Who's at Fault in a Lane-Splitting Accident?

Posted on: 22 September 2016

It's not uncommon to see motorcyclists performing a controversial maneuver on the roads called lane-splitting, especially if traffic is stalled. This is when riders drive between two lanes of traffic. As you can imagine, this maneuver increases the risk of accidents, and motorcyclists and drivers want to know who's at fault when collisions occur in this situation. Unfortunately, the answer is not always clear. Here are a couple of factors to consider which may help you determine who pays who for damages.

Is the Maneuver Legal?

One thing that can contribute to who is found liable for a lane-splitting accident is whether or not the maneuver is legal in the area where the accident occurred. Although lane-splitting is legal in much of the world, many American motorcyclists may be surprised to learn that in the United States, it's only explicitly legal in California.

Most states don't have specific lane-splitting laws but do use existing laws to determine if lane-splitting is legal. Unfortunately for motorcyclists, most law-enforcement officials and courts have interpreted the laws to find lane-splitting to be illegal in every case. This means a motorcyclist will likely be cited by police for this maneuver, and the other party involved in the accident can use this to make a case that the rider was responsible for causing the collision because he or she was operating the vehicle in an unapproved manner.

Was the Driver Paying Attention?

Everyone who operates a vehicle on the roadways has a responsibility to pay attention to what's happening around them. Although a motorcyclist may be breaking the law by lane-splitting, a driver could still be held liable for the accident if he or she failed to notice the rider in a situation when he or she should have.

For example, drivers are required to look in their blind spots before changing lanes to ensure there aren't any other vehicles there. If they don't, they can be held liable for any crashes they cause from their failure to adhere to the road rules.

If a driver is texting, talking on a cell phone, recording video, or doing anything that causes them to be distracted from the task of driving, and the person crashes into a rider as a result, a motorcyclist can point to that and make a good case the other driver was responsible for the collision because they would have seen the rider coming down the middle of the lane if they had been paying attention.

Was There Shared Negligence?

More likely than not, liability for a lane-splitting accident will be placed on both the motorcyclist and the second party in the incident. The court or insurance company will justify this by saying the motorcyclist should not have been performing an illegal maneuver. At the same time, the other driver should have been paying closer attention to the road and realized the motorcyclist was passing by at that moment.

In this situation, a certain percentage of liability may be placed on both parties, and that will determine whether each party will collect compensation for damages and how much. In states with comparative-negligence laws, compensation for damages and losses will be reduced by amount of liability assigned to an individual. For instance, if the court finds you were 40 percent responsible for an accident occurring, you would only collect 60 percent of the damages you are requesting.

Other states use contributory negligence laws that essentially make it so a person cannot collect any compensation if they are found a certain percentage liable for an accident. In Maryland, plaintiffs are barred from collecting money for damages if they are found even 1 percent liable for an accident. The threshold is typically higher in other states.

If you were involved in a lane-splitting accident, and you're not sure where the fault for the incident will land, talk to a motorcycle-accident lawyer. The lawyer can evaluate the situation and help you determine the best course of action to take to obtain the outcome you want.


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