This is a question that comes up quite often in our motorcycle accident practice and the answer is “Yes.” However, there are some other issues that could influence the amount of any damages awarded. On this page we will use the Arizona laws regarding mandatory helmet use and the concept of comparative negligence in accidents for purposes of example since these laws are similar to the laws of other states.
First of all, it cannot be stressed enough that the fact a cyclist was not wearing a helmet when the accident occurred has no bearing on the fact that the accident itself happened. In other words, the accident would have happened due to another driver’s carelessness regardless of what the cyclist was or wasn’t wearing!
Next we take note that, under Arizona law, only riders and passengers who are under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet at all times. Thus, under Arizona law, a cyclist over the age of 18 can ride without a helmet and still be “legal.” Thus, an adult cyclist is not violating the state helmet law even if they were not wearing a helmet when they were involved in an accident.
After an accident the driver who is found to be at fault may attempt to argue that, even though he or she is judged to be at fault in the accident itself, the cyclist’s injuries would not have been as severe if the cyclist had been wearing a helmet. This argument is based on the doctrine of pure comparative negligence as it has been defined by the Arizona courts.
Under Arizona’s interpretation of the comparative negligence doctrine, an injured party is entitled to recover damages regardless of what their contribution to the accident may have been, even if that injured party is deemed to have been 99% responsible for the accident that caused their injury. The only exception to this rule is that any party that deliberately caused an accident cannot collect damages.
Returning to the question posed above as an example, let’s assume that the driver who caused the accident was later determined by a jury to have been solely responsible (100% at fault) for the accident. Usually, this will make that driver (and his or her insurance carrier) solely responsible for any injuries to the cyclist. For purposes of this example, let’s assume that the “at fault” driver argues that the motorcyclist was partially responsible for their injury because they were not wearing a helmet.
If the jury accepts that argument, it will also make its determination of the extent that it feels the cyclist contributed to his or her own injuries by applying the doctrine of comparative fault. Under Arizona’s application of comparative negligence doctrine, the percentage of the cyclist’s contribution to the accident would be subtracted from any damages that the jury may award. If, for example, the jury awarded the cyclist damages of $100,000 but also determined that by not wearing a helmet the cyclist was 30% responsible for the injuries the award to the cyclist would be $70,000 (30% of $100,000 = $30,000; $100,000 – $30,000 = $70,000).
As we have seen, the responsibility for injuries in cases where a cyclist is injured while not wearing a helmet can be confusing to someone without a legal background. Fortunately, in the “real world” of motorcycle accident injury law, it is relatively uncommon for contributory negligence arguments to succeed in cases where the cyclist is clearly not responsible for an accident. However, regardless of how “cut and dried” a case may seem, it is always wise to consult a personal injury lawyer with experience in motorcycle accident injuries to assure that the injured party will receive fair compensation for their accident injuries.
Since there are variations in how states interpret the doctrines of comparative or contributory negligence, we strongly recommend that the reader of this page contact our law offices for a thorough review of the state laws that may apply to motorcycle accident cases.