The types of damages you may be eligible for after a motorcycle accident depends on the nature and severity of your injuries and the effects those injuries have on your life.
Damages are often broken up into three separate buckets: economic, non-economic and punitive.
Economic damages are usually the most quantifiable damages. There is usually some kind of paper trail to prove your medical costs or lost wages.
If your hospital bill was $50,000, there will be lots of receipts and documentation to prove it. Your employer can corroborate your salary or estimate your lost wages based on pay stubs and the length of your injury-related absence.
Non-economic damages are a bit harder to quantify. Those are things like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, inconvenience, emotional distress or loss of consortium (for spouses).
There’s no real equation that can fairly value pain and suffering. It’s not easy to accurately estimate the cost of losing the ability to walk or having to go through life with severe scarring or other disfigurements.
It’s often necessary for personal injury lawyers of all types, including those that represent injured motorcycle riders, to develop clear, compelling pictures of their clients’ lives. Personal injury lawyers need to demonstrate to juries – and insurance companies – how impactful those non-tangible losses are and what they mean to the injured rider or their surviving family.
These types of cases can be difficult for everyone from an emotional perspective. Personal injury attorneys are digging deep into what is often the worst moment of a family’s life and having to tally up all the good things in their pre-accident life that are now lost.
If you have a serious accident injury case or wrongful death case, you should keep those emotional aspects of the case in mind when interviewing potential lawyers. Do they seem compassionate? Will they be able to empathize with your loss and aggressively advocate for you in the wake of this tragedy?
The third type of damage, punitive damages, aren’t available in every case. Some states cap punitive damages or have special rules for how punitive damages are awarded.
Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the person who caused the injury was doing something with the intent to harm or with a criminal level of indifference for the safety of others.
Motorcycle riders or car drivers injured in accidents caused by drunk drivers are often awarded punitive damages. In a DUI accident, the responsible driver’s decision to get behind the wheel drunk is usually considered criminal indifference to the safety of others.
Punitive Damage Laws
- Virginia: Punitive Damage Cap at $350,000 (§ 8.01-38.1)
- South Carolina: Punitive Damage Cap at $500,000 or up to three times the amount of compensatory damages (whichever is greater) (§ 15-32-530)
- North Carolina: Punitive Damage Cap at $250,000 or up to three times the amount of compensatory damages (whichever is greater) (§ 1D-25)
- West Virginia: Punitive Damage Cap at $500,000 or up to four times the amount of compensatory damages (whichever is greater) (§ 55-7-29)
- Georgia: Punitive Damage Cap at $250,000 except in product liability cases, injuries caused with the specific intent to harm or DUI/DWI cases (§ 51-12-5.1)
What Are Compensatory Damages?
Non-economic and economic damages are technically compensatory damages – they’re intended to compensate the injured person or their family for the loss caused by the negligent person’s actions.
Punitive damages are in their own separate category because the purpose of punitive damages isn’t to compensate but to punish. The goal of punitive damages is to discourage the wrongdoer from repeating the action in the future and making them pay a painful price for what is usually a criminal infraction.
Which of These Damages Are Available in Motorcycle Accident Injury Cases?
All of these damages could be relevant in a motorcycle injury case, especially if the injuries are severe or the rider dies as a result of the accident. However, the ultimate amount of damages available to the rider is often as a matter of practicality restricted by the negligent person’s insurance policy limit.
Different drivers have different levels of coverage. Many drivers in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia only carry the minimum amount of personal liability insurance. We encourage you to visit our recent blog on the auto liability coverage requirements of the states in which we operate for more information.
If a motorcyclist in Virginia is hit by a driver with the minimum $25,000 per person bodily injury coverage ($50,000 per accident), that policy limit will be the ceiling of damages they can recover form the defendant’s insurance company for injuries.
Georgia and South Carolina have the same policy requirements. North Carolina is slightly higher at $30,000 minimum per person for liability coverage and West Virginia is slightly lower at just $20,000 per person for liability coverage.
We strongly encourage riders in these states to look into uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. There are some scenarios where additional policies, such as a negligent driver’s umbrella policy or a commercial liability policy, can be pursued, but in many cases a driver with minimum coverage won’t have enough to cover all the costs an injured rider or their family might have after an accident.
If you have questions about your insurance coverage or how you can protect yourself from these scenarios, we encourage you to contact us for a free insurance policy review.
Should the worst ever happen and you or a family member are involved in a serious motorcycle accident, it may be in your best interest to speak with an attorney before you speak with any insurance company. Feel free to call us at 800-321-8968 for a free, no-obligation consultation.