What to Do in a Motorcycle Accident | Motorcycle Legal Foundation

What to Do in a Motorcycle Accident

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Accidents can happen, especially for motorcycles. While bikes make up only 3% of registered vehicles in the US, they account for a disproportionate share of accidents. Motorcycle riders have a 6x higher fatality rate and are 4x more likely to be injured than those who ride passenger cars.

With that in mind, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to various types of motorcycle accidents that may be experienced by riders, and what to do in such situations.

Table of Contents

Common Lane Accidents

The vast majority of motorcycle accidents consist of on-lane incidents. These include being side swiped, rear-ended, or hit in intersections, left turns or vehicle blind spots.

  What to do in case of a road accident

  • Check injuries
  • Treat injuries from most to least severe. Watch out for blood loss, gaping wounds or broken bones.
  • Pay attention to your head. Watch for signs of trauma or neck damage.
  • When in doubt about your condition, stay still to avoid exacerbating injuries. Wait for medical help to arrive. 
  • Document the incident
  • If your injuries are not life-threatening, document the damage to your body, equipment, and bike.
  • If you have a dashcam, lock the footage to prevent it from being overwritten. Secure the memory card and download a copy to your mobile phone.
  • Record the bike’s resting position and aftermath of the accident for insurance and investigation.
  • Get the other vehicle’s license tags, driver’s details, and insurance information. 
  • Keep track of all repair and medical bills
  • Keep a copy of the towing bills, repair estimates, and official receipts for labor, parts and replacement incurred during the repair.
  • Preserve medical documentation such as doctor’s findings, hospital bills and prescription expenses for your personal injury claim. 
  • File a claim
  • Consult with a personal injury attorney that specializes in motorcycle law, since motorcycle accidents are different and can often be more serious than regular automotive accidents.
  • In addition to personal injury and property damage, you may be entitled to other compensation such as lost wages, pain and suffering, or emotional trauma from the accident.
  • Remember that a statute of limitations apply, so file a claim as soon as possible.

Accidents due to Faulty Equipment

Accidents due to equipment failure account for less than 3% of all motorcycle accidents. However, when they do happen, they can be more appalling than regular accidents. You can attend all the motorcycle safety classes, practice proper riding, and be decked out in appropriate safety gear — yet still meet an accident not of your own doing.

What to do in an accident caused by equipment failure:

  • Gather the physical evidence
  • Get all the pieces or components of the part that failed. 
  • Common failure points can be the bike chassis, engine, fuel tank, brakes, wheels and tires, or accessories.
  • For rider apparel, it can be the helmet or safety gear that did not work as intended. 
  • Document the incident
  • Get the footage from your dashcam or action cam, or scour the area for surveillance footage such as traffic cams or commercial store CCTVs.
  • Gather eyewitnesses and get their contact information.
  • Secure a copy of the police report. 
  • Check for safety recalls
  • Check if the defective part is listed in the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database of defective items.
  • For motorcycle parts, check the NHTSA’s recall section. You can also input your VIN. 
  • Secure your records
  • In cases where the defect is caused by a repair shop or maintenance service, make sure you have a record of the service done to your bike.
  • Make copies of the itemized repair or maintenance record, as well as the invoice and the bike’s service history 
  • File a claim
  • Consult with a personal injury attorney that specializes in motorcycle law.
  • In addition to personal injury and property damage, you may be entitled to other compensation such as lost wages, pain and suffering, or emotional trauma from the accident. For large brands, punitive damages may also apply.

For more information about this scenario, visit our guide to Faulty Equipment Accidents.

Hit and Run

A hit and run happens in roughly 12% of all road accidents, and one incident occurs every 43 seconds in the US. Motorcycle riders are especially vulnerable to this kind of incident, as they are typically too injured or the bike is too damaged to attempt pursuing the driver at fault.

