I’ve written a lot about motorcycle accident settlements. Here, I’ll focus on how a rider’s failure to have a motorcycle license affects the injury settlement amount.
Can an unlicensed motorcycle rider get a settlement from an accident?
Yes, however the motorcycle rider’s injury case may be tougher. It may be tougher if the motorcycle rider was responsible (to any degree) for causing the crash.
In this instance, the motorcycle rider’s case value may be reduced by his or her percentage of fault.
It gets worse…
The jury may get to hear that the motorcycle rider didn’t have a license at the time of the crash.
What is the problem with a jury hearing that the motorcycle rider was unlicensed?
The jury placing more blame on the rider for causing the crash. This may further lower the rider’s injury verdict.
Jury Gets to Hear That Motorcycle Rider’s Limited License Didn’t Let Him Have Passengers
In the case of Stewart v. Draleaus, 226 So. 3d 990 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), Draleaus and Reagle were each driving a motorcycle. This isn’t my case. However, I’ve read portions of the court file.
Vincent was Reagle’s passenger.
Reagle’s temporary motorcycle license didn’t allow him to carry passengers. He was injured when he claimed that a car, driven by Stewart, crashed into him. Reagle had significant injuries from the accident.
Two motorcycle riders and passenger hired a West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer. They sued Stewart for pain, suffering and other compensation.
But Nationwide is still an insurance company. As you’ll see here, they still fight certain car accident claims.
Nationwide initially defended the lawsuit using an in house attorney, Mark Hektner. He is a West Palm Beach lawyer. Essentially, he was an employee of Nationwide.
Through its attorney, Nationwide denied liability.
Stewart blamed Reagle for negligently causing the accident.
Reagle presented the expert testimony of Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Andrew Schneider and plastic surgeon, Dr. Barr. He also had expert testimony of pain management and physical rehabilitation expert Dr. Mark Rubenstein.
All those doctors testified consistently that Reagle’s injuries were related to the accident. Dr. Rubenstein testified that Reagle’s injuries were permanent in nature and will require future medical care.
Reagle Sustained a Bad Leg Injury
In addition, each doctor spoke about the pain involved in dealing with an injury such as Reagle’s. Reagle sustained an almost amputation of his right leg.
I’ve researched past Florida jury verdicts to see the average amount awarded for pain and suffering for a below the knee amputation.
It’s between $500,000 to $750,000. Again, this is the full value of the pain and suffering part of the case.
Reagle had to have a metal rod put in the leg. He has fought MRSA infections with the last being in the fall of 2012. That is six years after the accident.
As of May 13, 2013, he still walked with a limp and he may still eventually lose the leg. He has a rod in his leg and significant scarring and deformity.
I’ve said it over and over:
At trial, Nationwide’s attorney didn’t use its expert witness doctor. Dr. Rubenstein testified within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Reagle will require future care between $200,000.00 and $400,000.00.
Reagle admitted that carrying a passenger can change the unique dynamics of a motorcycle. For example, the manner in which the motorcycle is operated.
The case went to trial. The jury found that Stewart’s negligence was the cause of injury to Reagle, Draleaus and Vincent.
However, the jury also found that Reagle was negligent. The jury said that Draleaus was not negligent.
The jury awarded past medical bills for $311,242.32. Unfortunately for Reagle, they gave him nothing for future medical bills.
Jury Only Awarded Reagle $10K for Pain and Suffering!
The jury awarded Reagle $10,000 for past pain and suffering. They awarded him nothing for future pain and suffering.
Was this a good pain and suffering award?
No. This is a very low pain and suffering verdict given Reagle’s very serious injuries.
As a comparison, look at some of my personal injury settlements. Several insurance companies have paid me much more for pain and suffering associated with a leg injury.
In fact, I settled a case for $445,000 for motorcycle rider’s broken leg. In my case, my client wasn’t about to lose his leg. Moreover, my client didn’t have a MRSA infection. Thus, my client’s injuries weren’t as bad as Reagle’s leg injury.
I’m not faulting Reagle’s attorney. Not for one second. His attorney took the case to trial. He gets major points for that.
However, the reality is that some jurors don’t like to award money for pain and suffering. So consider this if you think your case is a slam dunk.
However, some jurors have a tough time awarding money in motorcycle accident cases. Even if the injuries are huge.
