Determining Fault In a Motorcycle Accident

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Who pays for damages after a motorcycle accident depends on the laws of the state in which it happened and the circumstances of the crash. Some states have “no-fault” laws that do not take into account who caused the accident, while others say that the person who caused the accident is responsible for paying for the damages to all parties. Some states take into account how much each party contributed to causing the accident.  If you are involved in a motorcycle accident, be sure you know how the law in your state will determine who is responsible for paying damages.

No Fault Insurance States

If you are injured in a motorcycle accident in a no fault state, you will need to be compensated for your injuries by filing a claim with your own insurance company.  No fault states limit your ability to sue another party in the accident, so you need to make sure your insurance policy is adequate to cover any injuries or damage you and your bike suffer. 

In most no fault states, you can file a motorcycle accident lawsuit to recover non economic damages such as pain and suffering if the cost of those damages exceeds a certain level.  Even if you live in a no fault state, you should consult with an experienced attorney and get the information you need about your right to sue for the injuries you suffer.

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Fault Based Laws

If you are injured in a state that takes fault into account when deciding who is responsible for an accident, then you will need to file a claim with the insurance company of the driver at fault.  In almost all of these states, the degree of fault each driver is will play a significant factor in deciding how much each party is responsible for paying out.  The legal term for this system is “comparative fault” and there are three common scenarios:

  • Pure Comparative Fault: In a pure comparative fault system, each driver can only recover money that pays for the percent of damages they did not cause while they are responsible for the percent of damage costs that they did.  For example, say Bob and Melissa were involved in an accident that resulted in $10,000 worth of injuries and property damage with Bob being 80% at fault and Melissa the other 20%.  In this scenario, Bob can recover $2,000 (20% of $10,000) while Melissa can recover $8,000 (the remaining 80% of $10,000).  
  • The 51% Rule: In a proportional comparative fault state that follows the 51% Rule, a driver can only recover money if they are less than 51% at fault for the accident.  For example, say that Bob and Melissa were again involved in an accident, but this time Bob was 49% at fault and Melissa was 51% at fault.  This time, Bob could recover 49% of the total damages cost, but Meliss is not entitled to anything because she was 51% at fault.
  • The 50% Rule: Comparative fault states with the 50% Rule are similar to 51% Rule states, however, in order to recover a driver must be less than 50% at fault in order to recover damages.  Any driver at 49% fault or less is able to recover, while drivers 50% or more are not allowed to get damages.

In fault states that prevent a driver from recovering the cost of damages because they contributed too much to the accident, it is important to have an insurance policy that protects you.  Even if you cannot file a claim to recover from the other party in the accident, you should have an insurance policy that helps you recover the costs.

How Fault is Determined

Fault is determined by analyzing a number of factors that caused the accident.  The same factors that contribute to fault in auto accidents also contribute to fault in motorcycle accidents, and include weather and road conditions, how fast the vehicles were traveling, and whether the drivers were impaired by fatigue or alcohol. 

A motorcycle accident attorney can advise you about fault standards in your state, and how fault will be determined in your particular case.  Speaking with a lawyer is typically free and does not obligate you to hire him.

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