The Iowa Court Of Appeals Rules That Motorcyclists Have No Right To Expect Cars To See Them

On December 18, 2013 the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld a defense verdict against a motorcyclist who sued for personal injuries after he was nearly hit by a car and crashed his bike trying to swerve around the vehicle.  The accident happened at one of Jordan Creek mall’s entrance/exit areas.  Interestingly, the defendant driver had a stop sign.  The motorcyclist had no stop sign and had the right-of-way.  The driver didn’t see the motorcyclist at first, pulled out in front of him, and caused the bike to crash when the rider had to make a choice between slamming into the side of the car or swerving around it.

The jury found that the other driver was not negligent.  The motorcyclist received no compensation for his physical injuries.  So how did the motorcyclist lose this case even though he didn’t have a stop sign and the other driver did?

One problem was that there wasn’t any contact between the car and the motorcycle.  Motorcycle cases can be more difficult to win when the bike doesn’t hit the other vehicle.  It’s almost like the biker would be better off biting the bullet, maintaining course, and smashing into the other vehicle.  Otherwise, motorcyclists will almost always face a defense argument that there was room to get around the vehicle and no need to take the evasive maneuver that led to the bike crashing.  And juries often agree.

I also wonder whether this motorcyclist was penalized for being on a bike instead of a more visible car or truck.  This quote from the decision certainly approves the “I didn’t see him” defense, but it’s not entirely clear whether the motorcycle’s small profile played a role: “The evidence in this case is clear that Swank did not see Barrett until after she proceeded into the intersection. It is additionally clear Swank looked forward and to both sides before moving the vehicle. Barrett’s argument faults Swank for failing to look over her shoulder and to the rear in order to see Barrett as he left 68th Street and turned to cross the frontage road.  Though . . . Swank had a duty to maintain and establish awareness of vehicles behind her, it does not follow that Swank was required to maintain awareness of a vehicle behind her, a distance to the side, and on another road.”  It’s interesting that this driver was able to see all the other vehicles at this intersection and yield the right-of-way to them, but somehow missed the motorcycle.

The court of appeals concluded its decision by laying blame with the motorcyclist for relying on his right-of-way and not anticipating that the other driver would fail to yield and pull out in front of him: “The situation that confronted Barrett was a foreseeable occurrence, which a prudent driver should reasonably anticipate. A driver pulling out into traffic at a stop sign in a busy mall parking lot is foreseeable. . . .”

The court of appeals doesn’t explain exactly what the motorcyclist was supposed to do in light of the apparent expectation that other drivers wouldn’t obey the law at the intersection.  Get off his motorcycle and walk it to the intersection?  Park on the side of the road until everyone leaves and he’s the only vehicle left in the parking lot?  Turn around and go home?  I think the Iowa Court of Appeals made a mistake in this case by concluding that the other driver wasn’t negligent.


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