Jury Awarded the Motorcycle Passenger $1.25 Million
I’ve said it before. All things equal, a passenger’s personal injury case is better than a driver’s case. And the jury here proved that this was the case.
As to Robin Vincent, presented the expert testimony of several doctors. They were:
- Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Daniel Segina
- Plastic surgeon Dr. Theophilos
- Pain management and physical rehabilitation expert Dr. Mark Rubenstein
According to her attorney, all testified that her injuries were related to the accident. All the doctors said that her injuries were permanent. They also agreed that she will need future medical care.
In addition, each doctor spoke about the pain involved in dealing with the injuries suffered by her.
Injured Person Often Needs Several Fractures to Get Big Money
She sustained an open (compound) fracture to the right leg which required two plates and screws and a metal rod. I don’t know if she fractured her upper leg (femur) or her lower leg bone (tibia or fibula).
An open fracture is also called a compound fracture. It is a fracture in which there is an open wound or break in the skin near the site of the broken bone.
She also had a compound fracture to the right wrist which required to plates and screws.
Vincent also had an, an open book pelvic fracture which required two four-inch screws in the back and a 5 inch plate and screws in the front.
It doesn’t stop there:
She also had two vertebral burst fractures. This is what a burst fracture looks like:
She had a two level lumbar fusion. This is what a one level lumbar fusion looks like:
Wow. Those are some serious injuries.
Nationwide didn’t use its expert doctor at trial. Vincent and her mother testified about the impact of her injuries.
At trial, the jury awarded her $725,829.80 for past medical bills. They awarded her $100,000 for past pain and suffering. They gave her $400,000 for future pain and suffering.
Passenger’s Doctor Said Future Care is $300K to $400K
Dr. Rubenstein testified within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that she will require future care between
$300,000.00 and $400,000.00.
Further, Dr. Rubenstein specifically did not include in his number any future treatment he deemed possible. He only included future treatment he was reasonably certain would be necessary.
The bad news for the passenger?
The jury only awarded her $30,000 for future medical bills.
Injured Person Only Gets Compensation for the At Fault Driver’s Percentage of Fault
The jury placed 55% of the negligence on Stewart. They found Reagle 45% at fault.
Why does this percentage matter?
Since Kevin Stewart was 55% at fault, his insurance company only has to pay 55% of the victim’s damages. Thus, Nationwide is only on the hook for 55% of the total damages (up to the policy limits).
This means that Reagle is only entitled to 55% of his verdict. Therefore, Reagle would get 55% of $321,242.32. However, to get this money, Nationwide would need to have an insurance policy that is greater than $322,000. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much Nationwide’s policy was in this case.
Most car insurance policies aren’t that big. In fact, Nationwide sells some car insurance policies that only have $10,000 in bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance. On the other hand, Nationwide also sells $1 million BIL policies.
Better yet, Nationwide sells personal umbrella insurance coverage.
How would this case have been different if Stewart was an Uber or Lyft driver?
If Stewart was an Uber or Lyft driver, and engaged in a ride, then there would be a $1 million insurance policy. The most that the injured motorcycle riders and passenger could get combined would be $1 million. I’m referring to getting money from Uber (Progressive) or Lyft (York Risk Services).
Ok. Back to the case.
After the verdict, the injured motorcycle rider and their attorney asked the trial court to increase the pain and suffering awards. From looking at the court file, I don’t see that the judge increased the pain and suffering amounts.
But before Nationwide paid any money, they appealed the verdict.
The appeals court said that in this particular situation — the motorcycle license violation was relevant to the case at hand. The evidence should have been presented to the jury for a determination of whether the violation proximately caused any of Reagle’s injuries.
Thus, it ordered a new trial. At the new trial, the jury will get to hear that the injured motorcyclist’s temporary motorcycle license didn’t allow him to carry passengers.
On October 27, 2017, this appellate order was entered in the trial court file. There are no other filings since then. Thus, I assume that the parties reached a settlement.
They likely settled for less than the verdict amount. This is because, among other things, the new jury would’ve heard that the Reagle had a passenger but didn’t have the proper license. In other words, more fault would likely be placed on Reagle.
This will likely result in a smaller verdict or settlement for the injured motorcycle rider.
Does Florida Require Motorcycle Riders to Have a Motorcycle Endorsement (License)?
Yes. As of July 1, 2008 there will be no temporary permits issued for motorcycle operation by the State of Florida.
Permits that were issued prior to July 1, 2008 will be valid for the allotted 90 day period however they will not be renewable.