What to do if You Suffer a Hit and Run Accident

  1. Collect information
  • If you managed to see the vehicle’s license number, quickly type it on your phone, or commit it to memory until you can write it down.
  • In the absence of vehicle tags, take note of the type, brand, model and color. This can greatly help narrow the search down.
  • Document the accident. Take photos and videos of your injuries, bike damage, and location.
  • Gather eyewitnesses. Record their testimony and contact information for followup.
  • Check the area for CCTVs, such as traffic light cameras and commercial surveillance cameras.
  1. Collect medical records
  • If you suffered injuries, call EMS.
  • If the injuries are slight, it’s advisable to still undergo medical evaluation. Some injuries such as concussions or internal hemorrhaging may not be apparent from the outside, and should be diagnosed by medical professionals.
  • Keep records of all your hospital bills and prescription or treatment expenses.
  1. File a police report
  • If the damage is severe, call law enforcement and wait near the scene.
  • If the damages are slight, proceed to the police station to file the report. This will be useful for filing the insurance claim, as well as bolster your lawsuit should you choose to file one.
  • Get the case number and contact information of the office assigned to your case, so you can follow up the investigation.
  1. Contact your insurance provider
  • Even if the negligent driver is not caught, you may still be able to claim compensation if you have uninsured motorist coverage.
  • Other compensation can be claimed from bodily injury and collision coverage.
  1. Consult legal help
  • A dedicated motorcycle accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal steps in a hit and run accident and recover compensation.
  • They can also file a lawsuit and help maximize the settlement once the other party is identified.

What to Do if You Cause the Accident

There are times when the rider at fault flees from the scene due to shock or apprehension, especially in situations where onlookers may seem hostile. In case you cause the accident:

  1. Always stop and check on the other parties involved in the accident. 
  2. Help secure the accident scene when safely possible to do so. In case of a pedestrian accident, use your bike to shield the other person from road traffic.
  3. Call for EMS when needed, and stay with the person until they arrive. Avoid moving the victim, especially in cases of severe injury or unconsciousness, unless absolutely necessary.
  4. For less serious accidents, exchange contact details and insurance information.
  5. If you have already fled the scene, contact a motorcycle accident attorney. Inform them of the situation and proceed with your attorney to the police station, so they can represent you.

Remember that flight is a sign of guilt, and probable cause for greater liability. If you leave the scene, the next best step is to mitigate the damage by consulting legal help.

For more information about this scenario, see our dedicated guide to Hit and Run Accidents.

Intoxicated Driving

DUIs account for 29% of fatal road accidents each year. Motorcycle riders are more prone to drunk driving accidents, with 33% of deaths caused by an intoxicated driver or rider.

What to Do If You Get Hit by a Drunk Driver

  1. Prioritize your injuries
  • If you have multiple injuries, attend to the most serious ones first, such as blood loss or gaping wounds.
  • Avoid moving in case of fractures, broken bones or vertebrae. 
  • Avoid removing your helmet and wait for EMS. There have been cases where the helmet supported riders’ broken necks and saved their life before medical intervention.
  1. Record the accident
  • If the injuries are not severe or life-threatening, document the scene.
  • Start with your injuries, bike damage, location and the condition of the other driver and vehicle.
  • In case of a hit and run, commit the details to memory and immediately save it on your phone. Take note of the license tags, vehicle make, model and color.
  • Gather eyewitnesses. Record their testimony and get their contact information for follow-up.
  1. Document all expenses
  • Save all the receipts for towing, repair estimate, and actual repair cost.
  • Keep copies of your medical bills, including expenses on prescription meds and treatment.
  1. File a police report
  • Proceed to the station as soon as possible after getting medical treatment.
  • Apart from civil damages, the intoxicated driver may be guilty of criminal offense in the form of misdemeanor or felony.
  1. Seek legal help
  • Consult a motorcycle accident attorney to help you with the case. A lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents can help you claim compensation, maximize awards in case of settlement, and claim insurance.
  • Remember that there is a statute of limitations for DUI, so consult with an attorney as soon as possible to get the legal process going. 

What to Do If You are Intoxicated and Cause the Accident

According to the NHTSA, more intoxicated motorcycle riders are involved in fatal crashes compared to any other vehicle driver.

If you are involved in an accident and alcohol is detected in your bloodstream regardless of the limit, consult with a motorcycle accident attorney. They can help you navigate the legal process, mitigate the circumstances, and negotiate with the other party. 

