Tennessee law requires all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear a helmet that meets safety specifications. If the person is under age 21, the helmet must meet federal standards set in 49 CFR 571.218. If the person is age 21 or older, the helmet must only pass the lesser standards set in Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-9-302. Violation of Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to 30 days in county jail.
However, what if a person without a helmet (or wearing a helmet that does not meet the legal standards) gets into an accident? Does failure to wear the helmet impact a motorcyclist’s injury claim? The answer is no and yes.
Under Tennessee law, failure to wear a helmet is negligence per se. However, the rider’s failure to wear a helmet is not negligence that caused the crash that led to the injuries. So, if the rider is not claiming a head injury, the absence of a helmet is not an issue in the case. But if the rider does claim a head injury, the defense can argue that failing to wear the helmet was negligence that caused his head to be injured — or at least increased the extent of the head injury. The case then becomes a battle of experts in brain injuries and crash helmet reliability. The plaintiff’s experts will argue that a helmet would have made little to no difference in the rider’s injury, while the defense experts will argue that the head injury was made at least 100 percent worse.
Why is “100 percent worse” important? Because that would mean the injured rider was responsible for 50 percent of the harm he suffered. Under Tennessee’s modified comparative fault law, the injured rider could not sue the defendant for any compensation.
Motorcycle accident litigation can be complex. If you have questions about your case, speak to a concerned attorney at Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. Call us today at 423-797-6022 to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact us online.