An increasing number of claims for motorcycle accidents are being brought before the courts in order to resolve liability. These cases are often complex, owing to unique circumstances combined with the nature and severity of injuries that can be sustained. This article will concentrate on some of the common causes of motorcycle accidents, look at contributory factors and discuss the decisions made by the courts.
Filtering and turning
The 1966 case of Powell v Moody is still commonly used by insurers acting for defendants, even though the case is now over 50 years old.
In this case, the claimant was riding his motorcycle on a busy London road and approached two lines of stationary traffic, which was held up at an upcoming junction. He decided to jump the queue by filtering past on the offside, when he collided with a vehicle turning right out of a side road through the line of traffic. The defendant had edged forward before attempting to turn right. He advised the court that he was beckoned out by a signal from the driver of a milk tanker who had left the gap in the queue of traffic.
The judge stated that any road user who jumps a queue of stationary vehicles by filtering on the offside was “undertaking an operation fraught with hazard.” The judge noted that such an operation had to be carried out with great care, because it was always difficult to see “from the offside of a queue of stationary vehicles, gaps in the queue on its nearside from which traffic might emerge.”
The judge ultimately decided that both the claimant and defendant were negligent for failing to anticipate the actions of other drivers. Liability was apportioned at 80% against the claimant motorcyclist and 20% against the defendant car driver.
Motorcycle accidents at road junctions
In the case of Farley v Buckley , the claimant motorcyclist was travelling behind a large refuse wagon, which slowed and indicated left to turn into a side road. However, because of its size, the refuse wagon could not turn into the side road until the defendant car driver had turned out.
As there was no oncoming traffic, the defendant exited the side road intending to turn right; at the same time, the claimant motorcyclist made the decision to overtake the wagon and collided with the defendant’s vehicle.
The judge at first instance decided the claimant’s speed was excessive and the nature of his manoeuvre was reckless, as it did not give him sufficient time to react. The judge found the defendant was travelling slowly and with caution, and therefore did not find him at fault. The claimant’s claim was dismissed in its entirety.
The claimant appealed and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision, on the basis that it was not foreseeable that a motorcyclist would be overtaking a refuse lorry on an urban street. It decided the judge was correct by describing such driving as “reckless”, with the claimant’s lack of anticipation showing “a serious want of care.”
Overtaking and motorcycle accidents
In the case of Pell v Moseley , the claimant motorcyclist was travelling on a single-lane carriageway in Nottinghamshire with a 60mph speed limit. The claimant approached a stationary line of traffic and decided to overtake. From the line of traffic, the defendant intended to turn right into a field that was holding a motocross event. As she turned, a collision occurred with the claimant.
At first instance, the judge found in favour of the claimant. However, the defendant appealed the decision. At appeal, both parties were found equally to blame on the basis that the defendant did not indicate or notice the presence of the claimant’s motorcycle before attempting her turn. The claimant was found negligent, in that he failed to notice the defendant’s vehicle would have needed to slow down before turning right, a fact that should have been apparent, despite her failure to indicate. Further, as the claimant was aware of the motocross event, he should have considered the possibility that the defendant would have turned into the field and should not have attempted to overtake when he did.
Vulnerable road users
These decisions underline the principle that each case must be assessed on its own particular facts.
Motorcycles are vulnerable road users but this does not afford them any special treatment and, while they are entitled to carry out manoeuvres such as filtering, driving within the law is not enough. There is an expectation that the motorcyclist should consider any potential risk to themselves and other road users, and should not conduct themselves in a way that could be considered reckless or negligent. Evidence gathering is key and each case should be carefully risk assessed as liability in motorcycle accidents is not always as you may expect on first sight of the claim.