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Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle Accidents

In Michigan, motorcycle injuries usually invoke no-fault rules, since there is usually a “motor vehicle” involved. There may be no insurance coverage if there is no car or truck involved, however, and the No-Fault system does not pertain. Thompson O'Neil has many years of experience in motorcycle accident cases. 

History & Motorcycle Accident Policy

Motorcyclists often suffer very severe injuries from motorcycle accidents and they are usually not at fault in causing those injuries. As a result, the Michigan No-Fault Act was adopted in 1974 and certain rules were written to properly govern cases involving motorcycles. It was believed that a pure "no-fault" reparation system would cause motorcycle insurance prices to skyrocket and be unfair because skilled and innocent bikes would have to insure their own injuries. As a response, rule exceptions were designed to assure the affordability of motorcycle insurance. These rules require special attention and explanation. 

No “Motor Vehicles” Involved

First, “motorcycles” are usually not considered to be “motor vehicles” under the No-Fault Act in Michigan*. The mandatory insurance rules apply to motorcycles differently than they apply to cars. A “motor vehicle” is typically defined as a vehicle equipped with a motor and four wheels that is designed to be, or actually is, operated on a highway. Motorcycle accident insurance can be confusing, but we can help.

  • If someone is injured on a motorcycle and there is no car or truck involved, the No-Fault rules normally do not apply and standard rules of fault and compensation apply. For example, this means that the injured occupants of off-road motorcycle accidents causing serious injury to pedestrians will not receive Personal Injury Protection benefits unless the owner of the motorcycle has purchased this optional coverage.
  • Usually, PIP coverage (providing medical expense coverage, wage loss or replacement domestic services) is available to motorcyclists only in limited amounts [typically $5,000.00 increments] and does not carry the statutorily-infinite limits of PIP coverage that apply to automobiles.
  • It also means that if the operator and owner do not have liability coverage, there may be no insurer to pay for injuries wrongfully sustained, when in normal motor vehicle cases, the owner and operator were legally obligated to purchase coverage. Under recent decisions, it also means that “uninsured” [UM] and “underinsured” [UIM] motorist coverage may be defined to exclude injuries caused by a motorcyclist. See more information about no-fault coverage issues involving motorcycle accidents here.

Involved Motor Vehicle

In car/motorcycle accidents causing serious injury, as in most cases, the occupant of a motorcycle is injured in a collision that involves a “motor vehicle”, the insurer of the owner of the vehicle involved must cover the PIP expenses (i.e., lifetime medical and three years of lost earnings or domestic services) of the cycle occupant(s). This is true even though the motorcycle occupant has no-fault insurance of his or her own and even if the motorcycle operator is entirely at fault. In another strange anomaly of the law, a motorcycle owner is not penalized for failing to carry insurance on the bike as owner/operators of motor vehicles are. Thus, while insurance rules can be very punitive for operators of uninsured four-wheeled motor vehicles, they are actually quite generous to motorcyclists.

  • The “involvement” of a motor vehicle can sometimes be relatively attenuated. For example, if a bike strikes motor vehicle debris on the road, this may constitute “involvement” even though both the vehicle and operator cannot be identified.
  • Obviously, the same situation occurs where there is a “hit and run” car or truck. In these cases, preserving the evidence of the “phantom” motor vehicle may be essential to qualify for PIP benefits through the state assigned claims plan or through an insured’s UIM or UM policy.
  • It is important to note that persons occupying unmotorized bicycles are treated entirely differently than persons riding motorcycles. Persons on un-motorized vehicles are treated as pedestrians under the no-fault act.

*The single exception in no-fault insurance where a motorcycle is treated as a motor vehicle is in the area of property damage: when a victim attempts to collect for the damage to his bike, the “tort reform” courts hold that the bike is a “motor vehicle” [which normally must have four wheels and be designed for highway travel] in terms of the financial limitations on what the victim may collect from the wrongdoer or his insurance.

Limitations on Recovery

As with any personal injury cases, there are limitations on recovery of which you should be aware. The statutes of limitation for motorcycle accident injuries are as follows:

  • Whenever the law grants a right to seek recovery for wrongdoing, it also places restrictions on how long the victim has in which to take legal action. If the victim delays too long in seeking compensation, he is said to have “slept on his rights” and his claim will not be heard. These limits are called “statutes of limitations” and they vary depending on the nature of the wrong that was committed. In many cases, there are other limitations on taking legal action, as well.

Thompson O'Neil Law Firm located in Northern Michigan, Traverse City. Attorneys who specialize in personal injury, insurance disputes, employment rights, civil litigation and more.