For more details about drunk driving accidents, see our Intoxicated Driving page.

Uninsured or Underinsured Party

According to an NHTSA survey of motorcycle crash victims, 46% lacked insurance. This is likely due to the fact that motorcycles typically have higher premiums than auto insurance, and some settle for the minimum limit of $20,000.

In case you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, there are four possible scenarios:

  1. Both of you are insured:

You simply exchange insurance information with the other party and go on your way. However, note that some types of motorcycle accidents may still require you to report the incident to the police.

  1. You don’t have insurance, but the other party does.

This is where uninsured motorist coverage comes in. 19 states plus the District of Columbia require drivers to have UM coverage. New Hampshire and Virginia are the only states that don’t require a minimum amount of auto insurance coverage.

The other party’s UM coverage will pay for your medical expenses and damage repair,  but only up to a certain amount. Note that there are two types of UM coverage:

    • Uninsured motorist bodily injury covers medical bills
    • Uninsured motorist property damage covers the damage to the vehicle
  1. You have insurance, and the other party doesn’t.

If you have uninsured motorist coverage, you can use it provided you were not at fault for the accident. This will pay for the medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, or emotional trauma of the other party who wasn’t at fault.
If the other driver was at fault and they are not insured, then the UM coverage will apply to you. 

  1. Both of you don’t have insurance.

If the accident was your fault, you may be liable to a personal lawsuit and civil restitution out of your own pocket. 

If it was the other driver’s fault, you can sue him for injuries and damages sustained. While the average claim for vehicle accidents is $20,000, it tends to be higher for motorcycle accident claims because riders face worse injuries and bike damage.

How to Claim Uninsured Motorist Coverage

  1. In most cases, the police investigation will determine if the at-fault driver has insurance or not. Depending on your state, you may either claim damages from your policy, or from the negligent driver.
  2. In case of a hit and run accident, identify the other vehicle first and take down the information as fast as possible. Take note of the license tag, vehicle type, make, model and color. Include other identifying marks, such as the damage sustained, or aftermarket accessories and modifications that may help track it down.
  3. Document the accident scene. Start with your injuries, bike damage, then the location, date and time of the incident.
  4. Gather witnesses and take down their contact information.
  5. Keep records of all your expenses, from hospital bills and prescriptions to towing, repair and other costs.
  6. File a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. Some insurance providers have a time limit for filing uninsured claims.
  7. Consult with a motorcycle accident lawyer for other claims and damages that may be applicable to you. 

If you do not agree with the decision or compensation claim offered by the insurance provider, the case will end up in binding arbitration. This is where the motorcycle accident attorney will be helpful, as they can examine your case in greater detail and ensure you get just compensation from your insurance policy.

For more information about the subject, including the rules on comparative fault, see our Uninsured / Underinsured Accidents page.

Accidents Involving Rideshare Vehicles

A 2019 research study suggests that rideshare vehicles are responsible for a 3% annual increase in road fatalities, or about 1,000 more deaths per year. Worse, up to 90% of ridesharing drivers do not have the proper insurance.

What to Do in Case of an Accident Involving a Rideshare Vehicle 

  1. Document the accident
  • Start with your injuries and bike damage, then the condition of the other driver and vehicle.
  • Note the date, time, location, and respective positions of your vehicles.
  • If the driver was on the clock at the time, note it in the video. This is highly important, as it can determine the TNC’s liability share.
  1. Gather witnesses
  • Get the contact information of the Uber or Lyft passenger.
  • Get the contact details of eyewitnesses such as pedestrians and other drivers.
  • Examine the area for any CCTVs that may have recorded the incident, such as traffic cams or store surveillance cameras.
  1. Record all expenses
  • Save all medical bills, from hospital expenses to prescriptions.
  • Keep records of all damages incurred, from towing to repair estimate and actual repair invoice.
  1. Consult legal help
  • Contact a motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney that specializes in motorcycle accidents can help investigate the accident, establish liabilities and calculate your losses, and negotiate with the TNC and insurance companies on your behalf.

A rideshare accident can be more complex than regular accidents. The involvement of a rideshare company can make the process more complicated, especially if they wish to protect their bottomline. For more detailed information, see our dedicated Rideshare Accidents page.

