This morning on my way to work I noticed something rather strange. There was no traffic heading east on Route 4 in Teaneck, NJ. It did not take much knowledge or wisdom to figure out something terrible was ahead of me headed west on Route 4 toward River Edge and Hackensack, especially when I noticed the flashing emergency lights of the police ahead of me near Teaneck High on Queen Anne Road. Preliminary reports are that the biker lost his life when he collided with a deer on the roadway.
Being a New Jersey injury lawyer, who has represented many clients and family members suffering from a loss, my heart goes out to the families, with my sincerest condolences. The one thing I learned as a motorcycle rider and motorcycle accident lawyer is that until a motorcycle collision is fully investigated, no one should jump to the conclusion that it was the fault of the motorcycle rider.
As I passed the accident scene, I initially observed the lights of a flatbed truck and some law enforcement vans. The Bergen County Police, and the Teaneck Police investigators were on the crash scene. Also present at every fatal accident, is the Bergen County prosecutor’s office fatal accident squad which consists of a team of highly trained accident reconstruction experts. My observation was that there were at least 10 other police cars, vans, and county trucks at the accident scene. The fatal accident unit carefully examines the scene for skid marks, and roadway marks from the gear, brake, or motorcycle handlebars. Drivers and witnesses are sequestered at the accident scene and questioned. Electronic digital surveying equipment carefully collects information using lasers to eventually map out the accident scene.
Whenever a death occurs on a New Jersey roadway it always results in a criminal investigation. The result is an ongoing criminal investigation causing no information to be released to anyone by the county prosecutor until they concluded their investigation and issued their official police report. Some information may be released to family members through county victim assistance programs. This often frustrates the family who desperately desires and wants details about their tragic loss.
What could the Bergen County Fatal Accident unit learn and find out about a motor vehicle accident with a deer? For one thing, there may have been another driver on the roadway that took action to avoid the deer cutting off the motorcycle rider or blocking his view of the roadway. Perhaps another driver hit the deer, and it was already lying on the roadway when the motorcyclist struck it. Could there be a monetary settlement from of a “freak accident” for the motorcyclist’s next of kin under those circumstances?
The answer is that a settlement could be quite possible. The deer is not capable of being found negligent. So, drivers of a car that collided with an animal, no matter how bad the accident, are not entitled to any settlement other than their medical bills, and lost wages under their auto Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy. But what happens in the case of a deer caucus lying on the roadway, and another driver leaving the scene or another car that cut off the biker? Under those circumstances, the motorcyclist or a passenger on a motorcycle may be able to collect under their own auto insurance policy through its uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. However, to prove that, may require a careful and skillful accident scene reconstruction.
Often, no criminal charges are filed, and the family seeks answers and justice by bringing a lawsuit by suing in the “Civil Division” of the court system. A skilled lawyer will immediately take action to preserve evidence, which may include the motorcycle’s maintenance records. He or she will contact the Prosecutor’s office to try to get some basic information so that the private lawyer’s firm will begin its investigation. Often, this will require a Superior Court Judge’s court order to provide information to the family’s lawyer so long as it does not compromise and ongoing investigation.
The finding of the prosecutor resulting in no indictment or criminal charges should never be interpreted that there was no other driver’s fault causing this wrongful death. That is because to obtain a criminal conviction the evidence must be “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To win compensation, or money, in a civil court the standard of proof is a preponderance of evidence meaning it was more likely than not that the biker was injured because of someone else’s negligence.
As drivers, we have seen motorcyclists speed, drive between lanes, pass on the right, and engage in other dangerous and reckless conduct. Yet, the truth is that most motorcycle operators are extremely cautious and responsible riders. People refer to motorcycle collisions or crashes as “accidents.” Often, they are not accidents but in reality, are needless deaths and injuries caused by car and truck driver negligence.
Motorcyclists most often ride with caution but are nevertheless blamed for their harm. Non-riders and even jurors seem to feel that motorcycle enthusiasts assume the risk of injury when they decide to ride a motorcycle or scooter. That is simply untrue. So long as the motorcyclist obeys the motor vehicle laws, he or she is entitled to the exact same protection and justice as anyone else sharing the roadways. Think about it. Shouldn’t pedestrians, bicycle riders, mothers and fathers pushing baby carriages, skateboarders, and others sharing or crossing the road be entitled to safety?
Not a Standalone Motorcycle “Accident”
One such motorcycle crash case illustrates how wrong it is to jump to a conclusion blaming the biker. Several years back, I received a call about a man in his early 50s who was driving through an intersection when he was hit by an ambulance with its sirens and lights activated. Fortunately, the motorcycle rider survived but with many broken bones and a mild traumatic brain injury. Our law firm accepted his case and believed in our client’s version about how the accident happened. Our internal motorcycle collision practice group carefully investigated the accident and concluded that the ambulance driver acted negligently as he approached the intersection by failing to observe the approaching motorcycle. After several years of investigations and litigation the ambulance owners admitted fault for cutting the biker off and accepted responsibility by paying him millions of dollars as part of a pre-trial settlement.
In another case, a Harley rider crashed into the back of a bus causing him to almost lose his leg and suffer neck and back injuries ending his career as a construction worker. The bus driver was proven negligent by failing to notice the approaching motorcycle. His assumption that the motorcycle was going to yield to the bus is what caused the bus to cut off the biker.
The Davis, Saperstein & Salomon P.C. clients, represent by Garry Salomon, Adam Lederman, and Manuel Sameiro and were able to win a settlement of several millions of dollars for each injured motorcycle rider.
Fair settlements do not restore life or heal injuries. What a settlement does is recognize a loss with money, as deserved compensation for the harms and losses suffered by an injured person or their survivors in the hope of providing closure and justice to the accident victim. Hundreds of years ago, families had to resort to an “eye for an eye” self-help remedies that too often included violence to extract revenge and closure.
In modern times, we have our courts to resolve disputes civilly between a plaintiff and defendant using money as a common denominator. And that’s why it’s called the “Civil Justice System. “
For more information about the civil justice tort system, contact Garry R. Salomon, certified as a civil trial attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, partner in Davis, Saperstein & Salomon P.C, Teaneck, New Jersey, and head of the firms’ motorcycle litigation practice group.