Is At-Fault Driver in the Accident Eligible for Compensation If Not Wearing Motorcycle Helmet?

South Carolina Motorcycle Accident Lawyers Serving Clients in Charleston, Columbia, Clinton, and Myrtle Beach

According to a recent report from CBS 7 News WSPA, fatal motorcycle accidents are on the rise across South Carolina. If you own a motorcycle in South Carolina and ride regularly in Charleston or Myrtle Beach, for example, you should be familiar with motorcycle laws in our state. Under Section 56-5-3660 of the South Carolina Code, anyone under the age of 21 is required to wear a protective helmet that has been approved by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. That helmet must have either a neck strap or a chin strap, and both sides must have reflectors. For riders aged 21 and older, South Carolina law does not require you to wear a helmet. But in terms of determining fault and liability in a crash, does it matter if you are not wearing a motorcycle helmet when another vehicle strikes you? And does your age matter?

These are important questions to ask, and it is important to understand basic information about motorcycle accident lawsuits in South Carolina, as well as the ways in which our state handles fault.

South Carolina is a Comparative Negligence State

The first thing you need to know about motorcycle accidents in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia, or elsewhere in the state is that, under Chapter 38 of the South Carolina Code, a plaintiff who gets hurt in an accident still may be able to receive damages even if she or he was partially to blame for the injuries. How does this work?

In brief, South Carolina is what is known as a “comparative negligence” state that follows the “50 Percent Rule.” What does this mean? When it comes to apportioning fault in an accident, different states follow different rules. Some do not permit a plaintiff to recover anything if the plaintiff is even one percent at fault for an accident. Other states, still, permit a plaintiff to recover a percentage of damages even if she is substantially at fault for the collision. In our state, a plaintiff can recover damages as long as she or he is less than 50 percent responsible for an accident and the resulting injuries. To be clear, if a jury determines that a plaintiff is 49 percent (or less) at fault, then the plaintiff can recover damages from an at-fault driver, but the damages award will be reduced by the amount of the plaintiff’s liability. However, as soon as the plaintiff in South Carolina is 50 percent or more responsible for an accident, then the plaintiff cannot recover anything.

Why is this important? Depending upon the specific facts of your case, a jury might determine that your decision not to wear a helmet means that you were partially responsible for your resulting injuries. Yet even if you are determined to be partially liable, as we mentioned above, you still can be eligible for compensation from the at-fault driver in the accident. To better understand how this might work, we would like to look at a couple of different hypothetical scenarios.

How Failing to Wear a Helmet in Charleston May Impact Your Damages Award

In order to recover damages in a South Carolina motorcycle accident lawsuit, you will need to prove that the other driver was negligent. At the same time, the defendant might argue that you, too, were negligent and that your own carelessness led to your injuries. Let us imagine a motorcyclist who is 18 years old in downtown Charleston, SC and does not wear a helmet. She is struck by a car driven by someone who was distracted—a motorist who was texting while driving. In the accident, the motorcyclist sustains injuries to the head and neck.

Given that the motorcyclist is required by law to wear a helmet, the jury may take into account that the motorcyclist broke the law and thus may be liable in part for the injuries she sustained to the head and neck. Even if we alter the scenario and consider a motorcyclist who is 25 years old—and thus not required by law to wear a helmet—and sustains injuries to the head and neck in the same scenario, the jury nonetheless may decide that the motorcyclist was negligent himself in failing to wear a helmet, and thus bears some responsibility for his injuries.

Now, let us alter the hypothetical scenario again. What happens if that same motorcyclist who is not wearing a helmet—regardless of age—is struck by a motorist but sustains no head, neck, or facial injuries? In other words, the motorcyclist would have suffered the same injuries even if she or he had been wearing a helmet. In such a case, a jury might determine that the motorcyclist’s own negligence in failing to wear a helmet did not contribute to the injuries.

Contact a Myrtle Beach Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

Every motorcycle accident case has its own set of facts and its own nuances. It is important to discuss your case with a motorcycle accident lawyer in Myrtle Beach as soon as possible. Contact Joye Law Firm today to discuss your options for seeking compensation.