Helping Injury Victims Protect Their Legal Rights
Of all motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle wrecks can cause some of the most severe injuries. The lack of structural protection subjects motorcycle riders to the full force of impact. These injuries often result in lifetime pain, physical and mental impairments, work restrictions, paralysis, and other life-changing conditions and even death.
Motorcycle victims must protect their legal right to compensation for all of the financial and personal losses and injuries that they have suffered as the result of another driver’s negligence. If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, call (510) 200-0162 today to schedule your free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney at Winer, Burritt & Tillis LLP. We have extensive experience in protecting the rights of injury victims throughout the Oakland area.
A Motorcycle Rider’s Legal Obligations
Motorcycle accident injury victims have the legal right to be compensated for injuries caused by another person or company’s negligence. Injury victims, however, can also partially cause their own injuries—but even then they can recover compensation. This is a result of California’s comparative negligence laws. Section 1714 of the California Civil Code states that everyone is responsible for injuries caused by their own negligence except to the extent that their own negligence brought the injury upon themselves. As a result, a victim’s own negligence will reduce the compensation available in proportion to the victim’s own fault, but a skillful lawyer can work to increase the percentage of fault attributed to the other driver and reduce the percentage attributed to the victim. This is particularly important in motorcycle cases because a segment of the population believes that anyone who drives a motorcycle is automatically, at least, partially at fault for any accident where someone driving a car wouldn’t have been injured or would have been less injured.
It is therefore important to understand a motorcycle rider’s legal obligations while on California’s roads. By meeting these legal obligations, an injury victim can protect a legal claim from attacks by a negligent party’s insurance company or defense attorney.
The California Vehicle Code, which establishes most of the basic traffic regulations for all road users in California, includes many of the legal obligations imposed on motorcycle riders. Some regulations that apply to motorcycle riders include:
- All drivers and passengers on a motorcycle must wear helmets that meet state and federal safety standards. (See Section 27803.)
- Motorcycle drivers may only carry passengers on rear seats and sidecars that are specifically designed for passenger transport. (See Section 27800.)
- Motorcycles must be equipped with at least one mirror that reflects a view of the roadway for at least 200 feet behind the driver. (See Section 26709.)
- The right of way provisions of Section 21804 apply to motorcycle drivers, as well as drivers of passenger vehicles.
- Section 21703 prohibits all drivers (including those of motorcycles) from following more closely than is reasonable and prudent.
Counties can also enact their own traffic regulations for the safe operation of motorcycles. For example:
- Tulare County prohibits the operation of motorcycles on private property (or unoccupied public property) within a half-mile of any school, hospital, convalescent home, public park, or residential area. (See Tulare County Code Section 4-23-1000.)
- The Los Angeles County Code requires motorcyclists to ride on paved vehicular roads or paths that are designated for that purpose. (See Section 19.12.1340.)
- It is also illegal to repair, rebuild, modify, or test a motorcycle in a manner that causes a noise disturbance across property lines. (See Los Angeles County Code Section 12.08.550.)
This is a very limited sample of the many traffic regulations and road rules that apply to California motorcycle drivers and passengers.
How a Rider’s Legal Obligations Can Complicate a Personal Injury Claim
Not all violations of a road rule will necessarily lead to a finding that the driver’s negligence contributed to the driver’s own injuries. A noise violation, for example, may not contribute to a collision caused by another driver’s failure to yield the right of way. But in many other cases, a motorcycle driver’s actions may, indeed, help cause the accident, or exacerbate the injuries sustained in that accident. In either case, a defense attorney can argue that the other driver is partially (or even wholly) excused from compensating the motorcycle injury victim’s financial losses. Experienced motorcycle injury attorneys, however, know how to fight these defenses.
One of the most common circumstances in which this occurs is when a motorcycle rider (whether driver or passenger) fails to wear a helmet. This is more than a simple procedural violation of state traffic laws. It also can deepen the severity of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. As a result, another driver who caused the accident may only face responsibility for compensating the victim for injuries that would have occurred had the victim worn a helmet in accordance with state law.
This defense requires complicated scientific evidence about the protection a helmet would have afforded in the circumstances of that particular accident. Experienced motorcycle accident attorneys can fight against these arguments—but motorcycle accident victims have far better outcomes, both medically and legally, when they wear helmets.
Traffic violations—such as speeding or failing to yield the right of way—can also result in a motorcycle driver’s partial fault for causing an accident, even if the other driver was also speeding or failing to appropriately watch for other traffic.
This becomes particularly complicated when the applicable traffic regulation is vague. For example, Section 22350 of the California Vehicle Code prohibits all drivers from operating motor vehicles at a speed which is “greater than is reasonable or prudent,” accounting for weather, visibility, traffic conditions, and the roadway surface. This means that traveling at the posted speed limit may prove unsafe when rain, sleet, hail, ice, or snow are present on the roadway.
But just how slow must the driver go? If both drivers are traveling at 10 miles an hour less than the posted speed limit, is one more liable than the other for an accident that results? Is each driver automatically liable for exactly half of the damage that results from the accident? Can other factors move the proportional liability to 60/40, or even 90/10?
These are the questions that attorneys dispute vigorously during settlement negotiations. They are also questions a jury may need to resolve.
