Helmet laws vary by state
Wearing a helmet is an effective way to protect yourself in the event of a motorcycle accident. If a motorcyclist is hit and falls off the bike, a head injury often occurs. A helmet may save the life of a motorcycle driver or passenger by reducing the severity of head injuries. Some states have universal helmet laws for all riders, other states have laws only requiring some riders to wear helmets, and some have no helmet-use laws at all.
How the failure to wear a helmet can affect your case
In a personal injury action brought by an injured motorcyclist, the defendant may argue that the injured party’s own negligence was actually the cause of his or her injuries. Generally, to establish that the injured party was negligent, the defendant must prove that the injured party had a duty of some kind to operate his or her motorcycle in a safe and reasonable manner; that the injured party breached this duty in some way; and that the breach of duty was a proximate cause of the accident. If the defendant can prove all these elements and establish that the injured party was negligent, the injured party’s recovery may be barred or reduced because of his or her contributory negligence.
In states that have enacted mandatory helmet laws, the statutes may provide only for criminal penalties. In addition, some of these statutes are silent as to the effect that a violation of the law has on the determination of whether a motorcyclist was negligent. In these states, it is not necessarily clear what the effect of a motorcyclist’s failure to wear a helmet will have on the determination of his or her negligence.
As mentioned above, many states do not have laws that require motorcyclists to wear helmets at all. Some courts within these states have found the fact that an injured rider was not wearing a helmet is inadmissible in a personal injury suit.
Legal challenges to helmet laws
Generally, mandatory helmet laws require that drivers and passengers of motorcycles wear a protective helmet or other headgear that has been approved by a state agency. Constitutional challenges to helmet laws in a number of states have had mixed results. Some courts have upheld these laws, finding that they are a legitimate use of the state’s police power to promote the general health, safety and welfare of citizens. There is also limited legal authority, which provides that helmet laws are unconstitutional because they do not bear a substantial relationship to protecting the general public. Courts have held that helmet laws are not discriminatory against a particular class of people and do not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because a helmet requirement is a reasonable means to protect people on highways from the greater hazards caused by the increased risk to motorcyclists. Other courts have upheld helmet laws against arguments that they are unconstitutional burdens on interstate commerce, finding that any burden was incidental.
Individuals wishing to challenge the constitutionality of a mandatory helmet law bear the burden of proving that the law is unconstitutional. This can be a difficult task, particularly because there is a strong presumption of validity of laws that govern public safety issues.
Talk to a personal injury lawyer
If you were injured in a motorcycle accident and you were not wearing a helmet, you may have questions about whether this will affect your chances to recover damages for your injuries from the person who hit you. Contact David G. Smith in Oakland, CA, to schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney who can evaluate your situation.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.