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Motorbike Liability

by Access Legal


The risks faced by motorcycle riders and the need to protect their rights of recovery after an accident become readily apparent after reviewing these statistics.

Some of the unique problems faced by motorcycle riders on the road include:

Visual recognition

Motorcycles are small visual targets, and more likely to be obscured by other vehicles, or by road and weather conditions. This is an issue especially at intersections, where approximately 70 percent of motorcycle-versus-vehicle collisions occur.

Road hazards

Hazards that are minor irritations for an automobile can be a major hazard for a motorcycle rider. These include potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris, or other objects on the roadway, ruts, uneven pavement, and railroad tracks.

Speed 'wobble' accidents

Especially at higher speeds, the front end of a motorcycle may come unstable and begin to shake or 'wobble'. This problem may be due to a misalignment of the front and rear tyres of the motorcycle. If an accident is caused by such a high-speed wobble, the manufacturer of the motorcycle might be held financially responsible for any resulting injuries, under a product liability theory.

Riding skills: familiarity

A motorcycle requires much more skill and physical co-ordination to operate than a car. Many motorcycle accidents are caused in whole or in part by a rider's lack of basic riding skills, or failure to appreciate the inherent characteristics and limitations of the motorcycle.

What is negligence?

Negligence is the legal term for any careless behaviour that causes, or contributes to, an accident. For example, a person is negligent if he neglected to stop at a stop sign and, as a result, hit your car as you were coming through the intersection.

A person can be considered negligent whenever he or she had a duty to act carefully and failed to do so.

Liability case law for motorcycle claims

It is useful to review case law of accidents involving motorcycles, as these can assist in deciding how liability may be attributed between the parties involved in the accident.

However, it should be remembered that every accident has to be assessed on its specific circumstances and the facts that can be proved. You may find a case, which is the same, or very similar to the accident that you have been involved in, however, even when the accident appears to be the same as a cited case, the judge's opinion regarding liability can be extremely different. Therefore, case law is best used as a guide only.


During the year 2008 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, a high percentage of all motorcycle related collisions occurred at or near to junctions where the other vehicle driver failed to appreciate the presence of a motorcycle. It is more difficult to assess the speed of a smaller vehicle approaching but there are some things that we can do to make ourselves more visible.

Most European motorcycles are fitted with headlights which stay illuminated at all times. Sometimes uneven road surfaces can cause the light to vibrate and give misleading information to other road users as an indication you may have flashed your lights to give right of way.

Consider the colour of your clothing. It sometimes may be more appropriate to make yourself more visible by wearing a fluorescent jacket.


Motorcycle on main road, vehicle pulling out of side road/junction

Car pulling out from a parking space, moped filtering

In Clarke v Winchurch (1968) a parked car facing oncoming traffic intended to travel to the opposite side of the road. A bus stopped and flashed its lights, to signal to the car driver to commence its manoeuvre. The car driver relied on this signal and inched out. A moped filtered pas the bus and collided with the car. The moped driver was found to be 100% at fault.

Motorcycle undertaking on the approach to a crossroads

In Brooks v Burgess a car driver crossed a junction in front of a stationary coach into the path of a motorcycle that was undertaking the coach. The parties were both found 50% to blame. The car driver as she had pulled from the minor road onto the major road and for not taking into consideration that a vehicle/pedestrian could have been moving along the nearside of the coach. Both were carrying out dangerous manoeuvres and should have been aware of the risks involved.

Car turning right into junction, bike overtakes

In Hillman v Tompkins (1995) a car pulled out of a traffic queue indicating to turn right into a junction. In the meantime, a motorcycle that was filtering in the same direction went to overtake the indicating car. The car collided with the motorcycle. They were both found 50% at fault. The car driver should have used his mirror before turning and the car had not moved clear of the queuing traffic, so the indication may not have been clear. However, the motorcyclist was travelling too fast on the approach to a junction.

A vehicle carrying out a U-turn, motorcycle overtaking queue of traffic

In Davis v Schrogin (2006) a car driver was stuck in a traffic jam on a straight road. A motorcyclist checked the opposite lane and it was clear, so he decided to overtake the stationary queue. The car driver decided to do a U-turn to get out of the queue. He checked to his left and pulled into the opposite lane colliding with the motorcycle. The car driver was found at fault on a 100% basis because he had not checked to his right whilst carrying out his manoeuvre and if he had done he would have seen the motorcyclist. Also, the motorcyclist was so close to the point of impact that he did not have any time to avoid taking action.

Misleading signals

In Wadsworth v Gillespie (1978) a car stops at the white lines of a T-junction. The car driver sees the motorcyclist approaching. The motorcycle is still displaying a left hand indicator and the car driver relies on this and pulls onto the main road and collision occurs. The motorcyclist was found one-third at fault for giving a misleading signal and the car driver two-thirds at fault for assuming the motorcyclist was going to turn.

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All documents should be read and used in accordance with the terms and conditions. This document is for your general information only and is not a detailed statement of the law. It is provided to you free of charge and should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice. If you require specific legal advice please contact our client services team on 03700 86 86 86.