Winning a Florida motorcycle accident claim just got harder for helmetless riders – even when the crash isn’t their fault. This is thanks to a sweeping Florida tort reform measure that shifted the way our courts hold negligent drivers accountable.
To be clear, Florida’s motorcycle helmet law remains unchanged. F.S. 316.211 allows adults over 21 with at least $10,000 in medical insurance benefits for self-sustained injuries to operate or ride on a motorcycle without a helmet.
The issue is the passage of Florida HB 837 and companion bill SB 236, which changed Florida from a state that follows a fault system of pure comparative negligence to one of modified comparative negligence with a 51 percent bar.
In layman’s terms: More than one person can be at-fault for an accident that results in personal injuries. A pure comparative negligence is a system of fault whereby everyone is financially responsible for their own share of the blame in an accident. So if you’re 35 percent at-fault for your own injuries, you can still sue the other person at-fault to collect on the remaining 65 percent. With pure comparative fault, you can be 99 percent liable/legally responsible for your own injuries, and still collect the remaining 1 percent from the other at-fault party. (That’s an extreme case that certainly isn’t ideal, but you aren’t prohibited from collecting damages inflicted by someone else’s wrongdoing just because you were also responsible.) Florida – up until March 2023 – adhered to a system of pure comparative fault for accidents and personal injuries.
HB 837 transformed Florida into a state that adheres to a system of modified comparative fault with a 51 percent fault. This means you can still hold the other negligent person accountable for their share of fault, even if you’re to blame – but only if your percentage of the fault doesn’t exceed 50 percent. If your share of legal responsibility is 51 percent or higher, you are not able to collect anything at all – even if they are 49 percent responsible.
Now, this impacts ALL motorists in Florida. However, it will have an outsized impact on motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets. The reason?
Because even though foregoing a helmet is legal for insured adult operators, it is still considered comparative fault if you did not wear a helmet and your injuries could have been prevented/mitigated if you did. (This is similar to the so-called seat belt defense that can assert comparative fault for injured drivers or passengers who weren’t wearing a seat belt.)
So let’s say you’re riding your motorcycle in West Palm Beach one day and are rear-ended by someone in a car. You’re ejected from the motorcycle and suffer serious head, neck, and spinal injuries. You weren’t wearing a helmet. Although lawful, foregoing the helmet can still be considered comparative negligence in Florida. If the court finds the bulk of your injuries could have been largely prevented if you’d been wearing a helmet, it’s possible that would be enough to push your degree of comparative fault over that 50 percent mark. Even though it was a rear-end collision, meaning there’s a rebuttable presumption the rear driver was negligent, it’s possible you might still collect nothing.
Under the previous system of pure comparative negligence, you would still have been able to collect on the remaining 49 percent of damages. In a motorcycle accident case, that amount could end up being substantial. For instance, let’s say your total damages in a West Palm Beach motorcycle were $500,000. The other party’s share at 49 percent would amount to $245,000. You’d be able to collect that amount under a system of pure comparative negligence. But under the new modified comparative fault system, you are entitled to nothing.
Limiting the amount of comparative negligence asserted by the defense has always been a priority for our injury law team. Any amount of comparative negligence reduces the amount of money you’re entitled to collect in a civil injury case. But now, this point is even more critical.
It’s even more important for motorcycle accident victims, as they aren’t entitled to no-fault PIP (personal injury protection) coverage. Their sole recourse is going after the negligent third party. That means wearing a helmet is more important now than ever – even though the law does not require it.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
F.S. 316.211, Equipment for Motorcycle & Moped Riders
More Blog Entries:
Big Changes to Law Will Impact Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit Claimants, April 3, 2023, South Florida Motorcycle Accident Lawyers