August 24th, 2019
Recently, a motorcycle rider and passenger en route to another motorcycle rider’s funeral never made it. According to witnesses and Harris County Sheriff’s deputies, the wreck occurred on Highway 90 not far from the Sam Houston Parkway. A tow truck pulling out of a gas station tried to merge with westbound Highway 90 traffic. But the driver did not see the eastbound motorcycle. The force of the collision killed the rider instantly. The passenger was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
None of the names were released.
Left-Turn Motorcycle Crashes
In some parts of the world, notably the UK, left-turn motorcycle wrecks are so common that authorities call them SMIDSY crashes (for “sorry mate, I didn’t see you”). This acronym captures the cavalier attitude that many tortfeasors, and many first responders, show in these situations. In the above story, a tow truck driver apparently pulled out in front of an oncoming motorcycle. The rider died, and the tow truck driver did not even get a traffic ticket.
These kinds of motorcycle crashes are common in Texas as well. According to one estimate, about a third of all motorcycle crashes are left turn crashes. This figure is from a landmark 1980s study. So, the proportion may be even higher now. Back then, most people drove low-profile cars and station wagons. Today, many motorists operate large pickup trucks and SUVs. These vehicles impair other drivers’ visibility.
That reduction is not an excuse for negligence. If anything, that reduction creates a higher duty of care. Drivers should slow down and look more carefully, especially when they attempt left turns against traffic.
Legal Issues in Left Turn Crashes
These kinds of wrecks often cause extremely serious injuries. Typically, when motorists make left turns against traffic, they suddenly accelerate to shoot through what they believe to be a gap in the flow of traffic.
Failure to maintain a proper lookout is a classic example of ordinary negligence. Noncommercial drivers have a duty to drive defensively and look out for everyone else on the road. That includes not only other drivers, but also bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Commercial operators have an even higher duty of care.
If first responders give the other driver a ticket, liability is even easier to establish, thanks to the negligence per se rule. Drivers who break safety laws and cause crashes may be liable for damages as a matter of law. Victim/plaintiffs need only establish cause.
Damages in motorcycle crash claims usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
To reduce these damages, insurance companies often turn to the same defenses in left-turn crashes. A good Houston personal injury attorney should anticipate them and be ready to defeat them.
Contributory negligence is one such defense. This doctrine shifts part of the blame for the accident from the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to the victim. For example, if the victim was speeding, the insurance company may claim the excessive speed, and not the tortfeasor’s illegal turn, substantially caused the crash. In these situations, the jury must divide fault on a percentage basis between the victim and tortfeasor based on the facts presented.
Texas is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. So, even if the victim was 49 percent responsible for the crash, the victim is entitled to a proportional share of damages.
But this defense is relatively easy to beat in a motorcycle crash context. Two wheel motorcycles are much harder to control than four wheel vehicles. So, if a motorcycle rider tries an emergency move, the rider may cause an even worse crash. That’s especially true if there are any adverse conditions, like rain or debris on the road.
Call an Experienced Lawyer
Motorcycle crashes often cause catastrophic injuries. For a free consultation with an attorney in Houston experienced in handling motorcycle crashes, contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C. Our main office is conveniently located near the Katy Freeway/Sam Houston Tollway intersection.
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Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.