Every year, 2,500 motorcycles are involved in crashes in the state of New Jersey alone, contributing to 70 fatalities and 2,000 injuries. Nationwide, 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in traffic accidents in 2012, a 10 percent increase from 2011.

After a significant accident, some motorcyclists choose to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and other accident-related losses. But what if you weren’t wearing a helmet; are you still entitled to compensation? Essentially it boils down to three factors:

  • What are the state’s motorcycle helmet laws?
  • Was the rider following those laws?
  • Is the rider seeking damages for head or neck injuries?

Answering these questions can help a motorcyclist determine whether or not they have a personal injury case.

It’s no secret that wearing a helmet greatly decreases a motorcyclist’s risk of suffering a fatal injury. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that a rider without a helmet is 50 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury than a rider with a helmet. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that forty-eight states—including New York and New Jersey—have enacted some type of motorcycle helmet law to increase rider safety.

New Jersey’s helmet law, found in Public Law 39:3-76.7, states: “No person shall operate or ride upon a motorcycle unless he wears a securely fitted protective helmet of a size proper for that person and of a type approved by the federal DOT. Such a helmet must be equipped with either a neck or chin strap and be reflectorized on both sides.” It is important to note that New Jersey’s helmet law is a universal one. In other words, it applies to everyone who rides a motorcycle—not just the driver, and not just those under 18.

A universal law like this one makes it easier for police to spot violations of the helmet law, and it also makes it easier for opposing attorneys to argue that the motorcyclist was negligent. For example, say you were riding a motorcycle without a helmet on a country road. Someone in the oncoming lane speeds up to try to pass someone on the two-lane road, and they hit you. If you suffer a serious neck injury and decide to sue the other driver, your failure to wear a helmet could negatively affect your case. The opposing attorney can argue that the motorcyclist was irresponsible, negligent, and breaking the law by not wearing a helmet, which can be a serious blow to your case.

However, if the motorcyclist suffers injuries to other parts of the body, it may still be possible to sue. For example, take the same situation mentioned above, but this time the motorcyclist fractured both legs in the accident. Wearing a helmet would not have prevented that type of injury, which was clearly caused by another driver’s negligence. In this case, you would most likely be able to sue and recover damages for your injuries.