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Motorcycle Helmet Laws

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Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Motorcycle helmet laws vary from state to state. Some states require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Three states have no helmet requirements at all. Others, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, have partial helmet requirements. Both of these states had universal helmet laws until the state legislatures repealed them in the 1970s, deciding that adults should be able to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. However, both states do still require younger riders to wear helmets.

Head injuries are the most common cause of death in motorcycle accidents and helmets can and do prevent some serious head injuries. But because motorcycles are inherently more dangerous to drive than other vehicles, even if you take every possible safety precaution, crashes still happen.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a motorcycle wreck, you need an experienced motorcycle accident attorney on your side who will help you recover the compensation you deserve.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Motorcycle Accidents Result in More Injuries and Fatalities Than Other Vehicle Crashes

While motorcycle rides can thrill you, the excitement goes hand in hand with increased danger because other drivers don't exercise the care you need to safely enjoy the road. Unlike in other modes of transportation, a motorcycle has no metal frame protecting its rider so a rider’s body is completely exposed to both other vehicles and the road. Being so unprotected increases the likelihood of serious injuries or death in an accident.

Motor vehicle accidents of any kind can result in fatalities, but motorcyclists are far more likely to die or suffer an injury in a crash. Motorcycle fatalities occur 26 times more frequently than passenger car fatalities. More than 5,000 people die in motorcycle accidents in the United States every year.

In Wisconsin there are more than 2,000 motorcycle accidents every year, resulting in more than 1,000 injuries—hundreds of which are serious—and more than 100 fatalities. In Minnesota, there are almost 1,000 motorcyclists injured in accidents each year, with about 5 percent of those injuries resulting in death.

Helmets greatly reduce the severity of motorcycle accidents. Of the motorcyclists who are killed each year, only between a quarter and a third of them were wearing helmets. Of the motorcyclists injured, fewer than 50 percent were wearing a helmet.

Common Injuries Resulting From Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle drivers can choose to wear protective gear even if they are not legally required to do so. However, because motorcyclists don’t have the benefit of an enclosed vehicle, accidents can lead to direct contact between other vehicles and the motorcyclist’s body, as well as their body and the road.

Common injuries that can result from a motorcycle crash include:

  • Road rash and skin scrapes;
  • Broken and/or shattered bones;
  • Muscle, tendon, and ligament damage;
  • Skull fractures;
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs);
  • Damage to organs;
  • Spinal Cord Injuries, which can cause permanent disability; and
  • Neck and back injuries.

Even the most minor of motorcycle accidents tend to necessitate medical care. Most victims of an accident must be taken to the hospital. Accidents usually result in expenses including ambulance bills, diagnostic imaging and tests, and treatment. You must contact a qualified motorcycle accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident so that you can promptly seek compensation for your injuries.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

The most common cause of death from motorcycle crashes is TBIs. Cyclists who are wearing helmets during a crash are far less likely to suffer head injuries, including TBIs, than those who choose not to wear a helmet. In Minnesota, more than two-thirds of motorcycle accident fatalities are riders who are not wearing a helmet. And while many motorcycle accidents are not fatal, brain injuries can lead to permanent disabilities.

A traumatic brain injury is an internal injury to brain tissue. It can be relatively minor and heal in a few weeks or months, or it can be a life-threatening catastrophic injury resulting in permanent damage or death.

Often, TBIs occur because there is external damage to the skull, which protects the brain. TBIs may happen during motorcycle accidents when the rider is thrown off of their bike, causing them to hit their head on the pavement, another vehicle, or a stationary object. Sometimes a blow to the head fragments the skull, thereby damaging brain tissue, or the brain is jostled around in the skull hard enough to damage nerves and blood vessels in the brain tissue.

TBI Symptoms

Not all TBIs show symptoms at first. This is frightening because an accident victim could have a potentially life-threatening TBI after an accident and not be aware of it. When a TBI goes undiagnosed, symptoms can rapidly progress and lead to death.

Some common symptoms of TBIs include:

  • Headache;
  • Bruising around the eyes;
  • Fluid leaking from the ears;
  • Blood behind the eardrum;
  • Loss of consciousness;
  • Rapidly falling blood pressure or increased heart rate;
  • Memory loss;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Increased irritability or difficulty focusing; and/or
  • Changes to the skull near the site of impact.

If you or a loved one displays any of these symptoms after a motorcycle accident, seek immediate emergency medical care.

Types of TBIs

Motorcycle accidents can cause different types of serious or even fatal TBIs.

They include:

  • Concussion: concussions can be serious and lead to loss of consciousness, as well as chronic headaches and other long-term symptoms.
  • Cerebral Contusion: This is a bruise on the brain, and causes physical damage to the organ.
  • Coup-Contrecoup Injury: This happens when one side of the skull is impacted, and the brain is slammed into the skull on the other side from the impact.
  • Epidural Hematoma: This occurs when someone hits the side of their head or temple, leading to an artery tear. The bleeding in the brain that results can quickly become fatal.
  • Subdural Hematoma: This happens when multiple blood vessels in the brain rupture, and often accompanies severe head trauma.

