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Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents. Who is at Fault?

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November 1, 2022

In the first 10 months of 2022, 18 motorcyclists died in accidents on Delaware roads. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which has recorded details of fatal accidents in the U.S. since 1975, reported more motorcycle fatalities in 2020 in the U.S. than in any other year since FARS began with 5,579 motorcyclist deaths.

A motorcycle does not give its rider the same protection as a car, truck, or SUV, and the rider can suffer catastrophic injuries in an accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 80% of all reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to the motorcyclist. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a motorcycle accident, you may need the assistance of a lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation that you need. Our experienced motorcycle accident lawyers at Morris James can help. Contact us today online or at one of our local Delaware offices.

Common causes of motorcycle accidents

The most common cause of a motorcycle accident is driver negligence, often the negligence of the driver of another vehicle. Negligence is any behavior that causes harm because it falls below the standard reasonably expected of someone in that position. Here, we take a look at some of the more specific causes of motorcycle accidents, including different examples of negligent behavior. In many motorcycle accidents, more than one of these factors will be involved.

  1. Failure to Yield at a Left Turn. A significant number of motorcycle accidents happen when another driver is turning left and fails to see, or yield to, a motorcycle that is approaching from the other direction, passing, or overtaking. In 2020, 42% of all fatal motorcycle crashes were caused in this way. A motorcycle is less visible on the roads than a large car, truck, or SUV, and can be missed by a driver who is not paying proper attention to the roads. Failing to see another vehicle on the road would typically be considered negligent.
  2. Alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol is the cause of many accidents on our roads for all types of vehicles. When a driver is under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance, their responses are slowed, their coordination is affected, and their appreciation of risks is altered. The NHTSA reported that 41% of motorcycle riders who were killed in single vehicle accidents in 2020 were alcohol-impaired, more than any other vehicle. Drivers aged in their 40s were more likely than any other age group to be alcohol-impaired in a fatal motorcycle accident.
  3. Opening Car Doors. It is common for a motorcyclist or other cyclist to be involved in an accident when they collide with the opening door of a parked vehicle. When this happens, the person getting out of the car often did not properly check that the roadway was clear before opening the door. A motorcyclist can easily be thrown from their motorcycle and incur serious injuries in this way.
  4. Lane Splitting/Lane Filtering. Lane splitting happens when a motorcyclist rides in the space between two lanes of cars on a road. Lane filtering is the same practice but when the line of cars is stopped. In California, lane splitting is illegal but many states, including Delaware, do not mention either lane splitting or lane filtering in their laws. It is possible, however, that a motorcycle rider could be found at fault in an accident caused by lane splitting or lane filtering, depending on the circumstances of the accident. If you have been in an accident after lane splitting or lane filtering, it is strongly recommended that you get the advice of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney.
  5. Speeding. Speed is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents but it is a disproportionately high factor in motorcycle accidents. In 2020, 34% of all motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents were found to be speeding, compared to 22% for car drivers. The 25-29 year old age group had a higher involvement in speeding than any other age group, and also had the highest rate of fatalities. The injuries sustained in a high speed accident can be even more devastating than a low speed accident because of the increased momentum and risk. On a motorcycle, without all the safety protections of a car or truck, these effects are multiplied.
  6. Inexperience. Some motor vehicle accidents are due, or partly due, to the inexperience of the drivers involved. Handling a motorcycle takes skill and judgment, particularly when put in difficult and dangerous situations. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers can make mistakes and put their own and other people’s lives in danger.

Who is at fault in a motorcycle accident?

Every motorcycle accident is different, and the question of who is legally at fault will depend on the circumstances of the individual accident and the law in your state. If you have been in a motorcycle accident, you will need the advice of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to ensure that your right to compensation is not affected by a fault determination.

The most important thing to remember about fault in a motorcycle accident is that you should never admit any fault or liability in an accident before getting reliable legal advice. This includes any statements you make to other people involved in the accident, to their insurer, OR to your own auto insurance company. Insurance companies are for-profit businesses that are motivated to maximize their profits and minimize their payouts. An admission of fault in a motorcycle accident can affect who is liable for compensation and how much is paid out. An admission of fault will also be significant if a legal claim is brought as a result of the accident, and could entirely wipe out your entitlement to compensation.

Fault is determined based on evidence and the law. Sometimes, a person involved in the accident will admit that they are to blame but more often it is disputed. A police report of the accident is important evidence in a dispute and may even assign fault based on the evidence at the scene of the accident (including any admissions of fault.) If there are settlement negotiations regarding the accident, the people involved may agree a fault determination as part of their final settlement agreement. In some situations, the parties may end up in court and the court will determine, based on the evidence presented to it, who was at fault in the accident, and the extent of their financial liability.  

Fault can be assigned entirely to one person in a motorcycle accident or to multiple people. If multiple people are at fault in an accident, it will affect who is liable to pay compensation for any injuries or damage. Delaware is a modified contributory negligence state, which means that if an injured person is more than 50% at fault for an accident, they will not be able to recover any compensation for their injuries. If they are less than 50% at fault, their damages will be reduced by the amount of their fault. For example, if you are found to be 10% to blame for a motorcycle accident and another driver is 90% at fault, then you will only receive 90% of the compensation awarded for your injuries if your claim goes to trial. In many motorcycle accident cases however, the parties reach a settlement before the case gets as far as a courtroom. An experienced motorcycle attorney can help you to put forward a strong case based on evidence to prevent you from being blamed for an accident that is not your fault.

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, you may be facing injuries, distress, and finger-pointing. Many motorcycle accident victims also experience negative bias after an accident because motorcyclists are often thought to be reckless on the road. The reality is that in most motorcycle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle is found to be at fault. It is essential to get good legal advice so that you are protected after a motorcycle accident. You deserve support and a fair chance to get the compensation that you need. 

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have other questions about motorcycle accidents, you may find answers in our Motorcycle and Ebike Accident FAQs. You can also contact us online or call us at 302.655.2599 to learn more.


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