Competing Tweets: Yes to higher insurance, no to mandatory helmets

by John Washington on January 19, 2017

Howard Fisher of Capital Media Services just posted a couple of back-to-back tweets alerting us to his stories about paradoxical actions by our geniuses at the Arizona State Legislature.

From the first story:

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday unanimously rejected a proposal by [Arizona State] Rep. [and trauma surgeon] Randall Friese, D-Tucson, to require adults to wear helmets or to pay a fee into a special trauma-injury fund.

Source: House panel rejects trauma surgeon’s attempt to require motorcycle helmets | tucson.com

And from the second story:

Saying Arizonans are one accident away from financial ruin, state lawmakers want to force motorists to buy more insurance to pay for the deaths and injuries they cause to others.

Source:  Arizona legislators want drivers to pay more for insurance | havasunews.com

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Norton January 19, 2017 at 9:26 am

If you choose not to wear a seatbelt in Arizona, you are banned from bringing a civil action against any other person for injuries you suffer in an auto accident. It’s a tough law, but it makes sense.

Do the same for helmets. If you want to ride without one, fine. But you do so at your own risk.

I chose not to wear a helmet. But it was a stupid choice. Every wreck was a dice throw on survival and one nearly took me out. Why should I be allowed to sue someone for the injuries I suffer if I choose to Ride-Stupid?

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John Washington January 19, 2017 at 9:39 am

A brief search revealed no such law to me, Mike. I’d be very interested to know more about this.

There IS a statue requiring seat belt usage for all front seat occupants, as well a requirement for all children to either be belted or in car seats.

I don’t agree with the “do so at your own risk” argument, especially in light of the mandatory belt requirement. A sub-argument (which I consider somewhat valid) is that belting the driver is as much about maintaining control of a maneuvering vehicle as about driver safety. But you could make the same argument about helmet use. I’ve always felt more in-control and aware of surroundings (via reduced wind in my face and ears) with a helmet than without. And it’s not like a freewheeling cycle can’t injury someone other than the rider.

But mostly I’m concerned about secondary costs to ME of others not using helmets, via my own operator insurance increasing, and healthcare costs that get distributed over all of us to compensate for catastrophic injuries to motorcyclists who don’t have adequate insurance.

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Mike Norton January 19, 2017 at 9:56 am

From Zachar Law Firm website: “OK, next question. Is it true that if I am in an accident and not wearing my seat belt that I will be unable to recover for my injuries? The answer is, maybe. I will explain.

Arizona is a ìcomparative faultî state. That means that if an accident occurs, all persons who have liability will be made to pay damages based upon a percentage allocation of fault. If you are 100% at fault, you pay 100% of the damages. If you are 10% at fault, you pay 10% of the damages.

Under Arizona’s comparative fault statute ARS ß12-2506:
A. In an action for personal injury, property damage or wrongful deathÖ each defendant is liable only for the amount of damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant’s percentage of fault, and a separate judgment shall be entered against the defendant for that amount.

Pervasive in the area of tort law is the ìreasonable person standardî. That means, generally, that ìfailing to act like a reasonable personî may expose you to liability, if such results in injury or damage to another. Not paying attention to the road and caused an accident? You were not acting ìlike a reasonable personî. Following too closely or speeding and caused an accident? You were not acting ìlike a reasonable personî.

The same applies to seat belt use. The reasonable person knows that he/she is supposed to wear a seat belt (ARS ß28-909). The reasonable person knows that seat belts prevent serious injuries and save lives. So, even if you are involved in an accident that is the fault of another, IF the defense can prove that your injuries were the result of your own failure to wear a seat belt, the jury will be instructed that, under Arizona comparative fault laws (ARS ß12-2506), you may be determined to be at fault for your own injuries, and as such, the jury can choose to not compensate you for that portion of your injuries related to seat belt non-use.

In Law v Superior Court, 157 Ariz. 147, 755 P.2d 1135(1988), the Arizona Supreme Court held:
Öunder the comparative fault statute (ARS ß12-2506), each person is under an obligation to act reasonably to minimize foreseeable injuries and damages. Thus, if a person chooses not to use an available, simple safety device, that person is at fault.

There is little doubt that seat belts often prevent more serious injuries and death. No one plans to be in an accident, and often we donít even see it coming before we get hit. Personally, after having seen some of the horrors of seat belt non-use in my twenty years in the practice of law, it amazes me that people still refuse or fail to wear their seat belts. You now know the law, and you now can understand the repercussions of not wearing seat belts.
Are you willing to take the risk?”

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John Washington January 19, 2017 at 10:28 am

Under ARS 12-2506 there is no “ban” on civil action by a non-seat-belt-wearing plaintiff. And if you read the actual Law v Superior Court appellate case referenced by Zachar, you won’t find an explicit ban there either. In fact, it reads,

“CONCLUSION

“Within the analytical framework of this opinion, we recognize the seat belt defense as a matter which the jury may consider in apportioning damages due to the “fault” of the plaintiff. Accordingly, in appropriate cases discovery will be available on the issue of nonuse.”

In plain language, not using your seat belt may affect how much fault is apportioned to you for your injuries (thus potentially reducing an award of damages), but it doesn’t prohibit or “ban” you from seeking or receiving compensation from others who are at fault.

Interesting discussion, though. And the bottom line is that we should all wear our seat belts… as well as not driving like Michelle Ugenti.

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Mike Norton January 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

You are correct. I overstated the position earlier.

The same theory applies precisely to helmets. A motorcycle rider who chooses not to wear a helmet opens up to an obvious defense against any head injury claims in an accident.

The other stuff you tear up in a scooter crash normally gets better. Your brain doesn’t.

If someone hit me and I lost part of my precious remaining mental faculties, my family and I would be devastated by the impact on my earning capacity.

It gets back to the foundational question. Motorcycles are ridiculously fun. But they’re dangerous. When the rider gets seriously hurt and can no longer perform income earning tasks, who will subsidize the lost earnings potential?

It won’t be auto insurance. The policy limits rarely cover it. It won’t be your own insurance unless you buy expensive Disability insurance with no gaps for doing dumb things on motorcycles.

So it often becomes a bankrupted family and the State.

Something needs to change in that scenario.

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John Washington January 19, 2017 at 11:15 am

Agreed. And to the point of my post on the subject, the State Legislature isn’t helping matters!

Steve Lowen January 19, 2017 at 9:39 am

Opposing rules? Why is this any different from the rules in place, and those constantly introduced, to deny Rights to Women, LGBTQ Communities, immigrants and minorities?

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Jason Alexander January 19, 2017 at 7:44 pm

The colossal stupidity of not wearing a helmet, and the costs your care imposes on society, make this a very tough argument for even diehard libertarians. If you don’t wear a helmet, you’ve probably never crashed. Any bike wreck more than just a few miles per hour you will hit your head. Every beginning snowboarder or inline skater falls violently on their back multiple times. Every person riding or skiing through woods over time will have to put their head down to charge through a branch. My 10yo crashed at a race last weekend, hit the edge of her helmet. Lots of organ donors out there who would rather be free than alive.

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