If you are a personal injury claimant after a motorcycle accident, no matter how strong you think your case is, you always need to prove (1) that the other driver was at fault for the accident, and (2) the extent of your “damages,” meaning injuries, lost income and other losses. While your claim can be resolved at almost any point between the time of the accident and the moment a judge or jury renders a verdict at trial, resolution is most likely to occur during specific phases in the life of a claim. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
Settlement Before a Lawsuit Is Filed
The kind of motorcycle accident claim that is most likely to be resolved without a lawsuit even being filed is one where all parties fundamentally agree about:
- what happened ("liability"), and
- the resulting losses ("damages).
This usually means:
- the injuries are minor (or at least not susceptible of worsening over time)
- there were no pre-existing injuries that the accident is alleged to have aggravated
- it's undisputed that the party who collided with the motorcycle was the only person at fault, and
- the negligent party was covered by insurance at the time of the accident. (More about The Role of Insurance in Settling a Personal Injury Claim.)
This kind of “clear liability” case still must be supported by evidence of liability and damages, which means:
- written statements of eyewitnesses
- photos of the accident scene, damage to the motorcycle, and injuries to the rider and/or passenger
- medical reports from doctors
- medical bills
- estimates and/or receipts for repairs of motorcycle damage, and
- proof of lost earnings for any work absences and any other losses caused by the accident.
In such instances, there really is nothing to argue about in court. That usually becomes clear within the first 30 to 90 days after an accident, during which time settlement would be likely.
Discovery and Motions
Soon after a personal injury complaint is filed and the lawsuit gets started, the parties enter the "discovery" phase of the case, where information that could lead to evidence at trial is exchanged -- including documents, sworn testimony of parties and witnesses, and written questions and answers.
It is during this phase that the parties get more clarity in terms of how the accident happened, and the nature and extent of the claimant's injuries. For example, if it turns out that the motorcycle rider (“plaintiff”) appears to have been “lane-splitting” (that is, riding in between cars in parallel lanes of traffic, which is illegal in some states) and speeding just before the collision, those facts would suggest that the plaintiff may well share the fault -- or even bear complete responsibility -- for any injuries or damages.
The discovery phase usually lasts from six to 12 months following the lawsuit’s filing. Settlement is possible at any time during the discovery period, but one or both parties may be very motivated to settle once fault for the accident and the extent of the claimant's injuries become clear.
Shortly after discovery is completed, most courts schedule the parties for what is called “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR), typically mediation, to encourage them to reach a resolution with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator can help the parties understand how a judge or jury might view the case, and try to guide them toward resolution.
In a motorcycle accident case, assuming the defendant’s car struck the motorcycle while the car was changing lanes, issues that might be covered in mediation include:
- whether the plaintiff was partially at fault
- if the plaintiff’s injuries were indeed caused by the accident
- whether the defendant failed to check rearview and side mirrors, as well as the vehicle’s “blind spot,” and
- whether the defendant signaled before changing lanes.
The mediation process itself may last between a few hours and a couple of days. If successful, the claim may be resolved and the lawsuit dismissed within less than a year after the accident.
Only about three percent of personal injury lawsuits reach the trial stage. Trial is expensive and time-consuming, and the outcome is uncertain. Parties sometimes can wait as long as two years or more before their personal injury case gets to see the courtroom. Especially after a relatively minor motorcycle collision, your claim stands a good chance of being resolved well before trial.