It’s no secret that motorcycle helmets save lives. Plus, they reduce the risk of head injury by 69% (CDC, Motorcycle Safety).
Even though the benefits of wearing a motorcycle helmet are clear, many people still choose not to wear them. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that 31% of motorcyclists choose to forgo helmet use. (USDOT, Motorcycle Helmet Use in 2020).
If you have been in a motorcycle crash without a helmet in Florida, our Pensacola motorcycle accident lawyers will stand by you to fight for the compensation you may be entitled to. Contact us to review your case.
Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Increase Use Among Riders?
State helmet laws correlate with safety. For example, Florida amended its all-rider motorcycle helmet law in 2000. Today, motorcycle helmets are not universally required in the state. In the years that followed the law’s repeal, the number of motorcyclists killed in crashes nearly doubled. Those not wearing helmets as a percentage of those killed increased from 9.4% to 60.8%. (NHTSA, Effects of the Law Change in Florida).
Legally, what becomes of these motorcyclists who choose not to wear a helmet? Can they still receive financial compensation for their injuries? Is the compensation they receive reduced because they weren’t wearing a helmet? The answer is complicated.
Can you still get compensation if you weren’t wearing a motorcycle helmet in an accident?
The answer is – it depends. Motorcycle helmet laws are determined by each state. Negligence laws are determined at a state level, too. There are significant variations in how it’s handled when an accident claim involves a person who was not wearing a motorcycle helmet at the time of the crash.
What is the rule in Florida?
In Florida, you can likely still receive compensation if you are in a motorcycle accident without wearing a helmet. While failing to wear a helmet probably will not stop you from bringing a legal claim, it is unclear whether your compensation will be decreased.
Florida does not have a law that says how failing to wear a motorcycle helmet impacts an accident claim. Similarly, the courts have not yet addressed how not wearing a helmet should be treated in negligence litigation.
While it is unlikely that a claim would be barred entirely by failing to wear a helmet, it is possible that the amount a victim receives could be reduced to the extent that their injuries may have been avoided or made less severe by wearing a helmet. However, until Florida lawmakers pass a law or the courts decide a case on the topic, litigants are left to guess as they bring and negotiate cases. This uncertainty likely will impact the value of your settlement. It may make the potential value of your case vary considerably if you were to take the case to trial.
Discussion of Florida Law for No-Helmet Use in a Motorcycle Accident
Raising the issue of the victim not wearing a helmet in a motorcycle crash is called the motorcycle helmet defense.
There are a few different ways that states handle accident claims when the victim isn’t wearing a helmet at the time of the crash:
- Motorcycle helmet defense not recognized: Some states do not allow the defense at all. They completely prohibit the defendant from entering evidence or making arguments relating to the person’s failure to wear a helmet.
- Comparative negligence: In states that view no helmet use as comparative negligence, the defense can enter evidence of non-helmet use as negligence. That is the person contributed directly to the crash and their injuries by failing to wear the helmet.
- Failure to mitigate damages: Where non-helmet use is treated as a failure to mitigate damages, not wearing the helmet is not admissible as comparative negligence. Rather, it is admitted to show that damages should be reduced because the victim did not do what they reasonably could to minimize their damages.
A state’s approach often mirrors its acceptance of the seatbelt defense – whether failing to wear a seatbelt is comparative negligence or a failure to mitigate damages. However, some states, Florida included, have different seatbelt and motorcycle helmet use laws. Seatbelts may be universally required or required in most cases, while motorcycle helmets are not. Therefore, it’s not always possible to glean how the courts may view non-helmet use from their treatment of failing to wear a seatbelt.
Are there any Florida court cases that address no helmet use as a defense to a motorcycle accident claim?
A Florida court came close to addressing the issue in Rex Utilities, Inc. v. Gaddy, 413 So.2d 1232 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982). The case was based on an accident where the victim died after being thrown from a motorcycle into a trench near the road. The defense wanted to present evidence of a lack of head protection on the victim’s part. However, they didn’t have any evidence to show that the victim may have lived if they had worn a helmet.
The defense neurosurgeon could testify only that they had no way of knowing if damages could have been reduced by wearing a helmet. For this reason, the court never ruled on the lack of helmet use as a defense. Instead, they ruled that the defendant could not present the information because they didn’t have evidence that helmet use would have made a difference.
Comparing Florida’s No-Seatbelt and No-Helmet Approaches
Florida Statutes § 316.614(10) is a law that addresses explicitly not wearing a seatbelt as comparative negligence. It says that non-seatbelt use is evidence of comparative negligence, but it is not negligence per se.
Florida does not have a similar law for motorcycles. In addition, seatbelts are required by law in most circumstances in Florida, where motorcycle helmets are not required for most adults carrying insurance minimums. Therefore, it would be incorrect to read too much into Florida Statutes § 316.614(10) as an indicator of whether the courts would treat the motorcycle helmet defense similarly.
See also Insurance Co. of North America v. Pasakarnis, 451 So.2d 447 (Fla. 1984) (stating that non-use of a seatbelt must be a pleaded defense. Non-use must have substantially contributed to at least a portion of damages).
Fighting for the Rights of Motorcycle Crash Victims
On the one hand, putting on a motorcycle helmet is known to save lives, and it takes just a moment. However, allowing the motorcycle helmet defense violates one of the most fundamental principles of tort law – that a tortfeasor takes the victim as they find them.
Have you been injured in a motorcycle accident? Even if you weren’t wearing a helmet, we can help. Our lawyers want to fight for your rights. We will pursue every avenue possible for you to receive justice for your claim. Contact us today to talk about your case.