Motorcycle Law: Collisions To Die For is presented in two parts. This is the first of two parts and continues at Motorcycle Law: Collisions To Die For, Part 2. Part 2 includes the References, which are presented at the end/bottom of that page.

For any operator of a motorcycle (see Legal Definition of Motorcycle) living in an enlightened jurisdiction, it is a shock to observe in Florida, circa 2012,  all kinds of uncovered heads driving motorcycles, many at high speed, some even criss-crossing through traffic. It is no wonder that many Florida law firms specialize in motorcycle personal injury cases. That is where we chose to dive into the law books and extract this summary of motorcycle law.

Still, any legal information on motorcycle law needs to start with words of legal wisdom that appear, at first blush, to everything our mothers' ever told us about motorcycles - and also any friend who works in the Emergency Room of the local hospital:

"A motorcycle in and of itself, absent of other factors is not a dangerous instrumentality, and negligence is not to be inferred from the mere use of a motorcycle as a means of transportation."1

[motorcycles on highway]Motorcycles may not be dangerous as inert objects or in a fantasy world where everybody obeys traffic law but in the real world, they are deadly machines.

When motorcycle accidents occur, they create opportunities for law to evolve and to protect safe motorcycle riders from other vehicles. But this law is, unfortunately, often created post-mortem.

Put your helmets on and rev your engines and be forewarned: this is not pretty especially as there is no clear statement of law as the peculiarities of motorcycle transportation. Almost all cases simply apply the rote principles of 4-wheel motor-vehicle law to these collisions, which does not always make for a good fit.

The Exception Confirms The Rule

Only one case (that we now of), Bell v Wheeler, teases into law the suggestion that the law of physics of the 4-wheeler, is not necessarily good physics for the 2-wheeler.

Justice Pearson wrote the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Washington:

"The accident occurred on a curve of a narrow, winding, paved highway. Plaintiff was proceeding on an uphill grade on the outside of the curve. Defendants' bus was proceeding downhill on the inside of the curve. Plaintiff testified that as he was well into the curve, defendants' bus rounded the curve, partially on the wrong side of the road, there obstructing his lane of travel. Because he was leaning into the curve, it was impossible for him to swerve right to avoid the bus without the danger of upsetting his motorcycle immediately in front of the bus. Nor was he able to apply his brakes and attempt to stop. As a consequence, he turned the motorcycle sharply to the left in an unsuccessful attempt to pass the bus on its left side."

Bell sued the bus driver but lost.

He appealed and the appeal court found that Bell may have been justified in taking the evasive action pursuant to the sudden emergency doctrine, ordering a new trial.

"He Must Of Done It" Isn't Good Enough

Mrs. Giroux were out for a motorcycle drive:

"Giroux was driving her motorcycle northbound on a highway as it approached a curve bearing right while McKissick was driving his truck pulling a trailer southbound on the same highway approaching the same curve. Giroux wobbled on her motorcycle as she went into the curve.... Giroux ... crossed the centerline and struck the trailer ... resulting in severe injury to Giroux. Alleging that McKissick failed to maintain his lane and to exercise ordinary care to avoid the collision, Giroux ... sued McKissick for damages."2

[police motorcycle accident]Unfortunately for Giroux, she blacked-out in the accident that ensued:

"She admitted to remembering nothing about the accident, but in which she opined that McKissick most likely crossed the centerline since she had previously witnessed that southbound drivers 'always' crossed the centerline in the past...."2

That admission killed her negligence case and the claim was dismissed on a summary judgment basis.

Keep Your Lights On

Philip David Runyon died in 1983. He was driving a motorcycle with no helmet on and his light off when a truck in the upcoming traffic lane swerved out in front of him, causing a head-on collision, killing the motorcycle driver, Mr. Runyon. His estate sued but the evidence was that the light on the motorcycle suddenly came on a second before the collision, as if the decedent desperately tried to avoid the collision. The truck driver had seen no oncoming vehicle when he changed lanes to pass but did suddenly see the motorcycle when the light came on.

The truck driver was found to not be liable:

"Rich had the reasonable explanation that he turned into the eastbound lane to pass and continued to do so at a time when no visible light indicated that to do so was unsafe."

U-Turn, #1

In Twaddle v Litchfield, the facts were that in 1977, Lyman Melvin Twaddle, motorcycle driver, did not come to a stop at an intersection, instead making a wide loop u-turn but in so doing, invaded an oncoming lane of traffic. This sudden and unexpected manoeuvre spooked a driver, Diane Litchfield who slammed on the brakes, and caused her vehicle to careen over to the oncoming lane, and hitting the motorcycle.

Twaddle had the temerity to sue Ms Litchfield, hoping to scrape up some contributory negligence from a sympathetic jury.

He lost.

U-Turn, #2

In McLean v Green the facts were different, as was the u-turn:

"On November 12, 1974, at or about 7:30 P.M., Green and Rollins were riding Green's motorcycle in a westerly direction on Highway 61 just outside of Natchez. The highway was four-lane and ran in an East-West direction. Rollins was driving the motorcycle in the right lane of traffic and Green was seated directly behind him on the passenger's seat. They were traveling at approximately forty miles per hour.

"The defendant, Mrs. McLean, was driving her automobile in a westerly direction, too, but was in the left lane....

"Green and Rollins testified that the defendant crossed the center line and collided with their motorcycle in the right lane. Mrs. McLean, on the other hand, stated that she never crossed the center line, but rather had turned on her left blinker with the intention of turning around at an intersection which was located about seventy yards from the point of impact. She contends that she neither saw nor heard the motorcycle until the two vehicles collided. The point of impact was the right rear fender of the defendant's car."

The trial judge chose the evidence of the injured motorcycle driver and his passenger finding that she crossed the center line and struck the motorcycle.


< ... continued at Motorcycle Law: Collisions To Die For, Part 2 ...>

Motorcycle Law: Collisions To Die For is presented in two parts. This is the first of two parts and continues at Motorcycle Law: Collisions To Die For, Part 2. Part 2 includes the References, which are presented at the end/bottom of that page.