Who must have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license?
People who wish to operate any two or three wheel motorcycle, whose engine size is more than 50 cc. Or they can hold a ‘Motorcycle Only’ license. Anyone driving a motorcycle without an endorsement is violating the law.
New motorcyclists must take and pass the Basic RiderCourse (BRC) or Basic RiderCourse updated (BRCu) through a FRTP authorized Sponsor before they can have the motorcycle endorsement added to their license, per section 322.12(5)(a), Florida Statutes.
No one under 16 years of age may legally operate or be licensed to operate any of the following two or three-wheel motor vehicles on Florida roads, streets or highways: motorcycles, mopeds, motor-driven cycles, motorized scooters or electric helper-motor bicycles as defined in s. 316.003(2) F.S.
If you are coming from another state and your license is endorsed for motorcycle operation, Florida will reciprocate the endorsement.
In this instance, the motorcycle course will not be required, except Alabama. Alabama licenses with a motorcycle endorsement included will be reciprocated only if a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic Rider Course (BRC) completion card is presented with it.
Rider May Get Smaller Settlement for Not Having Motorcycle License
In the case of Stewart v. Draleaus, 226 So. 3d 990 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), on the evening of the motorcycle accident, which occurred in 2006, Stewart was driving a Chevrolet Camaro.
This isn’t my case. Draleaus and Reagle were each driving a motorcycle and Vincent was Reagle’s passenger.
Vincent was Reagle’s passenger. At that time, Reagle had a temporary motorcycle license. It did not allow him to carry a passenger. Here, the rider had a temporary motorcycle license. However, the result would be similar if he didn’t have a motorcycle endorsement at all.
Stewart was also on a motorcycle. According to Reagle, Stewart revved his engine and tried to race Reagle. Reagle claimed that Stewart paced the motorcycles for a distance and swerved into Reagle’s lane twice. Then, Reagle said that Stewart hit Reagle’s motorcycle. As a reminder, Vincent was a passenger on Reagle’s motorcycle.
Reagle’s motorcycle then ran into Draleaus’ motorcycle. Stewart drove away.
Reagle survived the accident. However, he had medical treatment for serious injuries.
Reagle and others sued Stewart for negligent causing their injuries. They sued for pain and suffering, and other compensation.
In the lawsuit, Stewart argued that he wasn’t liable. Additionally, Stewart said that if he was liable, Reagle was also liable.
Accident Settlement May Be Smaller if Motorcycle Rider Had Passengers
At the time of the accident, Reagle had not taken the required examination and thus possessed only a temporary motorcycle license that did not allow him to carry passengers.
The appeals court said that a jury must hear that Reagle’s temporary license didn’t allow him to carry passengers.
Reagle admitted that carrying a passenger can change the unique dynamics of a motorcycle. For example, the manner in which the motorcycle is operated.
The court said that relevancy is usually shown when the traffic law which was violated concerns the manner in which an automobile was operated.
Thus, the appeals court found that —in this particular situation— the motorcycle license violation was relevant to the case.
The evidence should have been told to the jury for a determination of whether the violation proximately caused any of the Reagle’s injuries.
If an Unlicensed Motorcycle Rider is Carrying a Passenger, Does This Hurt Settlement?
Yes, if the other driver was 100% at fault.
In my opinion, the fact that a jury gets to hear that Reagle wasn’t licensed to carry a passenger decreases the full value of Reagle’s case for settlement purposes.
This is because a jury may think that perhaps Reagle lost control of the motorcycle because their was a passenger on it. The jury may also lose trust in Reagle since he knowingly broke the law. They may be less likely to believe his testimony about how the accident happened.
I expect that Stewart’s insurance company lowers any offer based on the fact that the jury gets to hear that Riegel was violating his temporary motorcycle license.
This assumes that Stewart had BIL insurance.
The bad news?
Florida doesn’t require BIL insurance on motorcycles.
In the above example, Riegel had a temporary license that didn’t allow him to carry passengers on his motorcycle. I think the result would be the same if he didn’t have a motorcycle license at all.
If a Motorcycle Rider Has a Passenger and Causes a Crash, Does the Injured Person Have a Better Case?
Maybe, if the motorcycle driver didn’t have a motorcycle endorsement. A jury may place more blame on the motorcycle rider for breaking the law. This may result in a bigger settlement for the injured person.
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