Who Is At Fault In A Lane Splitting Accident?
“Lane splitting” is a tactic used by motorcyclists to navigate slow, heavy traffic. In a situation where four-wheeled vehicles have slowed to a crawl or stopped altogether, motorcyclists are able to slip through between them by riding on the lines.
While lane splitting is legal in several western states, it is prohibited under Michigan statutes. Does that mean the motorcyclist is automatically at fault when a lane splitting accident happens? Not necessarily, although both parties may bear a portion of the liability.
What the Law Says About Lane Splitting
MCL 257.660, Paragraph 4 clearly states that “A person operating a motorcycle, moped, low-speed vehicle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or electric skateboard shall not pass between lines of traffic, but may pass on the left of traffic moving in his or her direction in the case of a 2-way street or on the left or right of traffic in the case of a 1-way street, in an unoccupied lane.”
So if you’re stuck in traffic while riding a motorcycle, your only legal option in Michigan is to use an open lane to pass, just as you would under normal circumstances.
There is some disagreement among law enforcement, traffic safety experts, and especially motorcycle operators over the risks of lane splitting. The fact remains, however, that the maneuver is against the law, and police will issue a citation at the site of the accident. Furthermore, insurers consider traffic violations when determining fault, and courts are not sympathetic to motorists who suffer accidents because they violated the law.
Lane splitting should not be confused with lane filtering or lane sharing. Lane filtering is simply frequent lane changes when traffic has slowed or stopped. While not illegal (provided you have signaled your intention to other drivers), it is inadvisable since motorists have an unfortunate tendency to follow one another too closely in slow traffic. Lane sharing is two motorcyclists riding side-by-side in a single lane, which Michigan traffic laws allow.
Why Lane Splitting is a Dangerous Practice
The primary reason that lane splitting is illegal is because of the dangers it poses to others, including pedestrians and bicycle riders. It is also dangerous for motorcyclists, who are already at risk because they are so exposed.
Aside from lacking the protection that an enclosed, four-wheel vehicle provides, motorcyclists engaged in lane-splitting are riding much closer to automobiles and trucks at a higher speed. Furthermore, they are attempting to maneuver within very tight spaces. Meanwhile, auto and truck operators are usually not expecting motorcycles to be passing them when traffic is slow and heavy. They may pull out in front of a motorcycle without any warning, as they can be difficult to see.
The bottom line: avoid lane splitting. Getting to your destination a few minutes earlier is not worth your life.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit if You are in a Lane Splitting Accident
Michigan is one of a dozen states that have “no-fault” motor vehicle insurance. This means that each party involved in an accident is covered by their own insurance for bodily injury and lost wages, up to their policy limits. Prior to July 1st, 2020, Michigan motorists were required to carry unlimited Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Since the state legislature changed the law, Michigan motorists with other medical/health coverage have had the option of capping their coverage. This limit can be as low as $50,000 for Medicaid recipients, while older motorists on Medicare can opt-out altogether.
No-fault insurance does not cover property damage. Under a law that also went into effect in 2020, a person involved in an accident can sue the person responsible for up to $3000 to cover repairs to their damaged vehicle. However, if the driver responsible for the accident is uninsured, the plaintiff can sue for the full replacement cost of their damaged vehicle in addition to car rental and other transportation costs.
This is where it can get complicated for a motorcyclist involved in a lane-splitting accident.
Filing a Lawsuit and Comparative Negligence
Although Michigan is a no-fault state, there are circumstances under which a motorist can file an injury lawsuit, regardless of whether or not they were liable for an accident. There are three causes of action available:
- Suing the insurer over underpayment or delayed payment of claims
- Suing the motorist responsible for non-economic damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.)
- Suing the liable party for property damage
As noted earlier, however, both insurers and juries will consider whether or not an injury victim was breaking the law.
Michigan also applies the principle of “modified comparative negligence” to personal injury lawsuits. In simple terms, this means that in order to collect damages, the court must find the plaintiff less than 50 percent liable.
What this means to a motorcyclist injured in a lane splitting accident is they will share liability with the driver of the other vehicle, since they were in violation of the law and operating their motorcycle in an unsafe manner. It is possible that the court would find the motorcyclist 100 percent liable, in which case they would collect no damages.
On the other hand, if the plaintiff in a lane-splitting accident lawsuit can demonstrate that the other party’s action contributed to the accident and subsequent injury, they may be able to recover something. For example, if the other driver suddenly changed lanes without signaling, or was distracted in some manner, they would bear at least part of the liability.
A motorcyclist might also prove they were not completely at fault if they could demonstrate that they were at least operating their vehicle safely by limiting their speed and not weaving in and out of traffic.
If You are Injured in a Lane Splitting Accident
This said, while legal representation is not required to file a claim, navigating the no-fault process can be complicated. Furthermore, an insurance company may require a lot of detailed information; understandably, people are concerned the insurer may use a statement or an error as a reason to deny their claim. An experienced attorney can help to maximize your chances of getting a decent settlement.
Remember that you should never, under any circumstances, sign anything from an insurance company until you have had an attorney examine it. The job of an insurance adjuster is to limit the company’s exposure and convince the insured to accept as low a settlement as they can get away with. Your attorney’s job is to negotiate the highest possible settlement.
Most claims are settled out of court, but if the two parties cannot reach an agreement and the case goes before a judge, your motorcycle accident attorney will represent your interests. The team at the Mike Morse Law Firm has won over $1.5 billion dollars for their clients.
Just keep in mind that all personal injury cases have a time limit or a statute of limitations. In Michigan, you have two years from the date of your accident, so do not wait to start your claim. Call the Mike Morse Law firm today for a no-obligation consultation.