There is much less inherent safety in a motorcycle than in other motor vehicles. Not only is there little to no protection from hazards outside the vehicle, a motorcycle is more susceptible to uneven or slippery road conditions, as well as being less physically stable than any four-wheeled vehicle. Any motorcycle accident or collision is likely to have greater consequences for a motorcycle driver than for the driver of the other vehicle or vehicles involved in the incident. After the fact, the involvement of a motorcycle in a crash affects how liability is determined.
Negligent Drivers or Motorcycle Operators
Frequently, a motorcycle accident-related claim comes down to negligence on the part of one or more of the drivers involved in the accident. The law requires that anyone operating a motor vehicle take active, deliberate steps to avoid causing harm to anyone else, so negligence includes both commission and omission–things that a driver did that they shouldn’t have and things they did not do and should have. Liability in these cases is fairly straightforward. Whichever driver behaved negligently is liable for any injuries.
Conflicting Claims of Liability
In some cases, more than one of the drivers involved in the accident is determined to have behaved recklessly, complicating the claim. In these cases, it is common for a car or truck driver (or their insurance company) to bring up the actions of the motorcycle operator as a defense against a negligence claim. North Carolina is a contributory defense state, which means that if you are determined to be even partly at fault for the accident, you are not entitled to any compensation. Never say or write anything to an insurance investigator or anyone else involved in your claim that could be construed as an admission of fault: you could seriously damage your claim.
The Four-Step Negligence Claim
A negligence claim actually has four parts, four propositions that whoever is making the claim needs to prove in court. The first part is assumed in any accident: the person being sued (called the defendant) was required by law to exercise reasonable care to avoid hurting someone. The second part is related: the defendant did not do what was required by law, that is, the defendant was not careful. The third part is normally proven by medical records of some kind: the person making the claim or suing must have actually undergone some kind of loss or injury. The fourth part links the rest together: those injuries were caused by the defendant’s failure to exercise caution. Although these four parts are fairly straightforward, it can often be difficult to prove all four of them in court. It is generally a good idea to seek legal counsel if you intend to make a negligence claim.
Another common cause of motorcycle accidents is a mechanical failure of the motorcycle. These normally fall into two categories, faulty manufacturing or faulty design. Problems with manufacturing include defective parts or vehicles and parts that have been damaged or rendered unsafe at some point between the factory and the place where the buyer purchased the motorcycle. Problems with the design include any sort of design flaw that makes the motorcycle unsafe; a common example is the handful of motorcycle designs that don’t take into account the speeds they will be driven. At these high speeds the front wheel becomes unstable, often leading to crashes. In either case, you may be able to make a product liability claim against the manufacturer or seller. Product liability claims are even more complicated than negligence claims and, if you intend to make such a claim, you should certainly seek out legal counsel.
What to Do in the Event of a Motorcycle Accident
As with any motor vehicle accident, it is important to document everything possible in the wake of the motorcycle accident. As soon as you have sought out whatever medical attention you need, try to note down as many details as you can about the accident, including the actual events, any possible witnesses, the timing of the events and any relevant road conditions such as visibility, weather and the surface of the road.
Keep all medical documentation and bills for any medical treatment related to the accident and make your own records by photographing and making notes. Whether you are making a negligence claim or a product liability claim, find a competent attorney who has experience in the type of claim you’ll be making to walk you through the process and find anything you might have missed.