Motorcycles Accidents Caused by Potholes in New York

Potholes can be more than just a nuisance. They can cause a sudden loss of vehicle control, causing drivers to collide with nearby vehicles, pedestrians, and other objects. Drivers may also attempt to swerve around potholes, which can result in accidents as well. These risks hold especially true for those who drive motorcycles. In fact, motorcycle riders are three times more likely than other drivers to be involved in crashes caused by potholes and poor road surfaces. If you are a motorcyclist who had an accident after hitting a pothole, you might be wondering what your next steps should be.

WHAT TO DO AFTER A MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT 

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, especially one resulting in personal injury or other damages, there are some general procedures you should follow. If you need guidance in taking any of these steps, a legal professional can help you. 

  1. Seek Medical Attention

It’s important to get checked out even if you think you feel fine, as shock can mask pain and injury may not be apparent at first. Getting medical attention will also allow you to obtain documentation that will serve as evidence should you need to pursue compensation. 

Call the Police 

After calling the police, an officer will come to the scene and prepare an accident report. Do not admit fault, and make sure to get a copy of the final police report. The report will likely be important if not necessary to file an insurance claim or lawsuit. 

Exchange Information and Collect Evidence 

In addition to a police report, retrieve the contact information of everyone involved, including potential witnesses, as well as evidence of the accident scene. Evidence may include pictures and videos of your motorcycle, other vehicles involved, road conditions, traffic lights, and the surrounding area. You should also write down a detailed account of events as soon as you can, when your memory is the freshest. 

Contact an Attorney

Having a legal professional to rely on and look over the facts of your case will benefit you in the long run. By taking on the responsibility of helping you navigate the legal and administrative consequences of your accident, an experienced attorney will make sure you get compensated fairly and achieve your desired outcome. 

COMMON INJURIES 

What type of injuries can occur as a result of motorcycle accidents from potholes? Besides damage to your motorcycle(s) and vehicles involved, including dents, scratches, alignment issues, tire damage, and suspension damage, you may have also suffered personal injuries. Common motorcycle accident injuries include: 

  • Road rash, burns, and skin infections 
  • Head and traumatic brain injuries (from mild concussions to more severe brain damage)
  • Facial injuries due to the lack of face protection from helmets
  • Arm and leg injuries, especially when used to brace a fall or when directly hit by another vehicle
  • Sprains, strains, and torn muscles and ligaments
  • Broken and shattered bones  
  • Neck and back injuries, including whiplash, slipped discs, and fractures
  • Spinal cord injuries (including paralysis)
  • Lacerations and cuts
  • Loss of hearing, speech, or sight 
  • Organ damage
  • Loss of limbs

Regardless of their apparent severity, you should seek out a medical professional for examination as soon as possible. It’s important that you are treated for any injuries you might have incurred as a result of your accident, some of which may not be apparent until days or even weeks after the incident.

Moreover, mounting medical costs may lead you to consider filing a lawsuit. An attorney experienced in personal injury will analyze your case to identify who might be liable (i.e. responsible) for your injuries.

DETERMINING LIABILITY 

In the case of accidents caused by potholes, government entities can be held liable for motorcycle accidents–although they will try to shield themselves. State and municipal governments can be held accountable for accidents if they fail to fix hazardous potholes or don’t display warning road signs. To assert that a government entity is liable, you need to show that it must have known of the poor road condition and failed to correct it within a reasonable timeframe. An experienced attorney can help determine what a “reasonable timeframe” is. 

You should also know that state and local governments may try to protect themselves from legal action through “pothole laws,” which vary by the entity that owns the road your accident occurred on. For example, for New York City to be held liable, its Department of Transportation must have written notice of the pothole 15 days before your accident. NYC Administrative Code 7-201(c)(2) states: “No civil action may be maintained against the city for personal injuries caused by a street or roadway being out of repair, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed unless prior written notice of the defective condition is provided to the city.” 

Many other municipalities throughout the state have similar laws, and judicial decisions in New York have overall supported precedent that mitigates the burden of liability on municipalities. 

Notably, under New York Highway Law, the state is liable for damages from accidents occurring on state highways, but only between certain dates of the year: May 1 to November 15. The state cannot be held liable for accidents related to poor road conditions outside of this timeframe, yet this is when accidents are more likely due to harsh weather conditions. 

RECOVERING COMPENSATION

Although the no-fault law in New York does not protect motorcyclists themselves, under New York law, all motorcyclists must carry liability insurance on their motorcycle to cover potential costs related to physical personal injury and property damage of others. Your motorcycle insurance policy must include the following minimum coverage limits per accident:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury per person
  • $50,000 for total bodily injury in the event that multiple people are hurt in the accident
  • $50,000 for death per person
  • $100,000 for death if there are multiple fatalities in the accident
  • $10,000 for property damage

Typically, a motorcyclist’s personal health insurance would be the likely source of compensation. Even with health insurance, however, you may still have to deal with other non-medical expenses and lost wages. To recover these losses, you could potentially file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance or file a lawsuit. 

