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Can a Motorcyclist be Liable for a Crash if They Hit Your Car?

— October 20, 2022

In the aftermath of a collision with a motorcycle, it’s important to see a doctor to make sure you remain in good health.

A collision between a traditional motor vehicle and a motorcycle rarely ends well for the biker. Without the frame of a car around them to absorb some measure of the impact, the motorcyclist is directly exposed to an incredible and abrupt amount of force. A biker is at high risk of being thrown from their bike, which can cause serious and life-threatening injuries. 

In many cases, the driver of the car is found to be responsible for the crash, particularly if they were driving carelessly. However, you may be wondering what would happen if a motorcyclist crashed into a car. Perhaps the biker is trying to split lanes on the freeway and accidentally merges into a vehicle traveling next to them or they rear-end a vehicle stopped at a red light. Would the driver still be responsible for the collision? In this article, we discuss how liability is determined in motorcycle crashes and whether the biker may be responsible for a wreck. 

What Factors Contribute to Motorcycle Accidents?

Motorcycle crashes can occur for many reasons, from operator errors to environmental factors. In general, most of the factors capable of causing a single or multi-vehicle crash can also lead to a motorcycle wreck. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some potential crash factors can include:

  • Speeding 
  • Distracted or impaired driving
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Improper turns
  • Tailgating
  • Violation of traffic signals or stop signs
  • Vehicle malfunction
  • Poor weather or road conditions
  • Violation of right-of-way rules
  • Reckless or aggressive driving and road rage

 Can a Motorcyclist Be Held Liable for a Crash?

To put it simply, yes, a motorcyclist can be found at fault for a collision. Of course, every wreck is unique and there may be multiple parties that share some degree of responsibility for the collision. The bottom line is that motorcyclists are obligated to follow the rules of the road, just like the drivers of other vehicles. If a biker fails to adhere to traffic laws or drives in such a manner that causes a crash, they may be found liable for the collision. Brady, Brady & Reilly LLC notes that the following behaviors may make a biker more likely to be responsible for the incident:

  • Unsafe lane splitting, or lane splitting in a state where it is not permitted
  • Biking under the influence
  • Biking while distracted
  • Reckless speeding

How Does Comparative Negligence Play a Role in Motorcycle Accidents?

Comparative negligence is a legal principle used by a court to reduce the amount of damages an injury victim can claim. In states that have comparative negligence laws in place, a victim’s recovered damages are reduced according to the degree of negligence they contributed to their injury. For example, in a hypothetical accident between a car and a motorcycle, the motorcyclist is found to be 70% liable for the collision. The biker will still be able to recover 30% of the total amount of damages awarded to them by the court. 

There are two types of comparative negligence used in the United States:

  • Pure comparative negligence: A plaintiff may claim a degree of damages even if they are as much as 99% at fault for their accident. Approximately one-third of states follow this rule at the time of this article’s writing.
  • Modified comparative negligence: There are two different types of modified comparative negligence. Under the “50% bar rule,” a recovery may not be made when the plaintiff is 50% at fault or higher. If a state uses a “51% bar rule,” a recovery may not be made by someone that is 51% or more responsible for the incident. 

Not all states use a comparative negligence model when it comes to personal injury cases. In some states, a plaintiff is unable to recover any damages if they are found to be at all liable for their accident. It’s important to check your state’s laws and consult with an experienced motorcycle accident attorney if you’re in a crash, so you can fully understand your legal standing. 

What Are At-Fault & No-Fault Insurance States?

If you’ve been hit by a motorcyclist, you’re probably wondering how you will be compensated following your accident. You will usually be paid out through an insurance claim, though whether your provider or the at-fault biker’s provider pays depends on whether you live in a no-fault or at-fault state. The Entrekin Law Firm breaks down the two different types of insurance state as follows:

  • In an at-fault state, the motorist(s) who are liable for an accident are responsible for providing damages to the injured parties. Depending on the at-fault person’s financial situation, this may be accomplished through an insurance claim or out-of-pocket payment. In most cases, when an insurance claim is used to cover damages, it comes out of the liable motorist’s bodily injury liability coverage. 
  • If you live in a no-fault state, each person involved in a collision is compensated through their own insurance policy, regardless of who was responsible for the crash. Usually, damage payouts are covered by the driver’s personal injury protection policy. In some cases where the crash victim suffers substantial injuries or property damage, it may be possible to pursue an injury lawsuit against the liable motorist. 

In the table below, we show which states currently follow no-fault or at-fault models in 2022. Please note that these conditions could potentially change in the future, so it is important to research your state’s laws and speak with an injury attorney following a crash. In our chart, “Choice No Fault” means that drivers in a state can select either a no-fault or at-fault insurance policy, as best fits their needs.

At-Fault and No-Fault states; table by author.
At-Fault and No-Fault states; table by author.

Recovering Compensation After a Motorcycle Crash

A car accident is a traumatic and stressful experience for even the most experienced driver. In the aftermath of a collision with a motorcycle, it’s important to see a doctor to make sure you remain in good health. After being cleared medically, it’s always a good idea to speak to a local motorcycle accident attorney that understands your state’s transportation and insurance laws. They can help you chart a path towards a financial recovery after your experience. 

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