Determining Legal Responsibility for a Motorcycle Accident
More than 6.5 million Americans enjoy the freedom and affordability of riding a motorcycle. Since 1997, motorcycle registrations have jumped by 75 percent, showing just how many people are drawn to motorcycles over traditional motor vehicles. But unfortunately, as the numbers of motorcyclists on our roads increases, so do the number of motorcycle accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
Motorcyclists are exposed to a variety of dangers that drivers often are not. Without the protective shell of a vehicle, motorcyclists are more exposed and more likely to suffer serious injuries in the event of a crash. In fact, about 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, compared to only 20 percent of motor vehicle accidents. As such, it is extremely important for drivers to use caution around motorcyclists and follow the rules of the road.
After a motorcycle accident, from a legal standpoint, it is critical to determine who is legally responsible. This legal responsibility, or liability, is the core of a personal injury case (should you choose to file a claim) and is an extremely important first step in the claim process.
Determining liability depends on the idea of “negligence,” or the failure to take the proper care in doing something. When it comes to drivers, negligence could mean speeding, turning without a turn signal, failing to check for other vehicles when changing lanes, texting while driving, or driving under the influence (among other things). If you can prove that either the motorcyclist or the driver acted negligently in the moments leading up to the accident, you could have a strong case that that person is liable for the accident.
It is important to remember that New Jersey operates under a “modified comparative negligence” system. Under this system, a plaintiff (the one bringing the lawsuit) does not have to prove that the other driver was completely at fault in order to win the case. Rather, the plaintiff must simply prove that the other driver was mostly at fault—meaning more than 50 percent at fault.
Under the comparative negligence system, the plaintiff’s overall damage award is reduced by his or her percentage of fault in the accident. For example, say you were riding your motorcycle with a brake light out. A driver in the next lane over, who is busy changing the radio station, doesn’t look before changing lanes, hitting you in the process. The accident results in $100,000 worth of injuries and property damage. An opposing attorney could argue you were 10 percent at fault for having a non-functional brake light, but the defendant was 90 percent at fault for being distracted and changing lanes without taking the proper care. Therefore, you would be eligible to recover up to $90,000 (a 10 percent decrease from the overall cost of $100,000).
It is also important to remember that the liable party is not always another motorist. Certain motorcycle accidents are caused by design or manufacturing defects, such as faulty brakes or defective instruments. If this is the case, you could have a claim against the motorcycle designer or manufacturer, depending on what component caused the crash. (However, claims against large manufacturers or corporations can be very difficult. It is important to retain an experienced personal injury lawyer before pursuing a product liability case.)