Riding on a motorcycle can be a thrilling experience. However, along with that thrill comes some serious risk. Motorcycle drivers are more susceptible to the dangers presented by inclement weather and adverse road conditions than drivers in enclosed vehicles. Additionally, motorcylces are more prone to ending up in other driver’s blind spots, making it harder to see them when merging in traffic.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, a trusted source of data-driven insights on insurance, there were more than 5,500 motorcycle fatalities in 2020 and more than 83,000 injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that motorcyclists are about 28 times more likely to die in an accident than victims of closed-vehicle accidents and are four times more likely to be injured. If you’ve been in an accident and need help determining motorcycle accident liability, hiring a qualified motorcycle accident attorney to help put the pieces together is a smart move.
How Your Motorcycle Accident Attorney Proves Liability
According to the NHTSA, in multi-car accidents involving motorcycles, enclosed vehicle drivers are more likely to be at fault for causing the accident than motorcyclists, usually because of their multitasking or inability to see the motorcycles. The following are some examples of how a lawyer may be able to prove liability in a motorcycle accident.
Use Negligence to Prove Fault
In a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit). This means it will be the responsibility of the plaintiff’s attorney to prove that claims against the defendant (person being sued) are factual. One of the most common ways to prove liability in a motorcycle accident is by proving that the accused party was negligent. In legal terms, per the Oxford Languages definition, negligence is a failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. Proving negligence requires demonstrating that the following four criteria have been met:
Duty of care: The defendant was legally responsible for acting with the same level of caution that any reasonable person in similar circumstances would use to avert causing foreseeable harm to others. For example, in the case of a motorcycle accident, the defendant is expected to have been driving responsibly: not speeding, not texting while driving, not driving under the influence, etc.
Breach of duty: The defendant knowingly breached a legal duty or failed to act with the same level of care that others in the same circumstances would use, thus failing to protect the plaintiff. Failure to drive responsibly in the above example would constitute a breach of duty.
Causation: The defendant’s negligence was responsible for causing the accident.
Damages: The plaintiff has incurred one or more legitimate types of damage as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
Other Ways to Prove Fault and Liability in Court
While most motorcycle accident attorneys are likely to allege general negligence on the part of the defendant to prove their fault, there are other ways to determine liability. As defined by Cornell Law School, negligence per se occurs when a defendant has broken a statute or regulation and, in so doing, has breached their duty of care by law. If an accident was caused on purpose, liability can be proven by demonstrating that it resulted from intentional conduct. In some cases, a defendant is known to be responsible for committing an action, irrespective of their intent or mental state at the time. According to Cornell Law School, this is known as strict liability.
Defendants in a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit
If someone feels that they have been wrongfully accused in a motorcycle accident lawsuit, there are many defenses an attorney can use, depending on the nature of the lawsuit.
Legal Defenses Against Negligence Claims
The key to an effective defense in a lawsuit where negligence claims are involved is disproving one or more of the four elements used to illustrate the defendant’s allegedly negligent actions. There are also legal doctrines that may help prove a person’s lack of negligence or limit their liability. Below are a few of the most common defenses against negligence claims.
Contributory Negligence: This is the failure of the plaintiff to act with caution and, in so doing, contribute to their own accident.
Comparative Negligence: This is the principle that the fault of each party involved in an accident depends on their individual contributions to the accident. Damages may be awarded according to each participant’s degree of fault, thus limiting how much the plaintiff may recover.
Assumption of Risk: This doctrine argues that if a person undertakes an activity (such as riding a motorcycle), understanding the dangers involved, they are knowingly assuming these risks, and they may be barred from recovering damages stemming from any accident that occurred while they voluntarily exposed themselves to danger.
Legal Defense to Intentional Torts
Though most motorcycle accidents are not likely to result from intentional torts, there is a slight possibility that such an accident could have been caused intentionally. In such a circumstance, a defendant may claim that they acted in defense of themself or another, in defense of their own property, or out of necessity.
Other Potential Defenses
Some defense attorneys may try to prove that the fault of the accident lies with the motorcycle driver. In doing so, here are some of the factors they may be likely to examine:
How much driving experience the motorcyclist has.
How long have they driven that particular motorcycle?
Are they fit to be driving? (Do they have physical or mental health impairments that may affect their ability to drive safely?)
Were they dressed appropriately (e.g., wearing a helmet or other protective gear, wearing clothes that made them visible to other drivers, etc.)?
Was the motorcycle itself fit to be on the road?
Did the motorcycle driver follow traffic laws?
Were they driving defensively enough?
Good defense lawyers will leave no stone unturned when proving their client is not responsible for the accident.
Resources for Motorcycle Accident Victims
If you’ve been in a motorcycle accident, you’ll want to find a qualified attorney immediately. They’ll be your best resource for guiding you through the legal process. You may also find yourself in need of other kinds of assistance. Fortunately, there are many free and easily accessible resources available online and in communities around the United States that you may find helpful.
Disability and Temporary Disability Benefits
Depending on several factors, such as the nature and severity of your injuries from the accident, your age, your financial status, and whether or not you can work after the accident, you may be eligible for government-funded disability benefits. These benefits can help with finances while you await your settlement.
If you meet the following requirements, you may qualify for SSDI benefits:
You cannot work due to a medical condition expected to last at least a year or result in death.
Your disability is not partial or short-term.
You meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
You are younger than your full retirement age.
For SSI benefits, the following requirements must be met:
Are age 65 and older, or blind or have a disability.
Have limited income (wages, pensions, etc.).
Have limited resources (the things you own).
Are U.S. citizens, nationals of the U.S., and some noncitizens.
Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands. It does not include Puerto Rico, Guam, or the United States Virgin Islands. Exception: The children of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty outside the U.S. and certain students temporarily abroad may receive SSI payments outside the U.S.
Are under age 18 and have a physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limit their daily activities for a period of 12 months or more or may be expected to result in death, and
Live in a household with limited income (benefits based on need) or resources.
To determine which of these benefits you may qualify for, you can reach the program at 1-800-772-1213 or go to https://ssabest.benefits.gov/benefit-finder/.
Free Online Legal Advice
The American Bar Association Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that provides an online version of the walk-in clinic model. Users may request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer by posting their civil legal questions to their state’s website. Lawyers will then follow up with basic legal advice and information, without the expectation of long-term representation. This is a great resource for people seeking advice and information about non-criminal legal matters but cannot afford a lawyer.
You can contact the ABA through the ABA Service Center Hotline at (800) 285-2221 or email them at Service@americanbar.org, Monday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM ET.
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