Motorcycle accidents can be a life-changing experience, especially for motorcyclists and their passengers. Statistically speaking, motorcycle riders are 27 times more likely to suffer fatal injuries in a collision compared to passenger vehicle occupants.
In addition to the increased risk of suffering debilitating injuries and dying when involved in an accident, motorcyclists also face unfair and often bizarre biases when seeking compensation for their losses and damages. Many drivers and insurance company representatives mistakenly assume motorcycle riders are at fault in about 90 percent of motorcycle accidents. However, what you are about to find out about in this blog post may surprise you.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident, it's crucial to seek the assistance of a motorcycle accident lawyer to navigate the complexities of the legal process and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Top Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
Even the most cautious motorcyclist is at risk of being in an accident because motorcycle riders are at the mercy of thousands of other drivers on the road. Motorcycle accidents often occur when you least expect them. Below is a list of some of the leading causes of accidents that involve motorcycles and cars:
- Speeding. Driving faster than the speed limit or conditions allow is one of the leading causes of all road accidents, including those involving motorcycles. Braking, reacting to hazards, avoiding obstacles, and maintaining vehicle control at high speeds becomes difficult.
- Unsafe lane changes. It is always crucial to check blind spots and mirrors and use a signal before changing lanes, whether you are a car driver or motorcyclist. Statistically speaking, most multi-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles occur because other drivers do not see the motorcyclist, and many such collisions happen when a driver is making an unsafe lane change.
- Failure to yield. Many car drivers fail to yield the right of way to motorcycles, likely resulting in a collision. The most common scenario in which a driver fails to yield to a motorcyclist is when a vehicle is making a left turn into the path of a motorcycle.
- Tailgating. Riding too closely to the vehicle or motorcycle in front of you – called tailgating – is extremely dangerous. When there is not enough space between the vehicle and the motorcycle, there may be insufficient time to react if the car/motorcycle stops suddenly.
- Distracted driving. Drivers texting, talking on the phone or to passengers, eating or sipping on coffee, or even changing the radio station are more likely to be in an accident. Every year, 10-15 percent of all police-reported traffic accidents show up as distraction-affected crashes.
- Opening doors without checking for traffic. Another common hazard for motorcyclists is car doors opening so unexpectedly that the rider cannot avoid a collision. Drivers and passengers in a parked car may forget to check for traffic before opening their car door, causing disastrous and potentially deadly situations for motorcyclists.
- Running a red light or stop sign. Motorists who ignore red lights or stop signs increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident. The risk is even higher for motorcycles since they are often difficult to see, especially at night or in bad weather conditions.
A car driver’s negligence can change a motorcyclist’s life in the blink of an eye because motorcycle riders and their passengers have far less protection than passenger vehicle occupants.
Who Else Can Be Responsible for a Motorcycle Accident?
In some situations, someone other than a driver can be responsible for causing a motorcycle accident. Namely, three parties share liability for such accidents:
Employers can be liable for motorcycle accidents if their employees cause the incident while on the job. For instance, if a delivery truck driver hits a motorcyclist while making a delivery, the driver’s employer will be responsible for any injuries and damages the motorcycle rider suffers. This is because of a legal principle called vicarious liability, which holds that employers are responsible for their employees' actions during their employment. If you are involved in a motorcycle accident with someone who is driving a company vehicle or is on the job, it makes perfect sense to discuss your situation with a lawyer and investigate whether the employer can be held responsible.
Government agencies can also be at fault for motorcycle accidents in certain situations. For instance, if a city fails to maintain a road properly and this leads to an accident, the local government that maintains the road will be liable. Another potential scenario is if a government agency fails to provide adequate warning signs or traffic signals, resulting in an accident. If you believe a government agency’s negligence played a role in your accident, consider speaking with a lawyer to investigate further.
Manufacturers of vehicles or their parts may also be responsible for motorcycle accidents. If a defective part or design flaw causes or contributes to the crash, the victim can pursue legal action against the manufacturer(s). For example, if a car’s brakes fail and this leads to a collision with a motorcycle, the manufacturer of that car can bear full or partial responsibility for the accident.
What Evidence Can Help Determine Fault in a Motorcycle Accident?
Determining fault after a motorcycle accident often relies on collecting and presenting evidence that supports the arguments made by the parties. For example, if a motorcyclist argues that the car driver was at fault because they were speeding, they must demonstrate evidence that proves their point (such as a traffic citation and/or witness statements). Your lawyer can use various pieces of evidence to determine fault, including:
- Police report. A police report is one of the most influential and reliable pieces of evidence in determining fault in any accident, not just motorcycle accidents. This is primarily due to their objectivity and impartiality. Police reports include information about the parties involved, any passengers, witnesses, and the location and time of the accident, among other basic things. The report will also usually contain the officer’s opinion regarding who was at fault according to their observations at the scene and testimony of the parties involved.
