Motorcycle Crashes Taken Seriously: A Case Study

This is a discussion of an actual case. In this case we suspected liability would be contested based on statements an officer made to the cyclist. We acted quickly to ensure all evidence was secured. As a result we obtained a favorable result. The lesson however is that a motorcycle case must always be treated as contested.

An experienced motorcycle rider stopped at a stop sign at a rural “T” intersection. The stop sign was positioned at least a cars length back from the white stop line. As the bike foot pushed his bike toward the stop line a teenager “cruising” along the main road that formed the top of the “T” cut the corner and slammed into the motorcycle. The collision caused serious injuries. The teen and a passenger claimed the motorcycle had “come out of nowhere” and pulled into their path. The officer placed the point of impact near the center line of the main road. This indicated a failure on the motorcyclist’s part to yield the right of way. The investigating officer went to the hospital and charged the motorcyclist with DUI on the basis of an admission to having had two beers. He arrested him for investigation of felony vehicular assault based on injuries to the passenger on the bike.

The motorcyclist called William Robison Vancouver Washington personal injury attorney. Mr. Robison’s first action was to call motorcycle accident reconstruction engineer Larry Tompkins, P.E. As in other cases, they met at the scene. At the scene Tompkins documented the evidence while Attorney Bill Robison looked for witnesses.

From evidence Larry gathered at the scene it obvious that the automobile driver had driven far off the roadway to hit the motorcycle. In fact, it was clear that the automobile driver had begun his turn well before the intersection, far from the officer’s point of impact. He had crossed a wide parking strip then reentered the road hitting the motorcycle from the right side. The point of impact was adjacent to the stop sign.

Two witnesses were also located. Both were eye witnesses. Both had attempted to tell the officer the automobile driver was lying about the crash. These witnesses confirmed that the teen driver had cut the corner. Realizing his mistake he had  attempted to drive behind the motorcycle but struck the passenger as the cyclist tried to pull away to avoid the impact. Marks where the motorcycle had spun in a circle were clearly visible on the pavement.

A quick investigation resulted in a recovery of policy limits from the at fault driver. We also recovered the liability coverage on the motorcycle and the underinsured motorist coverage for the passenger even though there was no evidence at all that the motorcyclist had done anything wrong. This is one case where the prejudices of the investigating officer actually worked a substantial benefit, at least for the passenger on the motorcycle.

No charges were ever filed, after the investigation conducted by Mr. Robison and Mr. Tompkins was reported to and reviewed by an experienced collision investigator with the law enforcement agency in charge of the investigation the report was corrected (but not before the motorcycle coverage paid the limit to the passenger).

Every motorcycle collision is a contested case. For that reason the lawyer experienced in handling these cases will start out by hiring a qualified reconstruction engineer, visiting the scene, examining all vehicles and carefully recording all information.

It is important that the lawyer understand accident reconstruction. This means, in addition to being familiar with the literature, the lawyer understands basic physics as they are applied to collision reconstruction. Failure to appreciate that every motorcycle case will be vigorously contested can mean the difference between success and failure.