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How a Motorcyclist’s Failure to Wear a Proper Helmet Can Affect an Injury Claim

In Tennessee, all motorcycle riders, including passengers, are required to wear helmets that meet federal safety standards. Not only can lack of a proper helmet result in serious harm to the rider, but defense counsel in a personal injury action can use that failure to argue that the rider was partly or mostly to blame for the rider's injuries. That means the rider’s monetary recovery may be reduced — or even barred in some cases.

Tennessee follows the rule of modified comparative negligence. A plaintiff can recover damages in a personal injury action only if they were less than 50 % responsible for the accident and the injuries. Even if a motorcycle crash victim is less than 50 % or less at fault, the amount of recovery to which they are entitled is reduced by their share of the blame. For example, if the jury found the plaintiff proved $100,000 in damages but was 20 % at fault, the award would be reduced to $80,000.

There are two main arguments that defense counsel often make to reduce a motorcycle rider’s recovery in an injury lawsuit. One is to place blame on the rider for causing the crash, such as by speeding or making unsafe maneuvers. The other is to claim that the rider’s lack of a proper helmet contributed to the severity and extent of the injury sustained.

Under Tennessee law, adult riders must wear helmets meeting federal regulations that set minimum performance requirements. These rules concern such aspects as helmet shape, head coverage, fastening mechanisms, penetrability, shock absorption and range of vision. If a helmet did not provide the protection required by the regulations, it may have worsened an injury sustained to the rider’s head and/or neck. The defense could argue that lack of a compliant helmet was 50 % or more of the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In any case, the rider’s degree of fault will decrease their damages.

If you’ve been in a motorcycle accident, you need a personal injury attorney on your side who knows how to counter arguments by the defense that lack of a proper helmet was substantially to blame. This means presenting evidence that other factors were the primary causes.

Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. represents motorcycle accident victims in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City and throughout Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. With an office in Bristol, we also offer hospital and home visits for the convenience of clients. Call 423-797-6022 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.