My father was a bone doctor. He made his living putting broken human bodies, among them motorcyclists’ bodies, back together again, kind of like “all the kings’ horses and all the kings men” in that Humpty Dumpty rhyme. He was a loving, gentle father, and very seldom lost his temper. But there was one thing he was extremely strict about: “Mike, you are never to get on a murdercycle (his word for “motorcycle”), and if you do, and I found out, you will be severely punished”. He made me promise I would not, and I did in fact promise. He had seen too many young men, dead and living, whose bodies had been broken to pieces in motorcycle crashes.
Well, I won’t tell you if I ever broke that promise (I’ll “take the 5th”), but I can tell you that, as a Syracuse NY Accident lawyer, I have almost the same perception as dad did about how dangerous motorcycles are. Recently, this has hit home pretty hard. A friend’s husband left her widowed, and his three small children fatherless, when he died in a Cayuga County motorcycle crash. It is heartbreaking to see her struggling alone with such young children.
Whenever I represent an injured motorcyclist, or the family of a dead cyclist, in court, I am always concerned that the jury will feel that motorcycles are dangerous, too dangerous, and will want to blame my client for riding one, even if the accident was completely the fault of the car driver. In other words, I am afraid my father will be sitting on that jury!
New York Motorcycle law is very clear about this: The jury is not allowed to blame the motorcyclist simply for riding a motorcycle. The injured motorcyclist has the same rights as any another injured motorist. Although biking is more dangerous than driving a car, everyone has a perfect right to choose to ride a motorcycle, and to assume those risks. Although the jury can apportion some fault to the motorcyclist if he was driving negligently and this contributed to the accident, the jury cannot apportion fault to him based on the simple fact that he chose to ride a motorcycle. A motorcyclist who is struck by a negligent motorist is entitled to full recovery for his or her lost wages, medical expenses and pain and suffering.
I have a motorcycle accident jury trial coming up in the spring. As a Syracuse New York motorcycle accident lawyer, I know that one of my most important tasks is to carefully screen the potential jury members (in a process known as “jury selection”) about their attitude toward motorcyclists. If I sense that someone out there has anti-motorcyclist biases, I will try to get them removed from the jury panel “for cause”. The jury I do select will have to promise me that they will be fair and not blame the motorcyclist for simply exercising his or her right to enjoy the thrill and pleasure of riding a bike.
Sorry dad, but you won’t be on my jury!