Motorcycle accidents may be found to have been caused by the negligence of motorcyclists as well as that of other drivers. A motorcyclist’s contributory negligence (i.e., negligence that contributes to the cause of one’s own injuries) is the most common defense raised by motorcycle-accident defense attorneys to drivers’ or other defendants’ liability. The success of this defense is often aided by certain biases against motorcyclists prevalent in the non-riding community. Jury members who perceive motorcyclists to be aggressive and reckless, for example, may be easily persuaded that a particular motorcyclist’s own carelessness contributed to the cyclist’s accident. A rider who adheres to traffic laws and rules of the road—and takes other safety precautions—is not only less likely to be involved in an accident but also less likely to be found partially or wholly responsible in the event an accident occurs.

Comparative Negligence Laws

All states have laws regarding the effect of a plaintiff’s own negligence on a plaintiff’s right to recovery for injuries caused, in part, by the negligence of another. These laws are commonly known as comparative negligence laws and may vary, in important respects, from one state to another.

Some states’ comparative negligence laws reduce a plaintiff’s recovery under some circumstances and bar it altogether under others. This type of contributory negligence rule is commonly known as “modified comparative negligence” and is followed in one form or another by many states across the country. Pennsylvania’s modified comparative negligence law, for example, reduces a plaintiff’s recovery in proportion to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is less than or equal to the percentage of fault attributed to the defendant or defendants. If the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is greater than the percentage of fault attributed to the defendant or defendants, however, the plaintiff’s recovery will be altogether barred.

“Pure comparative negligence” rules are followed by a number of other states. These laws reduce a plaintiff’s recovery in proportion to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, regardless of the relative percentages of fault attributable to the plaintiff and defendants. Florida’s pure comparative negligence law, for example, merely reduces a plaintiff’s recovery in accordance with the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, even if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is greater than that of the defendant or defendants.

Contributory Negligence by Motorcyclists

Depending on the comparative negligence law applicable to a particular case, a motorcyclist’s contributory negligence may reduce—or bar altogether—an injured motorcyclist’s damages award. A motorcyclist’s contributory negligence—like any negligence—can be demonstrated in many ways. Motorcyclists may be found to have contributed to their own accidents and resulting injuries or deaths, for example, by speeding, changing lanes without signaling, driving too fast for weather or road conditions, riding while impaired by alcohol or narcotics, lane-splitting, passing in an unsafe manner, riding too close to other vehicles, staying in other vehicles’ blind spots, or violating any traffic laws or rules of the road.

Safety Tips to Reduce Likelihood of Accidents and Contributory Negligence Rulings

As any experienced motorcyclist knows, safe riding—in solo or group-riding situations—requires a keen sense of judgment as well as constant attention to road conditions and debris, other vehicles, and changing wind. Inattentive riding caused by distractions of any kind can result in serious injury or death to a cyclist who fails to notice any of these crucial issues in time to make safe adjustments. Aggressive riding, which can involve sudden and frequent lane changes, excessive speeds, and impulsive decisions, can also lead to accidents as well as findings of contributory negligence by cyclists.

In addition to specifically warning of the dangers of distracted and/or aggressive driving or riding, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also warned against the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. Alcohol or other substance-impaired riding is among the most common causes of motorcycle accidents and cyclists’ resulting injuries and deaths. Avoiding any use of alcohol or controlled substances (no matter how slight) before embarking on a ride can go a long way toward preventing accidents and protecting cyclists from being found responsible for their own injuries or deaths.

Additional safety measures can be taken to prevent accidents or to reduce injuries in the event accidents occur, including the following:

  • Helmets have been proven to reduce the incidence of motorcycle-accident fatalities by a significant percentage. Riders are well-advised to wear helmets that comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), even in states that do not require their use.
  • Bikes should be regularly maintained and inspected to ensure that they are in proper working order and without defects. This can reduce the likelihood of accidents caused by motorcycle failure or malfunction.
  • Leather gloves, boots, jackets, and pants should be worn, in addition to helmets, to help protect against road rash and other skin abrasion or puncture injuries.
  • Goggles or helmet visors should be worn to protect eyes from insects, pebbles, and other debris, and to reduce the likelihood of accidents that may be caused when riders’ eyes sustain injury.

These are only some of the many safety measures that may be employed by cyclists to avoid accidents as well as findings of contributory negligence when accidents have occurred. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident despite the precautions you have taken, our highly respected national team of motorcycle-injury lawyers and paralegals is ready to help you achieve justice from the responsible parties. We work with the best of experts to determine the causes of your accident, the extent and consequences of your injuries, and the full measure of damages to which you are entitled. Your carefully selected motorcycle-accident team will include a motorcycle-injury lawyer who is familiar with the comparative negligence law applicable to your case and who will work diligently to reduce your exposure to liability for your own accident injuries.