Throughout the country, lawmakers seem to be submitting to the pressure of lobbyists to repeal motorcycle helmet laws. Today, there are 27 states that allow motorcycle operators to make their own choice about whether to ride with a helmet, although there are certain age restrictions in most jurisdictions.
When a law changes and a state repeals a helmet law (or when no law exists in the first place), complicated legal questions can be raised regarding whether there is a "helmet defense." The state of Florida repealed its motorcycle helmet laws 10 years ago, so taking a look at what has occurred since is instructive in regard to how motorcyclists have been treated by courts after accidents where they had no helmet on.
The issue that arises concerns how to handle the helmet-free driver and passenger at trial. Is evidence of helmet use admissible with regard to liability or damages? Should there be a separate line on the verdict form that allows the jury to assess comparative negligence for the failure to wear a helmet, or , in the alternative, to reduce the damages almost arbitrarily based upon how much the jury suspects the lack of a helmet affected the injuries?
Most statutes that either repeal helmet laws or simply do not require a helmet fail to address these questions. An accident lawyer in Orlando at the Law Offices of Richard B. Troutman should be consulted by crash victims for help ensuring that they aren't penalized for a failure to wear a helmet in a motorcycle accident.
The Helmet Defense in Florida
The fact that a motorcyclist is not wearing a helmet should not have an adverse impact on his right to motorcycle accident compensation for many reasons.
One argument against penalizing a motorcyclist for lack of helmet use is known as the "egg-shell theory." Under this theory, a defendant must always take the plaintiff as he finds him. Should someone with severe arthritis not drive a car because he may be struck from behind? Of course not. Not wearing a helmet when the law doesn't require one can be compared with severe arthritis, multiple herniated discs, prior injury, diabetes, or any of the other pre-existing condition.
In some states, a seat belt defense is allowed but not a helmet defense. Here, there are important distinctions that support the idea a motorcyclist shouldn't be penalized for a failure to wear a helmet. For example, helmets are not attached to the motorcycle or provided as safety equipment upon purchase. Unlike a seatbelt, which is in every car and must be tested by a manufacturer to make sure it works properly, a motorcyclist may borrow a motorcycle, rent one, or otherwise need to get somewhere and not have a helmet available. There is a significant difference between an item that is made by the manufacturer as standard equipment and closely regulated, as compared to an item which is not required by any motorcycle manufacturer or government.
There is also no guarantee that a motorcyclist would have been any less injured by a collision if he wore a helmet. Few states require a full helmet that protects the chin, face, and entire head. Unless the defense can show that the smallest legal helmet required in a particular state would have prevented injuries, evidence of the failure to wear a helmet should be inadmissible and definitely not used to reduce plaintiff damages.
While helmets can save lives, there is also evidence to suggest that they can add to the risk a motorcycle rider faces in a collision. For example, studies have shown that a helmet can affect a rider's ability to hear effectively and see peripherally. Other studies have shown that the extra weight of the helmet can cause injury and that the brain can actually swell inside the helmet with trauma.
All of these arguments against the helmet defense can be made to protect a motorcycle rider's right to full compensation after a collision.
Central Florida accident victims and families who lost loved ones can contact Winter Park, FL personal injury attorney Richard B. Troutman by calling 866-434-5770.