Changes to an existing law may affect Delaware motorcyclists after new legislation was proposed in December and discussed at the General Assembly meeting on January 10th.
State representatives have proposed legislation to require that all motorcyclists wear a helmet. According to The News Journal, almost half of the 48 people who died in motorcycle crashes in Delaware since 2014 were not wearing helmets. Proponents of a universal helmet law cite these statistics as evidence in addition to comparing helmet laws to those requiring seat belts.
While nineteen other states have passed laws requiring any motorcycle driver or passenger to wear a helmet – regardless of age – Delaware has much narrower rules. Only riders aged 19 or younger are required to wear a helmet and those who are older are required to merely keep a helmet with them on the motorcycle.
The full text of Delaware’s current motorcycle helmet law can be found in Delaware Code section 4185 as the following:
“Every person operating or riding on a motorcycle shall have in that person's possession [an approved] safety helmet and shall wear [ approved] eye protection; provided, however, that every person up to 19 years of age operating or riding on a motorcycle shall wear [an approved] safety helmet and [approved] eye protection.”
In neighboring state Pennsylvania, motorcyclists are required to wear a helmet unless they are over 21 years of age and have completed a safety course administered by the department of transportation. In Maryland, these laws are even stricter, requiring all drivers and passengers on a motorcycle to wear a helmet that meets standards set by the department of transportation.
While non-use of a helmet can be admissible in a civil case as evidence of comparative negligence in other states, it is not currently admissible in Delaware. Similarly, the use of seatbelts is required by law in Delaware, but non-use is not admissible as evidence at trial and cannot be used for a comparative negligence argument by the defense in a civil case.
So what does this mean for motorcycle accident cases?
Motorcycle Accident Case
In 2010, Kimmel Carter handled a case that involved a motorcyclist who brought a personal injury action against a motor vehicle driver for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The motorcyclist’s injuries involved his head and neck.
The motorist’s defense included claims that the motorcyclist’s non-use of a helmet at the time of the incident demonstrated comparative negligence. The motorist moved to exclude this information, but the court denied that motion, claiming that this evidence was relevant to secondary assumption of the risk. However, the Supreme Court ruled on appeal that whether the motorcyclist was wearing a helmet or not was not relevant as a matter of comparative negligence and was not admissible at trial. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Superior court and the case ultimately ended in settlement for an undisclosed amount.
We recommend that you wear a helmet, whether or not any new laws are passed. Not only do helmets likely reduce your risk of life-changing head and neck injuries in a crash, but they also reduce noise from wind and increase your visibility to other drivers on the road.
If you've suffered injuries from a motorcycle accident, Kimmel Carter is here to help. As the largest exclusively personal injury, wrongful death and workers’ compensation law firm in Delaware, we are devoted to fighting for the compensation and peace of mind you deserve. Give us a call at 302-565-6100 or contact us to schedule your free consultation today.