Motorcycle Accident Liability: What You Need to Know

Nothing provides quite the same freedom as a motorcycle. Riders experience everything the open road has to offer without anything in the way. Unfortunately, this means that motorcyclists are also uniquely at risk if they get into accidents. 

If you love riding your motorcycle, you should understand the potential risks you face. You should also understand how motorcycle accident liability works, whether you’ve already been in an accident or want to prepare for a possible future crash. Here’s what you need to know about motorcycle accidents in California, how liability is assigned, and how to ensure you receive fair compensation if you get hurt. 

Motorcycle Riders Face Serious Risks

Motorcycles are unique among motor vehicles. They can be operated at highway speeds and used on any road, just like cars and trucks. However, they don’t provide the rider with built-in protection. There’s nothing between the motorcyclist and the road except for their safety gear. There are no airbags, crumple zones, or even basic barriers to keep motorcyclists safe if they’re hit by another driver or forced off the road. 

Furthermore, motorcycles are significantly smaller than other vehicles operating on major roads. They are harder to see, which makes accidents more likely. Combined, these factors put motorcyclists at substantially higher risk than any other road user during routine trips. 

This is backed up by statistics released in the 2019 Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) report. This report includes data on all road accidents that led to injuries and deaths in the state for the year. According to the report, licensed motorcyclists are more than three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash than other drivers. Furthermore, motorcyclists are about a third less likely to be involved in a collision that causes injuries. Why? Because the injuries a motorcyclist receives are more likely to be serious or fatal, while car and truck drivers are more likely to receive mild injuries.

Furthermore, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle fatalities are rising. In 2020, riders constituted 14% of all traffic deaths nationwide, the highest percentage since records began in 1975. There has never been a time when motorcyclists were at greater comparative risk on the road.

Liability in Motorcycle Accidents

Liability is the term used to describe who is at fault for a given accident. California is a comparative fault state, which means that more than one party can be found responsible for a car accident. This is crucial for motorcyclists because it allows riders to hold other drivers accountable for the harm they cause, even if the rider was found to have contributed to the accident.

The SWITRS report lists motorcyclists are being at-fault in about two-thirds of fatal crashes and just over half of all injurious accidents in which they are involved. However, this doesn’t give the whole picture. By their nature, motorcycles are involved in more dangerous single-vehicle accidents than other types of vehicles, which skews the statistics. When these single-vehicle crashes are removed from consideration, it’s clear that motorcycle riders are often not responsible for the accidents that hurt or kill them.

For example, according to the NHTSA, 42% of fatal motorcycle accidents involving another car were caused by the other driver pulling out in front of the rider. Typically, the car or truck was turning left in an intersection while the motorcycle was continuing straight, and the rider couldn’t stop before fatally hitting the side of the vehicle. In these accidents, the other driver will almost certainly be considered at least partially liable for the rider’s death. 

This comparative fault determines how much of the calculated compensation the defendant is obligated to pay. For example, if a motorcycle accident victim is awarded $500,000 in damages and the other party is found to be 60% at fault, that party would be responsible for paying $300,000. 

Factors Affecting Liability in Motorcycle Crashes

Many factors are considered when determining liability in motorcycle accidents, including:

  • Visibility: Was the rider clearly visible? Was the other driver’s vehicle easy to see? Did both vehicles have appropriate headlights and reflectors to make themselves more visible in poor weather or low light? 
  • Road conditions: Did weather conditions contribute to the accident? Was the road slick, making it more difficult to stop? Was traffic heavy or light?
  • Both drivers’ behavior: Was either driver intoxicated? Were they speeding, distracted, or texting? Did either person ignore a stoplight or other traffic signal to cause the accident?

The answers to these questions are often used to determine whether liability rests wholly with one party or if and how it should be split. 

How to Pursue Compensation for Motorcycle Accidents

It’s clear that motorcyclist deaths and injuries remain all too common in California. If you were hurt in an accident, know you’re not alone. You can take action like thousands of others to hold the driver who injured you accountable and pursue compensation for your medical bills and other losses.

The first step is to discuss your case with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney. Every case is different, and the best approach will vary depending on your circumstances. That’s where the team at the Law Office of Reuben J. Donig can help you. 

Our firm prioritizes your needs from the moment you enter our office. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a motorcycle crash, we understand what you’re going through. We are deeply familiar with the demands of determining liability in motorcycle accidents and the difference that a successful claim can make for your life. We are dedicated to helping you pursue the compensation you need for your motorcycle accident or wrongful death claim. Learn more about how we can help with motorcycle accident liability cases by reaching out to our San Carlos personal injury law firm today.

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