Motorcycle Accident Law: What Happens After Crashes? (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

Motorcycle accidents are much more likely to produce an injury or death than car accidents. Motorcycle operators and passengers have no compartment to protect them from hitting the road surface or being ejected from their vehicles. As a result, motorcyclists involved in crashes are 22 times more likely to die and four times more likely to suffer injury than occupants in a car crash.

Motorcycles have a higher risk of single-vehicle accidents. They are inherently unstable and require skill and balance to ride safely. They also face many unique risks from collisions with other vehicles. Their small size makes them harder to see and recognize by drivers—particularly inattentive ones. After a crash caused by negligent driving, motorcycle accident law entitles injured riders to seek compensation from the driver.

How Motorcycle Accident Law Works

Motorcycle crashes fall under the same field of law as other accidents. You typically have three legal theories that can apply to your crash, depending on what went wrong. These legal theories tell you who may be legally responsible for compensating you for the losses you incurred due to your injuries.

Most motorcycle accident claims fall under negligence law. Negligence happens when a driver crashes into your motorcycle due to a lack of reasonable care. The benefit of using negligence is that you do not need to prove the driver’s intent. The drawback is that you must prove your losses.

Another legal theory is strict liability. This legal theory applies to inherently dangerous activities like the manufacturing of products. If your motorcycle crash happened due to a defective product, such as a faulty motorcycle wheel or brake cylinder, this legal theory may apply. The benefit of strict liability claims is that you do not need to prove negligence or intent. The drawback is that it applies only to narrow situations.

Finally, a civil battery occurs when someone intentionally crashes into your motorcycle. This type of claim rarely occurs. However, if your motorcycle crash happened as a result of a driver’s road rage, you might have a claim for intentional harm. The benefit of this claim is that you do not need to prove your damages. The drawback is that your lawyer must have evidence showing the driver intended to make harmful contact with you.

Proving Negligence Under Motorcycle Accident Case Law

Negligence is not defined in any state or federal statutory laws. Instead, negligence is a legal concept that traces its origins back to English common law. Since that time, negligence has grown up in court cases that define the elements for a claim in each state. Although these cases only control the outcomes in the states where they were decided, they all developed on parallel paths.

This means that whether you are in California, Maine, or anywhere in between, your negligence case will require proof of the same four elements under motorcycle injury law:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Damages
  • Causation

The duty of care applies to all drivers. It requires them to exercise reasonable care to avoid exposing other road users to an unreasonable risk of injury or death. A driver breaches this duty when their acts are unreasonable under the circumstances.

Your lawyer can prove a breach in two ways. First, a driver may breach this duty by violating a traffic law. Second, a driver breaches the duty by doing something unreasonably dangerous even if no law prohibits it. Thus, a driver who texts while driving will be liable for any resulting crash even if state law does not prohibit texting while driving.

Your damages come from your injuries. You likely had medical bills, wage losses and out-of-pocket expenses due to your injuries.

Causation is usually the only element that might vary between states. All states require your lawyer to prove cause-in-fact. This means the other driver’s actions naturally and logically led to your injuries.

Many states also require proof of proximate cause. This element means that an accident was a foreseeable outcome of the driver’s actions. The requirement of foreseeability is meant to ensure that drivers are not held liable for freak occurrences.

Comparative or Contributory Negligence

Another legal principle to know after a motorcycle crash is how your state’s laws handle negligence by accident victims. Some states use comparative negligence to simply divide the fault between the driver and the rider and reduce the rider’s compensation. In these states, a motorcyclist who is 30% at fault for a crash still recovers 70% of their losses.

Other states use contributory negligence. In these states, accident victims cannot recover any compensation if they are even slightly at fault. Thus, a motorcyclist who is 1% at fault in a contributory negligence state gets nothing.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Most motorcyclists feel that drivers are more often at fault for collisions than motorcyclists. A study from 2013 seemed to verify that automobile drivers cause about 60% of collisions. However, there have been no studies since then to confirm or refute its conclusions.

  • Negligent motorcycle operators sometimes cause motorcycle accidents. If a negligent rider crashes into your car, the motorcyclist will be liable for your property damage and injuries. Motorcycle riders must carry liability insurance, so you should exchange insurance information with the rider and use it to file a claim.

  • When a driver hits your motorcycle, you must stop at the accident scene. Contact the police and exchange insurance information with the driver. When the police arrive, cooperate with their investigation and request an ambulance, if needed. Visit a medical provider for diagnosis and treatment and follow your doctor’s instructions. Make sure you also reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney.

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