Who’s Responsible for a "No Contact" Motorcycle Accident?

Even when there's no collision, a negligent driver can still be held liable for a motorcycle rider's injuries and property damage.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you're riding a motorcycle and you end up laying the bike down or crashing in order to avoid a collision with a car, can the driver be held responsible even though their vehicle did not actually hit you? The short answer is "yes." A driver can be held liable for a motorcyclist's injuries and property damage in this situation—often called a "no contact" accident. As with most legal claims arising over traffic accidents, the key issue is whether the driver was negligent.

In this article we'll discuss how negligence works in car accident cases and then talk about how those general rules apply to "no contact" motorcycle accidents.

What Does "Negligence" Mean in a Motorcycle Accident Case?

In general (and in a somewhat simplified translation from "legalese"), negligence means the failure to exercise reasonable care. When that failure ends up harming someone else, the negligent person can be held liable for the injured person's damages (medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, and other impacts resulting from the accident).

Negligence is based on what lawyers call the "reasonable person" standard. So, if a reasonable person would have taken a certain action in a certain situation, then not taking that action amounts to negligence. Alternatively, if a reasonable person would not have taken a certain action, then doing that thing would be negligent.

To determine whether someone acted negligently, you have to examine all the circumstances relating to that person's actions in connection with the underlying incident. This evaluation could be made:

When evaluating negligence in a traffic accident, you start with the duty shared by all drivers on the road to obey traffic laws, be aware of what's around them, and respond in a reasonable manner to those surroundings. That includes being on the constant lookout for obstacles and other variables on the road—including vehicles, pedestrians, traffic control devices, debris, bad weather conditions.

In a motorcycle accident case, this general duty to drive safely includes an obligation to account for specific dangers facing motorcyclists. For example:

  • Automobile drivers making left-hand turns must be on the lookout for approaching motorcycles, which are more difficult to spot than cars and trucks.
  • Motorcyclists must avoid lane-splitting where it's against the law, and only lane-split safely where it's permitted.

How Do You Know Who's Negligent in a "No Contact" Motorcycle Accident?

Let's take a couple of examples of "no contact" motorcycle accidents to see who might be found negligent.

Changing Lanes

A car and a motorcycle are both traveling in the same direction down a two-lane street, each vehicle in a separate lane. The car is a little ahead of the motorcycle and switches lanes quickly, without using turn signals or otherwise giving any notice to the motorcyclist. In order to avoid the car, the motorcyclist swerves, loses control of the bike, and crashes, or just lays the bike down. There was no contact between the car and the motorcycle.

In this situation, it's likely that the driver will be found negligent. The driver switched lanes without signaling an intention to do so, and prior to that, the driver could have easily seen the motorcycle by making a reasonable effort to determine whether a lane change was safe to execute.

A Rear-End Collision

Let's say the motorcycle is traveling behind the car in the same lane. The car slows down, but the motorcyclist doesn't notice the deceleration, and maintains his speed. At the last moment, finally noticing that the car has come to a near-stop, the motorcyclist swerves and/or lays the bike down to avoid a collision.

Who is responsible here?

This accident is like a rear-end car accident, except that there was no actual collision. In rear-end collisions, the tailing vehicle is almost always going to be liable for the crash. This example is no different. In this case, it's the motorcyclist who had the obligation to register what was there to be seen and react accordingly. The accident happened because the motorcyclist failed to notice the car slowing down and had to lay down the bike in order to avoid crashing into the car.

In this example, there would likely be no valid personal injury claim against the driver. The motorcyclist was probably negligent and would likely be deemed solely responsible for the accident.

Learn More About Motorcycles and the Law

As these examples show, when it comes to determining responsibility for a "no contact" motorcycle accident, the law works just the same as it does for any other kind of traffic accident. The issue is not whether the two vehicles hit each other, but whether a driver or rider acted negligently. The bottom line is, if the negligence of a driver causes a motorcyclist to crash, that driver will be held liable to the motorcyclist even if there's no actual collision.

You can read more about motorcyclists' legal rights and responsibilities—including additional details on how motorcycle accident lawsuits work, and tips on how to make sure you ride safely and follow the rules of the road.

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