Three riders died in three separate crashes in seven days, and two of these crashes were of the “smidsy” variety.
62-year-old Thomas Dunleavy, of Charleston, was pronounced dead at the scene of a motorcycle crash near the intersection of Camp Road and Fort Johnson Road on James Island; the tortfeasor (negligent driver), 26-year-old Anthony Marino was charged with reckless vehicular homicide. The judge initially set bail at $50,000. At a subsequent hearing, Mr. Marino’s attorney characterized the incident as “a tragic accident” and pointed out that his client is a full-time college student with no criminal record.
A few days earlier, 20-year-old Spencer Robinson, of Goose Creek, was riding near the intersection of Frances Street and Pineview when a tow truck driver, whose name was not released, made a left turn directly into Mr. Robinson’s path. He was killed and authorities preliminarily ruled his death accidental.
First Party Liability in Motorcycle Crashes
Left-turn motorcycle-auto wrecks are so common in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries that officials call them smidsy (“sorry, mate, I didn’t see you”) crashes. Indeed, many motorcycle crash survivors have heard the tortfeasors tell first responders and witnesses things like “She came out of nowhere,” and “I never even saw him.”
Visibility-related crashes are a serious issue on these shores as well. According to the Hurt Report, about two-thirds of motorcycle-vehicle crashes occur when the tortfeasor fails to yield the right of way and turns directly into the motorcycle’s path. Many of these wrecks occur when the motorist is making a left turn across traffic or merging into another lane.
The problem may be exponentially worse today. When the Department of Transportation first released the Hurt Report, most drivers operated small passenger cars or station wagons. Now, large SUVs and pickup trucks dominate most roads, and drivers are even more hard-pressed to see motorcycles.
Injuries in Motorcycle Crashes
Riders are 27 times more likely to die in crashes than vehicle occupants, largely because vehicle occupants are inside steel cocoons that are lined with several restraint layers while riders have almost no protection whatsoever. Some of the serious injuries include:
- Road Burns: During crashes, riders’ legs are often dragged on the pavement, causing severe abrasions that cover wide areas. These road burns often impair mobility for days or weeks after the crash.
- Biker’s Arm: This injury is also rather unique to motorcycle and bicycle riders. When riders are thrown, they naturally extend their arms to brace their falls. Such reactions often result in permanent nerve damage to their under-arm areas, because the nerves cannot withstand the immense force of the collision.
- Broken Bones: That same collision force shatters bones to the extent that they require metal screws during painful corrective surgery.
- Neck and Spine Injuries: Most other trauma wounds eventually heal given time and aggressive intervention, but spine and neck injuries are nearly always permanent.
All these injuries often mean that victims accumulate immense medical bills totalling tens of thousands of dollars, and health insurance companies often deny payment in motor vehicle crashes for liability reasons. So, to end this financial burden, attorneys usually send letters of protection to medical providers. Because these letters guarantee payment when the case is resolved, victims typically do not need to worry about medical bills as they recover.
Third Party Liability
Because of the catastrophic and often fatal injuries, many tortfeasors have insufficient insurance coverage. In these situations, third party liability theories like respondeat superior are often quite important. “Let the master answer” means that employers are responsible for the negligent acts of their employees if they are working within the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash, and respondeat superior nearly always applies whenever a commercial operator, such as a tow truck driver, causes the crash.
Both elements are very broad. Almost all workers are “employees” for negligence purposes, because the Department of Labor defines the term as “suffer or permit to work.” So, under that definition, statutory employees, independent contractors, and even unpaid volunteers are employees. As for the second element, the South Carolina Supreme Court recently ruled that employees participating in a kickball game were acting within the course and scope of employment, because the employer benefitted from healthy workers and received publicity from the event.
South Carolina is a modified joint and several liability state, so damages are normally apportioned between first and third parties based on fault. These damages normally include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages are available as well, in some cases.
Team Up with a Savvy Lawyer
Motorcycle crash victims may obtain compensation from both a tortfeasor and a responsible third party. For a free consultation with an experienced Charleston personal injury attorney, contact David Aylor Law Offices. We do not charge upfront legal fees in most negligence matters.