This is especially important if your motorcycle accident occurred as a result of a pothole. If you have a strong case and evidence of damages, you may be able to file a claim with the governmental or municipal entity responsible. However, it is important to know that a pothole accident claim comes with strict procedures and deadlines.

You have 30 days to file a claim after the accident. For a municipal claim, the notice of claim must be delivered to the Comptroller’s Office. For state claims, requests for reimbursement of property damage of up to $5,000 are filed with the Department of Transportation as a small claim. Claims above $5,000 need to be filed as an action in the Court of Claims. Having an attorney to navigate this process is important because one missed deadline or improper filing can leave you without any means of recovering this compensation. 

Another factor in such cases is that New York “pothole laws” can be quite narrow, in that it is challenging to connect the pothole and negligence on the part of the governmental entity to the occurrence of an accident. Below are some New York cases that pertain to pothole-related injuries. 

  • Gold v. County of Westchester: A woman fell when her bicycle struck a pothole. The court found that the defective condition of the road over time did not constitute an act of negligence as required by law. The court ruled that she failed “to demonstrate that the city did something more than stand by while a roadway joint settled over a period of years.” As a result, the court ruled in favor of Westchester County and dismissed the woman’s complaint. 
  • Bielecki v. City of New York: In this notable case–which set a new precedent for future pothole cases–a man was injured after stepping in an ankle-deep hole in a pedestrian pathway in Central Park. No evidence of prior written notice existed, and Bieliecki contended that the defect developed over time as a result of water seeping and freezing; it was not caused by work completed by the city. Siding with the city, the court emphasized that an exception to the notice requirement must be limited to work by the city that immediately results in the existence of a dangerous condition. Essentially, the court said a municipality that has enacted a prior written notice statute may not be subject to liability for personal injuries caused by a defective street or sidewalk condition, without proof of prior written notice or an exception. The exception that is relevant here can arise when the locality created the defect or hazard through an act of negligence. The court stated the following: “If we were to extend the affirmative negligence exception to cases like this one, where it is alleged that a dangerous condition developed over time from an allegedly negligent municipal repair, the exception to the notice requirement would swallow up the requirement itself, thereby defeating the purpose of the Pothole Law.”
  • In a more recent case, Bania v. City of New York, the court addressed the issue of whether the City of New York was required to consider a claim for injuries caused by a pothole if the City didn’t receive written notice in advance–a central component related to NYC Administrative Code 7-201(c)(2). The Appellate Division ruled in favor of the injured victims, reinstating their claim for personal injury damages and finding that the City had created a dangerous condition. 
  • Additionally, the City of New York paid $4.5 million to settle the lawsuit of a young man who suffered a spinal injury after hitting a pothole and losing control on the Belt Parkway. This settlement was a notable success for the young man, and was reached after his attorneys showed that the City failed to properly repair the pothole just before their client’s accident. 

As you can see, motorcycle accidents caused by potholes are winnable. Keeping track of the facts of the case and extent of your medical injuries is crucial, and hiring a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney even more so. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I’m in a motorcycle accident?

Seek out medical treatment and make sure you contact the police. Obtain a police report, collect information from others involved in the accident, and identify any witnesses besides the parties involved. Additionally, make sure to note the injuries you sustained, medical expenses relating to those injuries, and mental stress the accident has placed upon you. All of this information is useful for documenting your claims to your insurance providers and for filing potential lawsuits. Speak with a legal professional and provide them this information, so that they may track down further information for your case and analyze how much compensation you are due to recover as a result of your accident..

What is the average motorcycle accident case worth?

The financial value of a motorcycle accident can vary based on what factors come into play. To start, you may consider what expenses you have faced as a result of your injuries, both directly and indirectly (medical expenses, hospital bills, lost wages, etc). However, the presence of lingering pain or stress present as a result of your injuries can make it harder to place a financial value on your accident. You should keep a log of all related losses, as it may strengthen the validity and financial resolution of your case.

Finally, your own personal liability (fault) in an accident will generally reduce the final compensation amount proportionally. This is meant to represent the consequences of your own actions, and it is one of the key reasons that you need an attorney to help highlight how an accident was not truly your fault.

How can I reduce my risk as a motorcyclist?

You can reduce your risk for both personal injury and liability by taking certain precautions as a motorcyclist. NHTSA has provided a few safety guidelines to help motorcycle drivers be safe on the roads. 

If you or a loved one have been injured in a motorcycle accident, contact Rosenblum Law at 888-815-3649 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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