Comparative Fault in Motorcycle Accident Cases: Understanding Its Impact

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If you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident and are considering filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party, you must overcome one significant roadblock: comparative fault laws. While you hope to recover enough damages to address your motorcycle accident injuries and all your losses, the defendant will try to reduce or avoid paying compensation.

Comparative fault laws recognize the possibility of multiple parties, including the victim, being negligent and causing the motorcycle accident in one way or another. It is a common defense tactic in motorcycle accident cases.

What is Comparative Fault?

While there are motorcycle accident cases where one party is completely at fault, others are where the fault is not cut and dried. When a personal injury action is brought against a defendant, they may argue that you (the injured motorcyclist) were also at fault and should bear some or all liability. The actions of all involved parties will be taken into account.

And if you are found to have been responsible to a certain degree for causing the crash, your percentage of fault will need to be determined. The defendant can avoid some legal responsibility by proving that you were also to blame. Comparative fault rules can reduce the value of your claim based on the percentage of fault assigned to you. It could also wreck your claim.

An example of how comparative negligence works

Suppose Andrew negligently makes a left turn, hitting Teresa, a motorcyclist riding over the speed limit. Teresa suffers severe motorcycle accident injuries and sues Andrew for negligence. Andrew then claims that Teresa is also to blame for exceeding the speed limit.

In a jury trial, Andrew is found to have been 70% at fault for making an unsafe turn. Teresa is also found to have been 30% at fault for speeding. If Teresa’s damages (losses) total $150,000, she will receive $105,000 ($150,000 – $45,000) after reducing her damages for her 30% share of fault.

Pure Comparative vs. Modified Comparative Negligence Rules

Comparative fault laws fall into two categories:

Pure Comparative Fault

In states that use comparative negligence rules, you can recover compensation for your motorcycle accident injuries if you’re not 100% at fault. For example, if you’re found to be 10% at fault, you can recover 90% of your total damages. And even if you’re 98% to blame, you can recover 2% of your damages.

Modified Comparative Fault

Most states, including Illinois, follow the modified comparative fault model. Illinois’ comparative fault states that a plaintiff can recover damages only if they are 50% or less at fault. In other words, the plaintiff’s degree of fault must be less than that of the defendant.

For example, if you’re found to be 49% at fault, you can recover 51% of your total damages. But if a jury finds you to be 51% (or more) at fault, you’ll not be able to receive compensation for your motorcycle accident injuries.

When a Rider Might Be at Fault for a Motorcycle Accident

When a defendant raises the issue of comparative fault, what kinds of claims might they make? Here are some examples of actions that could render a motorcyclist partially at fault for the accident:

  • Riding under the influence
  • Failure to stop at the stop sign
  • Failure to yield
  • Lane splitting
  • Speeding or driving recklessly
  • Following too closely
  • Riding a defective motorbike

To be found partially at fault for a motorcycle accident, your negligence as a motorcyclist must have directly contributed to causing the accident. To help you understand this, let’s return to our example above with Andrew and Teresa.

Suppose the jury finds out that although Teresa exceeded the speed limit, her speed didn’t contribute to the collision. The motorcycle accident would have happened even if Teresa wasn’t speeding. In that case, the jury wouldn’t assign a percentage of fault to Teresa, and she could recover her total damages of $150,000.

Final Thoughts

Comparative fault laws can significantly reduce the amount you can recover in a motorcycle accident claim or lawsuit. It is, therefore, important to work with a motorcycle accident attorney to demonstrate the defendant’s level of fault to the fullest degree. An attorney will collect evidence to establish negligence, calculate your damages, and give you the best chance at recovering the compensation you deserve.


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