A motorcycle helmet can prevent many TBIs. Even non-fatal TBIs can lead to lifelong, serious complications, including chronic pain, memory loss, and early-onset dementia.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Even though Minnesota and Wisconsin repealed their universal motorcycle helmet laws in the 1970s, both still require minor riders to wear helmets while they’re on the road.

Wisconsin Statutes Section 347.485 requires that anyone under the age of 18—whether they are an operator or a passenger—to wear protective headgear that meets federal motorcycle helmet standards. An adult operator is not required to wear a helmet, but it is illegal for an adult to operate a motorcycle with a passenger who is under 18 if the passenger does not have a helmet.

Additionally, the state requires all riders to wear eye protection, regardless of their age. Eye protection can include a windshield as long as it is a certain height, but does not include sunglasses (unless prescribed by a doctor). Motorcycle rental companies must provide clean, usable, protective headgear for all of their customers.

Under Minnesota Statutes Section 169.974, anyone under the age of 18—whether they are an operator or a passenger—is required to wear protective headgear that complies with standards established by the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety. All riders must also wear protective eye gear.

Minnesota does not allow the windshield exception to its eye protection requirement, so if you are traveling back and forth between the two states, you must make sure to comply with both states’ laws. Wearing the legally required eye protection can do this.

The Importance of Motorcycle Helmets

While adults over the age of 18 may choose to opt out of wearing a helmet, the safety benefits of helmets are well established. A helmet is much stronger than the human skull and absorbs a large percentage of the impact of a crash. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that helmets reduce the risk of head injury in a crash by 69 percent.

Many bikers choose to forego wearing a helmet because they find them annoying, don’t like the way they look, or believe that they impair the rider’s hearing or sight. But the main cause of death in motorcycle accidents is from TBIs, which helmets can often prevent. And while accidents can injure other body parts, head injuries still cause most fatalities. A helmet is your best bet for avoiding death or serious injury in a motorcycle accident.

If you didn’t wear a helmet, though, that’s no excuse for a negligent driver crashing into you. Whether you wore a helmet or not, once you seek medical treatment, call a motorcycle accident lawyer.

What Compensation Can You Seek After a Motorcycle Accident?

If you were in a motorcycle accident that was another driver’s fault, you are entitled to seek compensation from that driver for your injuries and other damages.

Damages you can seek compensation for in a motorcycle accident personal injury case include:

  • Medical expenses: Motorcycle accident injuries can require long-term or even lifelong medical care. If your accident caused a spinal cord injury, a TBI, other permanent disability, or led to chronic pain, your medical expenses may quickly become exorbitant. Costs can include hospital stays, diagnostic tests, specialists, surgeries, skilled long-term nursing, rehabilitation, medication, medical equipment, physical therapy, and regular doctors’ visits.
  • Lost wages and reduced earning potential: Serious injuries mean a long recovery, and some injuries lead to permanent disabilities. Taking the time to heal will usually force you to take time off work, and injuries can sometimes make it impossible to perform your job duties. Some victims are never able to return to work again. Lost wages and reduced earning potential can be a huge part of a damages claim in any motorcycle injury case. Your family members can also sustain financial losses from lost wages if they must take time off to help during your recovery.
  • Pain and suffering: You can also claim damages for the psychological pain associated with your physical injuries. This can include compensation for depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health issues you have suffered because of your accident. You can also sometimes recover damages for lost quality or enjoyment of life. Your family members may also be eligible to make claims for pain and suffering if they have suffered a decreased quality of life or lost emotional support, companionship, or consortium from you because of your injuries.

An experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyer can help you seek compensation for:

  • Ambulance costs;
  • Emergency room treatment;
  • Hospital expenses for your initial stay, including any surgical and diagnostic costs;
  • Ongoing medical expenses associated with the injury, including any follow-up treatment or hospitalizations;
  • Rehabilitative care as you initially recover from the injury;
  • Long-term care or skilled nursing care;
  • Anticipated future care based on the extent of your injury;
  • Lost earnings and diminished future earning potential for you and/or your loved ones;
  • Pain and suffering and emotional distress for you and/or your loved ones;
  • Permanent impairment;
  • Reduction in quality of life; and/or
  • Wrongful death damages.

When you are on the road, other drivers owe you a duty of care and are responsible for following all traffic and safety laws. If another driver’s negligence injured you, you may seek compensation from that driver. Make sure to contact a motorcycle accident as soon as possible after your accident so that they can begin to gather evidence to establish that the driver was at fault.

How Can a Motorcycle Accident Attorney Assist You?

A motorcycle accident can cause enormous physical, mental, and emotional burdens on both you and your family. A compassionate and experienced motorcycle accident attorney can help give you peace of mind while you focus on your physical recovery.

An attorney will devise a strategy for your case, investigate and gather evidence, and work with experts to document and establish the full extent of your damages. Most accident lawyers offer a free initial case evaluation and work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they do not charge for their services unless and until they recover damages for you.



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