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Establishing Fault in a Motorcycle Accident

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motorcycle riders

No matter who is at fault, a motorcycle accident is usually serious for everyone involved, especially the motorcyclist.

Because of the lack of protection provided by a motorcycle, injuries suffered by motorcyclists involved in accidents are frequently severe, and often life-threatening. Even if motorcyclists are wearing helmets and protective clothing, there is no barrier between them and the road, another vehicle, or some other object, which puts them at much greater risk for injury than those travelling in the protection of an automobile. Depending upon the situation, fault for motorcycle accidents may rest with several different parties, including:

The Driver of the Automobile

Motorcycle accidents often occur when the driver of an automobile violates a traffic law, such as speeding, running a stop light, or failing to yield, and hits or is hit by a motorcyclist. According to Nolo, the single-most dangerous situation for motorcycle riders happens when they encounter a car making a left-hand turn while they are:

  • Traveling straight through an intersection
  • Passing the car
  • Trying to overtake the car

If a car hits a motorcycle while making a left-hand turn, the driver of the car will typically be found at fault for the accident, unless the motorcyclist was speeding, in the wrong lane, or in the process of committing some other traffic violation.

Experts have said that over 50% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by a driver who violates a motorcyclist’s right of way. Motorcyclists may be difficult for other motorists to see, especially at intersections where traffic may be heavy or vehicles are attempting to merge onto a highway. But failure to see a motorcycle doesn’t relieve a driver of his responsibility when it comes to a crash if he or she fails to check his/her blind spots, misjudges the speed and position of a motorcycle, and follows a motorcycle too closely.

Distracted driving, such as texting or talking on a cellphone while driving, eating, talking to other passengers, or even daydreaming, can take a motorist’s attention away from the road and put other drivers, particularly motorcyclists, at risk.

The Motorcyclist

When a motorcyclist speeds, drives erratically, or operates his bike under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he will likely be considered at fault for any accident that occurs. If a motorcyclist drives between two lanes of stopped or slowly moving vehicles, a practice known as lane splitting, fault for an accident will depend upon whether lane splitting is legal where the accident occurred, but there’s a reasonable chance that fault will be attributed to the motorcyclist. However, if the motorcyclist is able to establish that the driver of the other vehicle involved was rapidly changing lanes, weaving, or was distracted by something, that driver may be held at least partially at fault.

According to a University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research study, motorcyclists are involved in a significantly higher number of single-vehicle crashes than other drivers, 34% compared to 19% of car accidents involving one vehicle. The study found that many of these crashes occur when bikers are navigating a curve but fail to slow down.

The Manufacturer of the Motorcycle

If a motorcycle accident is caused by a malfunction of the motorcycle due to a defective design, manufacture, or assembly, the motorcycle manufacturer may be liable. In situations where a motorcycle or its parts have been recalled, retailers have a responsibility to stop selling the motorcycle or pull defective parts from their shelves. If no measures were taken to correct or fix the problem, the motorcycle retailer could also be held liable. If a failure in safety gear, such as a helmet or goggles, caused or made a motorcyclist’s injuries worse, then the maker and seller of the gear might also be held liable.

Once Fault Is Established, Then What?

When motorcycle accidents are caused by the willful or negligent conduct of another party, a personal injury lawsuit can be filed to obtain damages from those responsible. Motorcycle accident lawsuits, like other motor vehicle accident cases, are typically based on claims of negligence, the failure of a person to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances.

Image by Terry Ross.


My daughter and I first consulted with Dan Rosen after a very serious auto accident. Dan had several phone conferences with me, and Tracie was available whenever I called. We would recommend personal injury attorney Dan Rosen to anyone!
Sally from Denver, Colorado

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