What if the Motorcyclist is At-Fault?

The majority of motorcycle accidents involving other vehicles are the result of an error by the other driver. However, motorcycles are involved in more single-vehicle crashes than other motorists. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports single-vehicle crashes account for 45 percent of all motorcycle fatalities.

Whether it’s a single-vehicle crash or a multi-vehicle accident, the question of fault is central for the Boston motorcycle accident attorneys at Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers. Legal strategy will depend on details of the case and also whether we are representing the motorcycle operator or passenger.

Although Massachusetts is a no-fault state when it comes to automobile insurance, the determination of fault does matter when it comes to stepping outside that no-fault system and pursuing damages above and beyond the personal injury protection (PIP) benefit limits. In order to exceed the no-fault threshold, the injured person must have suffered:

  • Injuries resulting in more than $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses;
  • Injuries that included permanent or serious disability, disfigurement, bone fracture or substantial loss of hearing and/or vision.

There are two things to keep in mind also if you are a motorcyclist and are being blamed for the accident:

  1. Neither the determination of fault by police or insurance adjusters is necessarily the final word. It’s the courts that have authority to make the final determination, and you can successfully challenge erroneous blame.
  2. Even if you as a motorcyclist do share some portion of the blame, Massachusetts contributory negligence statute still grants you the right to collect compensation from other responsible parties – so long as your share of the blame doesn’t exceed 50 percent.

If you are a motorcycle passenger injured in a crash, you will need to carefully explore the role of each driver involved. In a single-vehicle crash, the motorcycle operator is presumed to be at-fault. It may be a bit more complicated to determine fault in a multi-vehicle crash situation, but the good news for passengers is they generally don’t have to overcome assertions of contributory negligence. As passengers with no control over the vehicle, they cannot assume any duty of care to others on the road. The only exception might be if a passenger acted in some way to interfere with the safe driving of the motorcyclist or other motorists.

How Do We Define Fault?

The Standards of Fault contained in 211 CRM 74.04 are used as guidelines for insurance companies when determining fault, which is understood to mean when a driver is more than 50 percent responsible for a car accident.

Of course, it’s not an exact science. There is a fair amount of individual discretion in these cases, and insurers usually twist that to their advantage, hyping up the degree to which the insured or injured person was at-fault for their own injuries. Again, those assertions can be challenged.

Where it may be more difficult are in those pre-defined situations where fault is presumed. Per those aforementioned standards, some examples include instances where motorcyclists:

  • Collide with a lawfully parked vehicle.
  • Rear-end another vehicle.
  • Have an out-of-lane crash.
  • Fail to signal.
  • Fail to proceed with due caution from a stop sign or traffic control signal.
  • Back into another driver.
  • Fail to obey all driving rules and regulations.
  • Strike another vehicle while making a left turn or U-turn across the travel path of another vehicle going in the opposite direction.
  • Collide with another vehicle while leaving a parked position.
  • Crash on the wrong side of the road.
  • Crash while merging into a rotary or onto a highway.
  • Crash while failing to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles as the law requires.
  • Collide at a “T” intersection when entering from a side road.

Keep in mind that even your own insurer isn’t looking out for your best interest, and that’s why you need an experienced legal advocate working for you.

Contributory Negligence

Under M.G.L. 231, Section 85, the Commonwealth recognizes there are situations in which more than one driver might be at fault. Using a system known as “modified comparative fault” with a 51 percent bar, the law allows injured persons to collect damages – even if they are in part to blame for the accident – as long as they weren’t more than 50 percent responsible.

The flip side of that is the total amount of compensation can be reduced by whatever percentage the injured party is at-fault. So if a motorcyclist is found to be 15 percent at-fault for a crash, his or her total damages will be reduced by 15 percent.

Motorcyclists and passengers should not hesitate to contact an injury law firm just because they worry about the implications of their contributory actions in a crash. In many cases, it is often still worthwhile to pursue a claim for compensation.

Contact Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation.

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