Fatal Norfolk, VA Motorcycle Crash Raises Questions About Contributory Negligence

A fatal crash on I-64 in Norfolk, Virginia (VA), is sure to raise questions about safely sharing the highway with motorcycles, as well as what responsibilities riders have to prevent collisions with cars and trucks. The deadly rear-end collision happened in the westbound lanes of the interstate near the exit to Norview Avenue a little before 4 pm on Jan. 10, 2021.

Virginia state police said the deceased motorcyclist slammed into the back of a Mitsubishi Eclipse that had just changed lanes. The impact threw the rider from his bike and sent him into a guardrail. The 26-year-old native of Washington state died immediately.

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News reports do not include information on whether the driver of the car suffered injuries. It is known, however, that the driver was not charged with making an unsafe lane change. According to eyewitnesses cited by state troopers, “speed contributed” to causing the crash.

No one can draw a legal conclusion from such a vague statement, but the natural inference is that the motorcycle rider was speeding. If evidence from the state troopers’ ongoing investigation does show that the deceased man created a risky situation by exceeding the speed limit, his family could face an uphill battle for pursuing a wrongful death claim on his behalf.

The Problem With Unsafe Lane Changes

The most immediate—or, in legalese, proximate—cause of this deadly motorcycle crash on I-64 in Norfolk appears to be the lane change by the driver of the car. Larger vehicles cut off and swerve into motorcycles far too often. Several factors combine to create the problem.

First, all vehicles have blind spots. Checking mirrors, cameras and blind spot warning systems will never fully substitute for turning one’s head and looking down the length of one’s vehicle. But, then, motorcycles (as well as bicycles) are small. They can be easy to miss even when they are in one’s line of sight.

Before changing lanes, drivers must look hard for motorcycles. They must look more than once. They should only start changing lanes once they are absolutely sure that no rider is cruising in a blind spot or approaching quickly from behind.

Virginia’s Rule of Contributory Negligence

It may not matter in this case if the driver of the Mitsubishi Eclipse violated each of these essential rules for safely sharing the road with motorcycles. Virginia, along with North Carolina, is one of the few states that still follows an ancient, unjust rule of pure contributory negligence.

Briefly, applying the rule makes it difficult-to-impossible to succeed with a personal injury or wrongful death claim when the other person involved in the accident can show that the victim did something to cause the incident. Here, the driver and their insurance company could potentially avoid liability for a possibly unsafe and ultimately fatal lane change if they can prove the motorcycle rider was speeding.

There are ways to counter allegations of contributory negligence, however. Consulting with an experienced and caring Virginia wrongful death attorney who has handled many motorcycle crash cases will help the victim’s family understand their rights and options for seeking compensation.

EJL

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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