner is “strictly” liable to you for your injuries.  That’s all well and good where a dog with a history of biting or attacking bites you, but not much else.

It’s motor cycle season again. While I don’t have the statistics for last year yet, I know that a total of 4,381 motorcyclists died in U.S. crashes in 2013. That’s about 30 times the number of people who died in car crashes, even though many more cars than bikes travel our roads.

Many of those deaths are not the bikers’ fault; four-wheel drivers just don’t see motorcycles. They then cut them off or come blasting out from stop signs into their right of way.

But of course many bikers cause their own death or serious injury, too. One way to do it is called “lane-splitting”. That’s where you ride through the space between cars in parallel traffic lanes. If a cop catches you, it’ll cost you 2-points on your license. If a car “catches” you, it could cost you your life.

Hey bikers, it’s me, your Central New York motorcycle accident lawyer with some motorcycle safety tips for heavy traffic riding. That’s where a lot of the accidents happen, so listen up. I’m warning you, you’re going to have to multi-task out there when competing with heavy traffic. And if you don’t do it right you could end up wrong. I’m talking road kill or hood ornament.

(1) Ride in open zones

Look for those gaps between vehicles and try to ride them. This will keep those big hunks of moving metal away from you and give you more room to maneuver and react.

Good news for motorcyclists. A bill (S. 7138) just passed the NY State Senate that would require “motorcycle awareness” training as part of the Department of Motor Vehicle’s mandatory 5-hour course that all new drivers are required to take. The training would educate new drivers on how to be aware of, and share the road with, motorcyclists.

The bill, which is expected to also pass in the Assembly, be signed by the Governor, and thus to become law, was prompted by a recent upswing in motorcycle accidents in upstate New York. Oswego County has been especially hit hard – motorcycle collisions have claimed four lives in Oswego already this season, a new record.

Why the upswing in motorcycle accidents? In recent years, with the high cost of gas, more New Yorkers are giving up their four wheels for two. In Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties alone, for example, the number of registered motorcycles has increased 16 percent since 2007. More motorcycles usually means more motorcycle accidents. (Paradoxically, if there were many more motorcycles on the road, we would probably see FEWER motorcycle accidents. Read why here).

Monday I was scheduled to try a Seneca County NY motorcycle accident case in the Seneca County Courthouse in Waterloo. But as often happens, the case settled on the eve of trial, in this case Sunday afternoon.

Why do personal injury cases settle so late in the game, after the attorneys have put so much work into preparing for trial”? In one word, “pressure”. The pressure of an upcoming trial transforms the psychology of the parties and the lawyers. The weaknesses of your own case suddenly come into focus as never before. The risks of trial loom larger. This happens on both sides. When the parties’ positions are not far apart to begin with, splitting the difference suddenly seems more palatable.

Trying cases is exciting, fun and, yes, frightening, especially for the client who usually has never been to court. The cases that get tried are the ones where the parties are miles apart. Where the positions are “within firing range” of each other, the pressures of trial often lead to a settlement on the courthouse steps.

The Syracuse Post Standard reports, in an article titled, “Oswego County Motorcycle Deaths Increasing“, that three motorcyclists have been killed already this year in Oswego County, and we are only in April. This totals more than the full-year of motorcycle fatalities in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Why? Warm weather has meant more bikers out earlier and, as the Post Standard notes, “drivers may not be prepared to see them”.

But the warm weather is not the only factor responsible for more motorcycles on the road: high gas prices have pushed more motorists to switch to motorcycles. As a result, motorcycle registration is up all over New York State, including in Oswego County.

Eric Turkewitz, a celebrated New York personal injury blogger, recently blogged about the case of Hastings v. Suave, in which a cow wandered from a fenced-in pasture into a road at night and caused a car to collide with it, injuring its driver. Eric noted that the Third Department (intermediate appellate court) affirmed dismissal of the case because, under a weird quirk of New York law, an owner of a domestic animal cannot be held liable for negligence in allowing his animal to escape. Rather, he can only be held liable if he knew or should have known the animal had vicious propensities. The Third Department Court was reluctant to dismiss the case, but its hand was forced by existing case law, which clearly requires a finding that the animal was vicious or at least “abnormal”. As Eric points out, the law in New York does not recognize a cause of action for negligent failure to restrain a large, but passive, animal such as a cow.

Here’s my personal footnote to Eric’s great blog post: In upstate New york, where I practice personal injury litigation, there are lots of cows, and some of them invariably stray off into roadways. And I have settled “wandering cow” cases with insurance adjusters for significant money. I recall a case a few years ago where the cow had escaped at night because the dairy farmer had failed to mend a gap in the fence for several weeks. A car collided with the cow, causing injuries to its driver and passengers. The insurance adjuster never even challenged me on liability.

Yes, I know the law. But I also know that most insurance adjusters do not. They simply assume a farmer can be held liable for negligently failing to fence in, leash, or restrain an animal. That’s because such a rule makes sense, even if it is not the rule in New york.

In this balmy Central New York May, with the little snow that ever fell a distant memory, the biker’s feel that call of the wild — that desire to feel the wind in your face and hear the roar between your butt and the road. Motorcyclists all over Central New York are dusting off their bikes, revving up their motors, and checking their tire pressure.

But special dangers lurk on the roads in spring. Residual salt and sand might be found at corners, intersections and even on the main roads and highways. Stopping or turning too fast on sand can make you slide, fall, lose control or cross over into the oncoming lane.

Here’s another danger: Over the long winter, those four-wheeled drivers have forgotten what a two-wheel vehicle looks like. Or at least lost the habit of looking out for them. Wise advice: Ride as if every motorist is out to murder you. Just believe it! You will thus avoid them at every opportunity, and you will be doubly happy if they turn out to have no such murderous intent.

New York personal injury cases can take weird twists and turns, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Here’s one that took a dramatic turn for the better, twice!

A client was badly, really badly, injured in an upstate New York car crash. But the at-fault driver (who was also the owner) of the car was insured for only $100,000, and all the evidence about him (where he lived, the type of vehicle he was driving, etc.) indicated he would have no significant assets beyond the insurance policy.

So I called my client into my office to give him the bad news: It looked like $100,000 was all that was available to compensate him for his terrible loss, including past and future medical expenses, a lifetime of lost wages, and a large dose of lifetime pain and suffering. You can’t get water from a rock, and this negligent driver looked like a really, really dry rock.

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