Is There a Comparative Negligence Argument?
Comparative negligence is a common defense used by insurance companies to reduce damages that are available to an injury victim. This defense reduces liability by a proportional amount to the fault of a potential injury victim. For example, if you were speeding at the time of the accident and a jury determined that you were 30% at fault, the total damages would be reduced by that number.
Lack of Helmet as a Defense
One of the most common defenses when applicable is the failure to use a helmet. Florida law does not require motorcycle drivers to wear a helmet. That decision is left to the individual rider. So, what happens when a plaintiff is hurt because they decided not to use a helmet? The law itself is silent as to the consequences. This means that lawyers have to look to the judiciary to best gauge the answer above.
A very important case to determine comparative negligence is Rex Utilities, Inc. v. Gaddy, 413 So. 2d 1232 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982). Here, the central issue was whether or not a defendant could introduce evidence and argue to the jury as a comparative negligence defense that the plaintiff was not wearing protective headgear in violation of F.S. §316.211(1) (1977) at the time the motorcycle accident occurred.
The court held that evidence that the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet at the time of accident could not be used to show comparative negligence on the part of the motorcyclist because the defendant failed to prove a proximate causation link between the lack of helmet and injuries suffered. The court left open the possibility to allow admissibility of the lack of helmet if there is evidence that a helmet may have prevented the injuries sustained by an accident victim.
Future Implications of Helmet Evidence
Thus, moving forward it is not always clear whether or not a helmet defense can be used depending on whether or not the insurance company can show a proximate cause link between the lack of helmet and the injury. For example, if an accident victim hurts their shoulder, then a helmet clearly would not have impacted damages because a helmet involves head injuries such as Traumatic Brain Injury. A court would thus likely rule the evidence of a lack of helmet above inadmissible.