Motorcycles are a popular recreation vehicle; for some drivers, they are the best way to beat the high fuel cost and make getting around town easy. Motorcycles offer fuel-efficient transportation and provide the operator with a sense of freedom. Unfortunately, too many people lose their life while operating a motorcycle.
Missouri Motorcycle Accident Statistics
Missouri weather is not always conducive to operating a motorcycle. Statistics show that of all 50 states, we rank 44th in motorcycle ownership, with the total number of registered motorcycles in Missouri at 126,799. However, this does not mean that we do not face numerous motorcycle accidents.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in one recent year, 2,177 accidents involved motorcycles. These crashes resulted in nearly 1,900 injuries and 118 deaths. Keep in mind these numbers are more than simple statistics. Each fatality represents a person who has left a grieving family behind.
When a family learns their loved one could be alive if not for the negligence of another person, or the lack of action by a government agency, this merely compounds their grief and pain.
Seeking Justice for the Loss of a Loved One
One of the challenges family members face after losing a loved one in a motorcycle accident is gathering information. Many states restrict who may access information regarding an accident. This is not true in Missouri. Anyone who has access to the internet can obtain information regarding accidents by accessing the Missouri State Highway Patrol website and may request an accident report for various reasons.
When someone has lost a loved one in a Missouri motorcycle accident, they need to know the accident occurred and are seeking answers as to why it happened. Suppose they learn the accident was caused by a negligent driver or poor road conditions. In that case, they may seek the guidance of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney and ask for assistance to hold the responsible party financially accountable. In some cases, this may involve filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Criminal Cases Versus Civil Cases
Wrongful death is considered a civil matter. One need not prove criminal intent to establish that they lost a loved one due to negligent conduct, which was deliberate or otherwise.
Some of the reasons a loved one may have lost their life in a motorcycle accident, which would allow a family to seek civil damages, include:
- Intoxicated driver: If a driver is operating under the influence and causes an accident where someone loses their life, they may face criminal charges. Still, they can also face a civil lawsuit.
- Speeding/reckless driver: When a driver is operating a motor vehicle in a manner that puts everyone on the roadway at risk, they are being irresponsible. This type of negligence can lead to a fatal motorcycle accident.
These are only a few instances where someone may be held liable for a family’s loss following a motorcycle accident.
There are other potential causes for fatal motorcycle accidents, including:
- Faulty tires or brakes on a car or truck
- Driver ignoring their blind spot and not seeing the motorcycle
- The driver makes a legal turn but fails to see the motorcycle
Family members who need help determining whether they have the basis for a wrongful death claim should seek guidance from a personal injury attorney. Only by having a lawyer review the evidence and information about an accident will someone be able to provide the right advice.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Missouri
Missouri wrongful death statutes specifically state plaintiffs can bring claims when “the death of a person results from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction, or circumstance which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages.”
While no one believes that any amount of money could compensate loved ones for the loss of someone, it can help with some of the unexpected financial burdens which accompany such a death, including:
- Medical care from the time of the accident through death
- Loss of future wages and income
- Unexpected funeral and burial expenses
When the decedent was a family breadwinner, the surviving family’s financial burden is significant. Families often face serious financial challenges after losing a breadwinner in the family. A wrongful death lawsuit can help overcome some of these challenges.
There are predetermined time limits for filing wrongful death claims. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.100 (2021) state that plaintiffs must file these claims within three years of the death of a loved one. While families often think this is a significant amount of time, it is important to understand the initial claim will likely go through an insurance company.
Insurers and Wrongful Death Claims
Insurance companies do not like to pay claims. While their customer is paying premiums annually, they are making a profit. The minute their customer causes an accident, they will lose money when they pay the claim that the injured party files. When the accident results in death, they may have to pay a larger claim. Therefore, the adjuster for the insurance company will attempt to get the family to settle for an amount that is typically lower than what might be expected.
No one expects money can ever replace the love, companionship, and emotional support of a loved one. However, money can help provide the potential for a solid financial future for the spouse and children of those left behind. Remember, insurance adjusters are not there to protect victims or their families. They work for the insurer and are there to protect the insurance company. This is why a wrongful death lawyer can help a family when filing a claim.
Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney to Represent a Victim’s Family
One of the most important reasons to hire an attorney to represent a family following the loss of a loved one in a motorcycle accident is to establish liability.
To pursue a claim, you need a motorcycle accident lawyer who can prove:
- The responsible party owed the decedent a duty of care: Everyone on the roadway owes everyone else a duty of care. This means they are operating their vehicle responsibly, following traffic signals, and are not distracted while operating their vehicle.
- The responsible party breached their duty of care: When someone is driving under the influence, driving while using their cell phone, or driving recklessly, they are considered to have breached their duty of care.
- The breach of care caused a loss: When someone loses their life because of a motorcycle accident, there is clear evidence of a loss.
Always remember the insurance company will have an attorney representing them during any claim an injured victim makes. If the victim succumbs to their injuries, the insurance company will have an attorney advising them on how to deal with grieving family members.
Families who are torn apart by grief are highly emotional. Handing the negotiations with an insurance company over to a skilled attorney acting in their best interest can be helpful. It often results in a larger settlement than if the victim’s family attempted to secure a settlement alone.
Potential Settlement Amounts in Wrongful Death Claims
Nearly every family seeking legal help will ask, “how much can we collect when filing a wrongful death claim.” This question is impossible to answer without knowing the specifics of a case.
Several factors may play a role in the final settlement amount, including:
- Medical bills of the decedent as a result of the fatal accident: This may include ambulance costs, emergency room costs, surgical intervention if performed, etc.
- Future earning capacity of decedent: Families may be able to seek compensation for the loss of future income of the decedent. The younger the loved one, the higher their earning capacity will likely be in the future.
- Non-economic losses: In some cases, it may be possible to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other non-economic losses. An attorney can explain these losses further.
Families should not be economically disadvantaged because of someone’s negligence. When a loved one loses their life because of a motorcycle accident, it is possible to hold the negligent party financially accountable for their action or inaction.
Cost of Hiring an Attorney for Wrongful Death Claims
When someone has lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, they may feel they cannot afford to hire an attorney. This would be a mistake for several reasons. First, attorneys are experienced in dealing with insurance companies, and therefore they understand the guidelines under which they work. A lawyer also knows the laws and how they pertain to wrongful death cases. Unless a family has extensive experience, having someone with this knowledge can be immensely helpful.
Remember, most cases will not be heard in court. Generally, an insurance company does not want a case to go to court because juries are often unpredictable. The cost of jury trials is high. Therefore, settling wrongful death claims outside of court is in everyone’s best interest. This raises the question of how much an attorney will charge for handling a wrongful death claim.
Here is what families should know:
- Free no-obligation consultation: A family member seeking financial compensation following losing a loved one in a motorcycle accident can request a free consultation with an attorney who handles these types of claims. There is no obligation to hire an attorney after the consultation.
- Contingency fee agreements: In nearly all cases, an attorney who accepts a wrongful death case will work on a contingency fee basis. This means that unless and until they successfully obtain a settlement on behalf of a grieving family, there will be no legal fees. Legal fees are paid at the time the family receives a settlement. Other fees may have to be paid, but families will not pay for lawyer fees.
Some people believe that once they have hired an attorney, they lose control over settlements. This is a myth. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to share all settlement offers with their clients. While a lawyer may explain the pros and cons of all such offers to their clients and provide their opinion on whether the offer should be accepted or rejected, they cannot make a unilateral decision regarding the settlement. Each offer must be presented to the client for approval, and the client always has the final word on whether the offer should be accepted or rejected.
Families Have a Right to Seek Financial Compensation
Losing a loved one means a family is dealing with a range of emotions. While the most common emotion is grief, we also know when someone learns their loved one would be alive if not for the negligent conduct of a third party, other emotions may cloud their best judgment. This is why an attorney is a necessity in dealing with the complexities of wrongful death claims.
When someone has suffered the loss of a loved one in a motorcycle accident, they have the legal right to seek compensation for their loss. An attorney can help families who have suffered a loss get the maximum settlement. Contact a wrongful death claims attorney for a free consultation. Learn more about the legal options available to families and how a St. Louis personal injury lawyer can help with the claims process following the death of a loved one. An attorney can help families deal with the financial trauma of their loss and ensure that insurance companies treat them fairly throughout the claim.