Even if the accident was partially your fault, if another driver’s negligence or a design defect on the part of a vehicle manufacturer contributed to or exacerbated your injuries, you may still seek compensation. The attorneys at Winer, Burritt & Tillis LLP, have experience at successfully navigating these complicated obstacles and coming to successful settlements and verdicts.
Other Sources of Liability for a Motorcycle Accident
The involved drivers are not the only parties who can face liability for causing a motorcycle accident.
Products liability is a legal doctrine that holds all manufacturers of consumer goods responsible for placing safe products into the marketplace. This can allow injured motorcycle riders to hold a manufacturer liable for motorcycle design or manufacturing defects that ultimately caused an accident. This is why many product manufacturers will issue voluntary recalls of their products—or, in the case of vehicles, fix defects for free at authorized service centers. These solutions are ultimately less expensive than paying the products liability lawsuits that will inevitably result from uncorrected problems. Also, in a motorcycle accident in which there is a brain injury or a death due to a head injury, the victim may be able to bring a product liability case against the helmet manufacturer.
Premises liability can also cause a motorcycle accident. Landowners have a legal obligation to maintain their properties in a safe condition. Business owners have an especially high standard to keep their properties safe for the public, which they have invited to spend money on the premises. This extends to parking lots and other exterior areas under the store’s control. Dangerous parking lot conditions such as ice, broken cement barriers, or potholes can lead to motorcycle accidents. If the store owner knew—or should have known—about these conditions, it can face liability for a motorcycle accident that occurs as a result of the dangerous condition.
Products liability and premises liability are just two possible theories of liability that may apply in a motorcycle accident injury. An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can help victims explore all appropriate theories of liability, potential defendants, and sources of compensation available to them.
An Attorney’s Experience With Motorcycle Accident Claims Can Protect an Injury Victim’s Legal Right to Compensation
There are many different ways in which an insurance company or defense attorney can attack an injury victim’s legal claim. They may allege that the defendant was partially—or wholly—at fault for causing the accident. They may claim that the victim contributed to the injuries sustained (such as by failing to wear a helmet, or not seeking immediate medical treatment, or not following through on a doctor’s treatment recommendations).
The loss of a limb or other severe injuries in a motorcycle accident may preclude a victim from gainful employment. These losses are difficult to calculate, as are future expenses for medical care that a serious motorcycle accident may require.
One of the most popular strategies is to attack the amount of compensation to which the victim is entitled for pain and suffering. Because these losses are difficult to calculate, it is easy for a claims adjuster to make a “lowball” offer for these very real and compensable losses.
Claims adjusters may attack other losses. The loss of a limb leaves lifelong effects on the victim’s life. The victim may lose the ability to dance at a child’s wedding, or hold a grandchild, or engage in other important life events. These events may be difficult to value, but they constitute real and devastating losses for which the law may provide compensation.
Because the defense can attack a personal injury claim in so many ways, you need an attorney who is experienced in the particular challenges presented by a motorcycle accident claim. This enables the attorney to anticipate and defend attacks by the insurance company or defense attorney.
It is also critical to hire an attorney as soon as is practicable after the accident. The opposing driver immediately reports the accident to their insurance carrier who will quickly begin an investigation. If the injured motorcycle victim does not immediately hire an attorney, the opposing driver is at a tremendous advantage. Even if there is a police report, police reports are not admissible into evidence at a trial, so a good victim’s attorney will conduct their own investigation, collecting critical evidence, such as photos of the scene, skid marks, the timing of traffic signals, scuff marks and many other items of evidence that will later be used in an accident reconstruction by mechanical engineers and other experts who will determine how the accident happened and will lead to determining which driver is at fault.
In motorcycle accidents, often the speed of the motorcycle driver is a critical issue. In virtually all motorcycle collisions the opposing driver will claim that the motorcycle rider was speeding. This testimony is frequently echoed by eyewitnesses. It obviously may be true that the motorcycle was speeding, but often, opposing drivers and witnesses overestimate the speed of a motorcycle because motorcycles, particularly if they are loud, appear to be traveling faster than they actually are. The best way to beat this testimony is for an expert witness to analyze skid and scuff marks and damage to the vehicles to determine actual speed. Skid marks and scuff marks disappear fairly quickly, particularly in bad weather. Cars, and even the victim’s motorcycle, might get repaired before an investigator for the plaintiff or an expert witness can examine them. That is why it is critical to maintain and document evidence from the very beginning. This can only be done by hiring an attorney.
An experienced attorney may also explore appropriate theories of liability and sources of compensation that may help bolster a client’s personal injury claim. In some cases, an investigation may find entirely new liable defendants who have an obligation to compensate the injury victim.
All of these strategies are important protections for a personal injury plaintiff’s claim. Learning how to employ them can take years of experience. This is why you need an attorney who has handled many motorcycle accident claims and is familiar with the needs of motorcycle riders.
Aggressive Motorcycle Accident Lawyers in Oakland, CA
Motorcycle accidents present unique legal challenges. With the guidance of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney, injury victims can improve their chances of recovering full and fair compensation for all of their financial losses. Call (510) 200-0162 or contact us online today to schedule your free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney at Winer, Burritt & Tillis LLP. We have extensive experience in meeting the unique needs of motorcycle accident victims, and we will fight hard for the compensation you deserve.