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Can Helmet Non-Use Affect the Rights of Motorcycle Accident Victims?

Every motorcyclist should wear a helmet every time he or she rides. This is true not only because it is the law in Georgia but because studies have repeatedly shown that riders who wear helmets are less likely to be killed in accidents and that helmets can significantly decrease the severity of motorcycle head injuries under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, if you are seriously injured in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet, how does it impact your legal rights to compensation for your injuries?

Insurance companies and defense counsel in many jurisdictions frequently rely upon the “seat belt defense” or the “helmet defense” as the case may be to minimize their liability exposure following an accident. These defenses essentially state that had the injured victim been wearing a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a motorcycle when the accident occurred, the injuries sustained would have been less severe or possibly would not have occurred at all. Some states have enacted laws specifically prohibiting these defenses. While Georgia has done so for the seat belt defense, the helmet defense is still alive and well.

While the failure to wear a helmet is presumptively an act of contributory negligence on the part of the rider due to Georgia’s helmet law, the defense must show more before it can have an impact:

  • That the injury suffered would not have occurred had the rider been wearing a helmet
  • That the injury suffered would have been less severe had the rider been wearing a helmet

If the defense is able to establish either of the above, the rules of comparative negligence may apply. This means that the jury may assign a percentage of the fault for the injury to the victim and may reduce the recovery proportionally by that percentage. However, as long as the victim’s percentage is less than 50 percent, he or she can still recover. A Georgia motorcycle accident attorney can better determine how helmet non-use can affect your rights.