Helmet use is often a hot issue, from sports to bike and motorcycle use. There's debate on whether government laws and rules should require helmet use. Then there's the impact of helmet use in a personal injury lawsuit after an accident.
Do I Have to Wear a Helmet?
Helmet use during certain activities may be controlled by a state law, local ordinance, or a private party's rules, such as a sports facility owner or operator. It's also possible helmet use is expected based on custom or culture.
Helmet Required by Law
Some states, cities and towns have laws or ordinances for helmet use while using motorcycles or bicycles on public roadways and paths. Local ordinances may extend helmet use during certain sports or recreational activities, such as at public skate parks. Use may also be based on age, and usually apply to children. A few states extend helmet use to young adults, for example, people 18 to 20 years old.
Private Party Rules and Customs
The owner or operator of a business or property may require you to wear a helmet. Sports and recreational facilities are good examples. When you use a venue, there's usually a written contract somewhere, even if it's in the form of your ticket, a waiver form or equipment rental agreement. Activities include:
- Indoor sports facilities for hockey, baseball, lacrosse and skating
- Outdoor venues, such as batting cages, sports fields, stables and ski slopes
- Watercraft rentals
- Other outdoor sports including motocross and go-cart courses, and paintball
Helmet use can be based on custom and location, too. In certain sports, helmet use is a given. No one can imagine a football player, at any level, going on the field without a helmet. Motocross racing, car racing, bicycle racing and extreme downhill ski racing are other sports where it would be surprising to see participants without helmets.
In other sports, the expectation of helmet use varies, such as in downhill skiing and motorcycle touring. A participant's age and local custom can be factors, too.
Cause, Effect and Your Personal Injury Claim
Negligence or products liability law may be a factor in your personal injury claim. Your helmet use may or may not be a factor in your case. Whether or not someone wore a helmet at the time of injury may be irrelevant because:
- Helmet use wasn't related to the injury. An ankle injury in a bike accident likely isn't related to whether or not you were wearing a helmet
- The accident was so severe that helmet use didn't matter
In both scenarios, your lawyer's strategy may be to keep evidence on whether or not you wore a helmet out of the trial and avoid confusing the jury with a factor that doesn't matter.
Proving Fault and Following the Law
Proving your case, or your opponent proving a defense, can turn on whether or not you followed the law, rule or contract on helmet use.
You'll want to show the jury you used a helmet as required, and that the defendant is liable for your losses.
The defendant in your case will want to show you didn't use a helmet when required to do so. Your opponent can present a given law, ordinance, rule or contract as evidence, and your choice to disobey it by choosing not to wear a helmet.
Lack of compliance can make the difference in winning your case or the full amount of damages you seek.
Reasonable Person Standard
In personal injury law, much turns on what a reasonable person would do. Both sides try to prove the actions of the person injured, and of the person being sued, were reasonable. One question is whether or not the injured person was contributorily negligent. This means the injured person didn't act as reasonable person, contributed to the accident, and has to take some or all responsibility for his or her injuries.
Of course, there are counterarguments. Maybe it wasn't customary to wear a helmet for that sport, or perhaps no helmets were provided or available for use at the facility where the accident happened.
Your personal injury attorney can help you review the facts and the law that applies to your case and find the legal solution that's best for you.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can a defendant defeat a personal injury claim by showing someone wore a helmet incorrectly or used the wrong type or size?
- Is the cause of an accident and injuries split into parts, say the plaintiff's failure to wear a motorcycle helmet and the defendant's speeding?
- Can contributory negligence be used no matter who the plaintiff is? What if a child isn't wearing a helmet?