A motorcycle accident can cause serious injury to the biker, and to the driver and passengers of other vehicles involved. Unfortunately, many motorcyclists ride without insurance coverage. That can cause problems after a crash. Find out what your options are after an uninsured motorcycle accident.
Michigan has nearly half a million registered motorcycle operators. Now that the weather has finally broken, those motorcyclists will be hitting the highways, taking advantage of Michigan's open roads. Drivers may not be used to looking out for these smaller vehicles yet, so this is motorcycle accident season.
Eighty percent of all motorcycle accidents result in serious injury or death. In 2016 (the last year on record) 113 motorcyclists died in fatal motorcycle accidents. That's 12% of all fatal crashes in the state. Most Michigan motorcyclists have insurance to cover those injuries, but sometimes they don't. An uninsured motorcycle accident can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal injury and non-economic damages. The question is how you can collect that recovery.
Michigan law says that all motorcyclists must carry liability insurance. This policy is designed to cover losses from property damage, personal injury, and death related to the "ownership, maintenance, or use" of their motorcycle. MCL 500.3103. Motorcycle liability insurance must cover at least $20,000 per person or $40,000 per accident in bodily injury or death benefits and $10,000 in property damages.
This is separate from Michigan's no-fault insurance. Most bikers also own a motor vehicle. When that's the case, their mandatory no-fault insurance policy will pay for personal injuries, wage loss, and replacement services resulting from a motorcycle accident involving a motor vehicle. Any time a car is involved, the motorcyclist can use their car insurance to pay for doctors, hospitals, household bills, and other expenses covered by the statute.
Motorcyclists may also choose to purchase "first-party medical benefits" similar to those covered by no-fault. This PIP coverage is generally purchased in $5,000 increments and covers any motorcycle accidents without a car involved. If a biker has a motorcycle endorsement on his or her license and chooses to ride without a helmet, he or she is required to carry at least $20,000 per person of that personal injury coverage. MCL 257.658(5)(c).
If a motorcyclist fails to live up to the state's legal expectations for insurance coverage, it can have serious consequences after an uninsured motorcycle accident. Under the Michigan No-Fault Act, if a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident but doesn't have the necessary insurance on his or her motor vehicle or motorcycle, he or she loses access to any PIP benefits under the statute. MCL 500.3113. If you ride uninsured, you run the risk of hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills with no access to PIP insurance coverage. Because this insurance is mandatory, riding without it could also affect whether you are considered "at fault" for the accident.
Uninsured motorcycle accidents also injure non-bikers. Drivers, passengers, and pedestrians can be seriously injured from a biker's negligence. The first line of defense against personal injury costs in this kind of case is still your own no-fault insurance (or that of a spouse or relative in your household).
When an uninsured motorcycle accident causes death, disability, or substantial impairment of a bodily function, you are also entitled to file a Third-Party negligence lawsuit against the motorcyclists. However, unless an uninsured motorcyclist happens to have large personal assets, you may not be able to recover from that judgment. In these cases, you may be able to tap into your own optional uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage to make up the difference. UIM coverage is designed to pay for liability damages otherwise unavailable from an at-fault motorist. Depending on the specific language of your UIM policy, it may also cover an uninsured motorcycle accident.
In an interesting quirk of the law, it now appears that even uninsured motorcyclists can recover non-economic damages in a Third Party lawsuit when the other driver was at fault for the crash. In Brickey v McCarver, Tracy Brickey was severely injured when his motorcycle was struck by a vehicle driven by Vincent McCarver. Brickey didn't have motorcycle insurance as required by the law. McCarver and his insurance company argued that the same law that prevents uninsured motorcyclists from collecting PIP benefits should apply to non-economic damages as well.
However, the Michigan Court of Appeals said the law limiting Third-Party cases is missing two key words that would prevent tort liability in an uninsured motorcycle accident case. The section of the law relating to bodily injury coverage prevents recovery when "[t]he person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident" but didn't have the required insurance. However, the section that applies to non-economic damages is missing the "or motorcycle" part.
Because the Michigan No-Fault Act defines a motor vehicle as having three or more wheels, a motorcycle is not a motor vehicle. That means an uninsured motorcyclist is cut off from personal injury benefits, but can still sue for non-economic damages like pain and suffering, long-term disability or lost wages, or loss of companionship (consortium).
Understanding your rights after an uninsured motorcycle accident depends on your role in the crash, who was at fault, and what kind of recovery you need. At Sachs Waldman, our experienced personal injury attorneys are here to help. We will review your circumstances, and your insurance policies, to get you the recovery you need. If you have been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, contact our Detroit personal injury law office at 1-800-638-6722.