Fatal Motorcycle Accidents

Fatal vehicle accidents are always challenging, and motorcycle accidents resulting in deaths even more so. This is due to higher risk faced by motorcycle riders.

What to do in case of a fatal accident:

  • For single-vehicle crashes, the natural tendency of insurance companies is to try to minimize their financial liability in the event of a claim.
  • For two-vehicle crashes, it is common practice for the other party’s insurance provider to dispute liability. They may also seek comparative negligence in states where it is practiced, to reduce damages that can be claimed by the rider or their next of kin.
  • In such cases, a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents is essential. They can handle the legal complexities, deal with insurance, and claim rightful compensation if the other party was at fault, or mitigate penalties and damages if the rider was found to be at fault for the accident.

For more information about this scenario, refer to our Fatal Motorcycle Accidents page.

What to Do When Faced with Common Motorcycle Accident Injuries

Head and Brain Injuries

Head injuries are the biggest cause of deaths in motorcycle crashes, and account for 34% of all trauma-related fatalities. If the rider or passenger is lucky enough to survive, head wounds cover a wide range of physical effects, from minor to life-altering. 

What to Watch out for In Case of an Accident

  • A painful headache
  • Bruising in the whites of the eyes
  • Fluid leaking from the ears, or blood in the eardrum
  • Bruises or contusions on the scalp
  • A depression in the skull
  • Continual loss of balance, and not due to shaking or leg injuries
  • Memory loss
  • Eye spots or partial blindness
  • Altered behavior, such as slurred speech, inability to focus, or uncharacteristic irritability

Brain injuries that are not diagnosed quickly can progress to serious complications and irreversible brain damage. If you have any doubts, it’s best to seek medical consultation immediately. Even if the head appears fine on the outside, there may be internal swelling or hemorrhage that can only be detected by an MRI or CT scan.

For more information on the subject, see our Head and Brain Injuries section.

Neck and Back Injuries

According to road accident studies, neck injuries happen in 22% of motorcycle crash incidents in the US. Since the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body, any damage to the neck or back can result in loss of normal motion or mobility, or even paralysis.

What to do in case of possible neck or back injury:

  1. Before moving the victim, ask if they can move their extremities. If they are unable to do so, they may have suffered a spinal injury.
  2. If there is any risk that the person may have a spinal injury, they should avoid all movement or being moved by other people unless absolutely necessary. The EMT will use a neck or back brace to avoid exacerbating any injuries during transport to the hospital.
  3. Avoid removing the helmet. In some cases, the helmet actually helped save the victim by cradling the broken neck until it could be properly secured by paramedics.
  4. If the person must be moved to imminent danger, use a flat object to act as a backboard while dragging them to safety. Grasp them by the feet instead of the shoulders, and avoid raising the neck or back from the ground to prevent further damage.

For more information, see our Neck and Back Injuries section, as well as our Paralysis Guide.

Amputated Limb Cases

In motorcycle accidents, one of the body parts that face the most risk of injury are the extremities. The higher Newtonian forces involved as well as the lack of an enclosed cockpit means that arms, legs and hands face more potential damage. This includes  partial amputation, disarticulation at critical joints, or complete severance of the whole hand, foot or limb.

What to do in Accidents that Involve Amputation

Motorcycle accidents that result in severed limbs are one of the worst case scenarios, short of traumatic head injury. In such situations:

  • Apply immediate pressure to the wound to stem the blood flow.
  • Use a handkerchief, bandana or piece of clothing to fashion a tourniquet.
  • If a body part has been severed, take note of its location or have it retrieved, in case it can be surgically re-attached. 
  • The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends covering the severed body part in a moistened gauze wrap and storing it in a sealed bag. While it’s ideal to keep it cool, it should never be in direct contact with ice.
  • Elevate the amputated part and remain calm to limit blood loss from the wound.

For more information, see our dedicated Amputation section.

Broken Bones

Of the top five injuries commonly experienced by motorcycle riders, four are bone-related, making this body part one of the most injury-prone in accidents.

