Most people agree that wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle in traffic is the safer choice. An unprotected human head does not fare particularly well when it hits the roadway or any part of another vehicle at high speeds.

Since 2004, Louisiana requires all persons riding on any type of motorized cycle to wear a helmet. Yet about 18% of persons involved in motorcycle crashes in 2021 were not wearing helmets. Because those people broke the law and were not wearing helmets are they barred from getting any compensation for their injuries? 

Usually not – unless not wearing a helmet was somehow 100% responsible for the damage sustained by the motorcyclists. However, if it can be shown that wearing a helmet might have made a difference in the nature or extent of injuries suffered in the accident then failure to wear a helmet may limit the amount of compensation that can be recovered. 

The personal injury attorneys at the New Orleans law firm of Alvendia, Kelly & Demarest represent clients injured in motorcycle accidents. 

Louisiana’s History of Requiring Helmet Use

Louisiana has not consistently been a proponent of mandatory helmet use for motorcyclists. In 1968 the first helmet laws did require all riders to wear helmets. The state relented and backed off the mandatory helmet requirement in 1976 only requiring riders under the age of 18 to wear helmets. The universal helmet law was reinstated in 1982. Then in 1999, the law changed again to only require helmets for those under 18 or who did not have at least $10,000 worth of medical insurance. The current mandatory motorcycle helmet requirement began again in late 2004.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) did a study on how the statistics from the last period that Louisiana did not require helmets for all motorcycle riders (1999-2004) compared to the immediately prior period where helmet use was mandatory. The study found that when the mandatory helmet law was repealed in 1999, motorcycle helmet use dropped by 50% over the next two years. Serious injury crashes increased by 40%, and fatalities rose by 75%. 

Helmet Wearing and Head Injuries

According to the NHTSA, injury or death occurs in more than 80% of all reported motorcycle crashes. Rider ejection from the motorcycle is a frequent result of the impact between a motorcycle and another motor vehicle. After ejection, a rider’s body slams into whatever it happens to hit with very little protection from the force of the second impact. 

The NHTSA says that wearing a helmet is the most important safety precaution a motorcyclist can take. Not only does a helmet prevent objects from piercing the head it also helps to distribute the force from anything impacted so as to lessen both the frequency and severity of head injuries. 

Consider the following statistics compiled by the NHTSA:

  • Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents.
  • Not wearing a helmet increases the risk of dying in a motorcycle crash by 40%.
  • When helmets are required, fatality and serious injury accidents decrease
  • Hospital costs are higher for injured motorcycle riders who were not wearing helmets
  • Wearing a helmet reduces the likelihood of a serious brain injury by 67%

Motorcycle Riders Have a Responsibility to Wear a Helmet

When a person who is injured in an accident makes a claim for compensation against another person involved in the accident, a determination of fault must first be made. Louisiana law says that fault is to be assigned to those persons who are responsible for causing the damage that is to be compensated. 

Being partially at fault for causing the damage does not keep an injured party from receiving compensation, even though insurance carriers and the at-fault party will very likely try to make that claim. Compensation is only denied to an injured party when that party is completely responsible for causing their damages. However, the compensation that an injured party receives will be reduced by the percentage of fault they are found to have.

The law requires motorcycle riders to wear helmets for their own protection because they are so vulnerable in crashes. When motorcyclists choose not to wear helmets, they are not fulfilling a legal obligation to provide for their own safety and are then placing themselves at risk for greater injury in a crash.

How Not Wearing a Helmet May Affect Compensation for Injuries

Determining fault for the purpose of awarding compensation can involve more than just deciding who causes an accident. An injured party can be expected to have taken all reasonable safety measures to protect themselves from the consequences of an accident – especially if those reasonable measures are required by law. 

If a motorcyclist suffers a serious head injury in an accident while not wearing a helmet, the severity of the damage might be due to the lack of adequate head protection. Someone defending a personal injury claim may argue that an injured party is responsible for the increased damage because they were not wearing a legally required helmet. 

The success of arguing that not wearing a helmet caused the injuries to be more severe will depend on the circumstances of the accident and the claimed injuries. Open head injuries will be more compelling than closed head injuries. Closed head injuries are more difficult to quantify and can occur in persons who are wearing helmets as well as those who are not. 

When Not Wearing a Helmet Shouldn’t Affect an Injury Claim

If not wearing a helmet has no bearing on how the crash occurred or the injuries that were suffered, it’s not really relevant to the personal injury claim and can’t be used to try and reduce the amount of compensation that an injured motorcycle rider can collect. Head injuries may be more life-threatening, but injuries to extremities are the most common type of motorcycle injury, and wearing a helmet does not provide any protection for arms and legs.