- Photos taken at the scene. The photographs taken by the parties and police officers can tell a lot about how the accident happened. Take multiple pictures of the vehicles involved and the damages they sustained, the surrounding area and skid marks, and any visible injuries sustained by the victims. The photos can assist accident reconstruction experts in determining the speed, direction of both vehicles, point of impact, and other details that they will use to establish who is to blame.
- Video surveillance footage of the accident, if available. If there are any businesses or surveillance cameras in the area, the footage from their video surveillance cameras, if available, will provide invaluable and, for obvious reasons, the most trusted piece of evidence for determining fault. The footage can show the events leading up to the accident and help confirm or disprove the parties' statements.
- Cell phone records. Suppose either party suspects distracted driving to be the cause of the motorcycle accident. In that case, they may request access to the other party’s cell phone records to see if the driver was talking or texting when the collision occurred.
- Traffic citations. If any drivers received traffic citations following the accident, this can help determine fault. For example, if the car driver received a citation for a violation, such as running a red light or speeding, it may indicate that they were at fault for the accident.
- Testimony from eyewitnesses. Unless the accident happened at night and/or on a rural road, there will most likely be witnesses at the scene who can provide testimony about what happened. Their statement can be in the police report, and they may have to testify in court if the case goes to trial.
- Toxicology report of the other driver. If one party suspects that the other party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a toxicology report may be necessary to confirm or deny the suspicion. It will show if the driver was (or wasn’t) under the influence of any substances at the time of the accident. In most cases, however, whether or not any of the parties are intoxicated will be contained in the police report.
- Testimony from accident reconstruction experts. Your lawyer can retain accident reconstruction experts to investigate the scene and examine the physical evidence, photos, and other documents to create a report detailing how the accident happened. They will provide expert testimony that can help determine where the fault lies.
Remember: the more evidence you can gather, the easier it may be to determine fault accurately and clearly. That is why you might want to retain the services of a personal injury attorney to investigate all the potential contributing factors and collect every piece of evidence they can find.
Factors That Affect the Determination of Fault in Motorcycle Accidents
There are a multitude of factors that can be taken into consideration when trying to determine fault after a motorcycle accident. While every accident is different and involves a unique set of facts and circumstances, police officers, investigators, insurance companies, and lawyers often base liability on the following factors:
Did Any Party Violate Traffic Laws?
When determining fault in a motorcycle accident, the first thing that police officers and investigators look for is whether any party violated traffic laws. Common violations include:
- Failing to yield.
- Running a red light.
- Not keeping a safe following distance.
If one party violated traffic laws and caused the accident, they will likely be at fault.
What Evidence Is Available?
In addition to traffic laws, investigators also rely heavily on evidence collected at the scene when establishing fault. Evidence can include anything from witness statements to photographs of the accident scene and camera surveillance footage that captured the moment of the crash. For this reason, gathering as much evidence after the accident as possible to bolster your legal claim is essential.
What Does the Police Report Say?
Another factor that plays a pivotal role in determining fault is the police report and, more specifically, what it says about the parties’ behaviors that caused or contributed to the motorcycle accident. When the police arrive at the scene, they will speak with all parties involved, including witnesses, and gather evidence to compile a comprehensive report detailing what happened. This report will usually include their assessment of who was at fault unless there is insufficient evidence to establish fault at the scene. However, remember that while a police report can serve as a substantial piece of evidence, it is not infallible. Just because a police report says someone is at fault doesn’t make it so.
Did Anyone Witness the Accident?
Witness statements can be critical for determining fault in any road accident, including those that involve motorcycles. A witness can provide an unbiased account of what happened, which can be helpful in cases where both parties disagree on who was at fault, and the police officer cannot determine fault due to conflicting information. Unfortunately, however, witnesses do not always stick around to provide a statement or, at the very least, leave their contact information.
How Fast Were the Driver and Rider Going?
The speed at which the car driver and motorcycle rider traveled may impact the fault determination. The faster someone is going, the less time they have to react to changes in traffic or road conditions. For example, if a car driver was speeding when they crashed into a motorcyclist, this fact alone may make them liable for the accident even if they followed other traffic rules. When any of the parties is speeding, they are breaching their duty of care toward other drivers on the road.