In case of an accident that results in broken bones or fractures, the affected area will need to be immobilized, reset or reinforced to heal normally. An untreated broken bone, even a minor one, can result in complications or a life-long disability.

What to do in case of a broken bone injury:

  • Avoid moving the injured part of the body.
  • Immobilize the broken part by creating a sling using a piece of cloth, or a splint using a long, hard object.
  • If there is pain, add padding to the sling or splint using your rolled up socks, to minimize further movement of the bone.
  • If ice packs are available, use them to relieve swelling. Don’t apply ice directly on the injury — wrap them in a piece of cloth or towel.
  • In case of broken ribs, the victim may have trouble breathing or breathe in short, gasping breaths. Lay them down with the head placed slightly lower than the trunk to aid breathing.
  • If the person is unconscious and must be moved, avoid lifting them straight up. Drag them by the feet in case they have an injured neck or back.
  • In case of imminent danger, lift the victim as one unit with the head, torso and legs supported. Do not straighten out the victim or move the direction of the head.

Refer to our Broken Bones section for more details.

Burns and Road Rash

Data from the National Trauma Data Bank shows there were nearly 20,500 road rash injuries caused by motorcycle accidents in 2013. While most were slight injuries, about 10% required acute rehabilitation, and 400 resulted in death.

For burns, 62% of motorcycle accidents result in fuel leaks, which greatly increase the risk of burn injuries. Statistics also show that burns are the second leading cause of car accident deaths in the US and cost $1.3 billion worth of damaged vehicles.

What to do in case of an accident that results in burns or road rash:

First-degree burns or road rash

  • Wash or disinfect your hands before tending to the wound, to minimize infection.
  •  Rinse the injury with antibacterial soap, alcohol or disinfectant, taking care not to rub the injured area.
  • Use antibiotic ointment to treat the wound after cleaning. Bacitracin or Neosporin are recommended ointments to sanitize the wound without harming the injured skin.
  • Dress the wound in gauze or bandage to protect the skin from bacteria while healing.
  • Change the bandage regularly, at least once or twice a day. Swap it out for a new dressing if the old one is dirty, gets wet, or loses its hold on the skin. 
  • Keep an eye out for signs of infection. These include excessive and prolonged redness, continuing pain, or drainage such as pus. When this occurs, swap out the damage and see a doctor.

Second-degree burns or road rash

A second-degree road rash involves torn skin, and thus should be treated by medical professionals. As a first-aid measure:

  • Wash or disinfect your hands before tending to the wound.
  • Gently rinse the surrounding area with drinking water to clear out foreign materials like dirt and debris.
  • Cover the tear with a bandage, gauze or clean cloth.
  • Seek medical help.

Third-degree road rash

As the most severe type of road rash injury, professional medical attention is a must. The following steps should only be done if the injury is grave enough to necessitate intervention while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

  • Stop bleeding, if any, with a bandage or any piece of clean cloth.
  • Attend to the most serious injuries first. In case of multiple wounds, prioritize areas with heavy bleeding, oozes bright red blood, or spurts blood, to minimize blood loss.
  • Apply constant pressure while seeking help. Keep one hand on the bandage while calling 911 with the other hand. The operator will instruct you on the next steps while you wait for EMS.

For more information, see our Burns and Road Rash resource page.

Wrongful Death

A wrongful death is when a person is killed due to someone else’s negligence. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that can be filed by the deceased victim’s next of kin against the negligent party, separate from criminal charges that he or she may also be liable for.

Of the 170,000 wrongful death cases in the US in 2017, majority were due to road accidents.

Who Can File the Claim?

A wrongful death claim can only be filed by surviving family members who are affected by the victim’s death, known as “real parties in interest.”.  This can vary per jurisdiction. 

In all states, the following are eligible to file the claim:

  • Spouse
  • Offspring
  • Parents (if the deceased was unmarried)

Other states may also allow these relations:

  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Putative partner
  • Financial dependents

Most states require a personal representative or executor of the decedent’s estate to file the claim. In case the victim’s last will does not designate an executor, the court may appoint one.

Each state has its own statutes governing wrongful death claims. You can check your state’s laws here. You can also check our Wrongful Death resource page for more information.