The tricky truth about being involved in a motorcycle accident in Tennessee
Being involved in a motorcycle accident can lead to severe injuries and death, which is why most states have some type of helmet law in effect. Tennessee is no exception, and its helmet law is outlined in Section 55-9-302 of the Tennessee Code. That statute states that all drivers and passengers shall be required to wear a crash helmet meeting specific federal standards. Further, Tennessee Code Section 55-9-304 requires drivers and passengers of motorcycles without windshields to wear safety goggles, face shields, or glasses containing impact resistant lenses.
Failure to wear a motorcycle helmet can result in the charge of a class C misdemeanor, which could result in fines or up to 30 days in jail. Not all agree with the Tennessee helmet law and there have been attempts to change the law. For example, Tennessee House Bill 700, proposed during the 2015-2016 legislative session, would have allowed drivers and passengers over the age of 21 to decide whether they want to wear a helmet or not. That bill did not pass the Senate and, therefore, the old law remains.
Helmet laws are geared towards reducing injuries and fatalities from those injured in motorcycle accidents. In fact, wearing a helmet decreases a rider’s chance of dying in an accident by 37%. Data from a study conducted by the Georgia Highway Safety Association revealed 5,010 fatalities in the United States and District of Columbia in 2015, with 123 of those fatalities occurring in Tennessee. That number placed Tennessee at number 13 out of 51 in the number of deaths due to motorcycle accidents. Several of Tennessee’s neighboring states made the top of the list as well, with North Carolina coming in at number 4, South Carolina coming in at number 5, and Georgia coming in at number 11.
However, there are many reasons why someone may choose not to wear a helmet while riding on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, if that person is involved in an accident, not only do they have a greater chance of being killed or seriously injured, receiving a citation, and/or being arrested, they also have a chance of not being able to recover financially for their injuries.
To explain how this scenario could unfold, I will give an example. Say John is the driver of a motorcycle and is sideswiped by the driver of a car, Sally. The impact was caused because Sally was checking her texts and swerved out of her lane. This accident caused John to be ejected from his motorcycle, causing serious injuries, including a brain injury. A doctor treating John stated that if he were wearing his helmet, he would have received injuries to his body, but it is possible he would not have sustained the brain injury. The issue here is whether John can recover for the brain injury, since he was violating the law by not wearing his helmet and could have prevented the brain injury if he were wearing the helmet.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and this is a scenario and in these very difficult situations, the case will likely need to be brought to court for a resolution. This is because, many times, the insurance company will either make a low offer to settle the claim or refuse to offer any settlement at all, claiming the motorcycle driver and/or passenger should have been wearing a helmet. At a trial, the jury would hear the facts of the case and determine whether the injuries were a result of not wearing a helmet, and, if so, decide if the driver of the motorcycle is entitled to recover and to what extent.
If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, keep in mind that you could still recover for your injuries even if you were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. It is crucial for those involved in motorcycle accidents to immediately contact an attorney with knowledge specifically about motorcycle laws and who have handled motorcycle cases.