A motorcycle accident can occur anywhere that motorcycle traffic exists. In general, the same traffic rules that apply to cars will apply to motorcycles. This means that a motorcycle rider can be charged with typical traffic violations for speeding, not obeying traffic signs, or not yielding the right of way to traffic. In some locations, there are special rules for motorcycle riders. 

This article will discuss motorcycle accidents in general, before addressing anything unique about motorcycle laws in the Fairfax County, VA and Washington DC area. This area is infamous for very heavy traffic and the DC area has the 2nd worst traffic congestion in the US, making accidents here more likely

What are Motorcycle Accident Claims?

A motorcycle accident claim occurs when someone involved in a motorcycle accident feels as though they are entitled to monetary compensation for damages suffered in the accident, whether the damages be physical, financial, or emotional. 

Criminal charges can be filed as the result of a motorcycle accident if the actions of a party to the accident rise to a criminal level. This may be the case if the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if they were otherwise driving recklessly or negligently. 

The motorcycle accident lawsuits discussed in this article are civil, not criminal lawsuits. They are filed by a party to the accident for the purpose of seeking compensation for injuries suffered. These suits fall into the broader category of personal injury lawsuits and property damage lawsuits. 

Which Parties May be Held Liable in a Motorcycle Accident?

A motorcycle accident lawsuit can seek compensation for damages from:

  • One of the parties to the accident
  • The vehicle manufacturer in the case of vehicle design defects, or 
  • A third party whose actions are believed to have contributed to the accident.

What Injuries are Involved in Motorcycle Accidents? 

Many different types of injuries are involved with a motorcycle accident. The injuries will almost certainly be more severe than if the person or persons riding on the motorcycle had been in a larger enclosed vehicle.

As far as types of injuries, most people first think of physical injuries that would result from a motorcycle accident. Physical injuries resulting from motorcycle accidents typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises: Superficial cuts, scrapes, and bruises will inevitably occur in motorcycle accidents, especially so because motorcycle riders are not protected by an enclosed structure around them like occupants of a car would be. Common examples would be minor cuts from broken glass or a superficial bruise or scrape (“road rash”) caused by the motorcycle riders sliding along the pavement following an accident. 
  • More Serious Chest/Arm/Leg Injuries: Motorcycle accidents can also frequently result in more serious bodily injuries like broken bones, internal bleeding, significant cuts, crushed limbs, or traumatic amputations.
  • Head and Spinal Cord Injuries: A motorcycle accident that causes a motorcycle rider’s head to come into contact with any hard surface will likely result in a concussion, or in more severe accidents, traumatic brain injuries, brain bleeds, or open skull fractures.

Motorcycle accidents can also cause financial injury, which typically takes the form of lost earnings, loss of future earning potential, or vehicle/property damage that is not covered by insurance.

Emotional injury from motorcycle accidents could be emotional pain and suffering, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or loss of consortium — which is the loss of a normal family relationship or interaction because of injuries suffered in the accident.

What are Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?

The common causes of motorcycle accidents are very similar to the common causes for auto accidents are: 

  • Distracted Driving: Either the motorcycle rider or a nearby drive is texting while driving, talking on the phone while driving, eating while driving, adjusting the radio at an unsafe time, etc. 
  • Purposeful Reckless Driving: Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a very common cause of accidents. Running red lights, tailgating, overly aggressive driving, or excessive speeding are also examples of purposeful reckless driving.
  • Naturally Occuring Conditions: Some accidents are caused by conditions beyond anyone’s control. Snow, rain, and fog frequently contribute to motorcycle accidents, as do other naturally occurring conditions like nightfall, bright sun in a driver’s eyes, an animal darting into a driver’s path, or even the presence of objects that could obstruct a driver’s vision (e.g. low hanging tree limbs, bushes). These kinds of accidents can many times be avoided if drivers take conditions into account and adjust their driving accordingly. 
  • Unforeseeable Complications: Sometimes the cause of an accident is a blown tire, a pothole, or even a design defect in the motorcycle.
  • Causes Unique to Motorcycles: Some causes for motorcycle accidents are unique to motorcycles, including: 
    • Unsafe Lane Changes and Turns: Typically when the driver of a car collides with a motorcycle because they failed to check their blind spot or signal when changing lanes, or because they didn’t see an oncoming motorcycle as well as they would a full-size car. 
    • Lane-Splitting: Lane-splitting refers to one of two things: two motorcycle riders driving side-by-side and sharing a single lane of traffic, OR, a motorcycle rider driving between two lanes of traffic. 

Does the Fairfax Area Have any Special Motorcycle Laws? 

Some traffic laws are intended to specifically address motorcycle riders. 

In the Fairfax area, motorcycle riders are permitted to lane-split by riding side by side in a single lane of traffic. This is limited to 2 side by side riders. 

The second common meaning of lane-splitting — when a motorcyclist passes between two vehicles in adjacent lanes while traffic is moving or at a standstill — is not legal in the Fairfax area, although proponents continue to push for it. While currently illegal, this type of lane-splitting can result in a ticket for reckless driving.

Also law in the Fairfax area, is that a motorcycle rider is required to wear a helmet that is DOT certified. In addition, local ordinances in some areas prohibit unnecessary maneuvers like popping a wheelie on a motorcycle. 

Motorcycle riders from out-of-state should also be cognizant of the fact that speed limits on the highways in Virginia are not as high as some other states.  

What are Helmet Laws?

Helmet laws are state-specific laws dictating if/when a motorcycle rider must wear a helmet. A majority of states require riders ages 18 and under to wear a helmet. Almost as many states require motorcycle riders of all ages to ride a helmet, and only 3 states have no helmet law. 

Virginia requires all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet and may fine a rider up to $250 for failing to do so. 

Should I Hire a Fairfax Lawyer for Help with a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit?

Motorcycle accidents are generally more serious than an auto accident due to the fact that motorcycle riders are not restrained or protected as well as auto occupants. If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident and are being sued, or feel as though you need to sue, it is advisable to contact a Fairfax lawyer to evaluate the case. When the stakes are particularly high, such as in a motorcycle accident lawsuit, it never hurts to at least get a lawyer’s opinion on what you should do.