What does "comparative negligence" mean when determining who is liable for a traffic accident?
California follows what is called "comparative fault". Comparative fault is a rule to divide responsibility and damages between the injured person and the driver causing the accident. If the motorcycle rider is partially at fault for causing the accident, the recovery for damages is reduced by the percentage of his or her own fault. So for example, if the rider is found to be 25% at fault then the ultimate award of the monetary damages would be reduced by that same percentage. A judge or jury determines the percentage of fault attributable to each party. This rule may also be used by a defendant to reduce his percentage of responsibility in cases where there are multiple defendants. For example, in a multi-defendant vehicle crash, if a particular defendant was only 20% responsible for causing the accident, they will be responsible for only 20% of the damages received by the plaintiff.
I was injured in a motorcycle accident, but I wasn't wearing a helmet. Can I still recover damages from the other driver?
It depends. Despite a lack of support among some motorcyclists, a number of states have enacted statutes, including California, (This law is found in the California Vehicle Code, sections 27802 and 27803.) requiring the use of protective equipment when riding a motorcycle. Depending upon the type of injury, not wearing a helmet may or may not be relevant to the amount of damages. The issue is whether or not wearing a helmet contributed to the injuries. For example, not wearing a helmet but there is no head or neck injury would make little difference. However, in a scenario of no helmet where a head or neck injury is sustained, failing to wear a helmet can substantially reduce recovery because of "comparative negligence" in California. (See above question.) Also, insurance adjusters will likely produce an overwhelming array of documentation demonstrating that helmets usually significantly reduce head injuries. You should immediately consult with an attorney in this scenario.
Is "lane splitting" legal in California and can I still recover damages from the other driver ?
California specifically permits lane splitting, but only if it is done in a "safe and prudent" manner. Of course, the definition of "safe and prudent" is very much up to interpretation by police officers and judges. If an accident happens while a motorcycle is lane splitting, there's a good chance that fault for the accident will be attributed to the motorcycle rider. However, depending upon specific facts of the case, the rider may not be at fault. Factors such as the experience of the rider, weather and road conditions, whether the rider was driving safely (not weaving in and out of traffic or speeding), and the actions of the other driver, such as making a sudden lane change or not paying attention and talking on the cell phone will impact this.
A motorcyclist often has a reputation for driving recklessly. Is it difficult to prove a motorcycle accident was someone else’s fault?
If you lack proper evidence to prove negligence or fault, it may be difficult to prove your case. Any good accident attorney will have a team of investigators using the latest investigative techniques. The better your evidence, the more likely your chance is for proving fault.
Is it wise to talk to a representative from an insurance company?
No, you should let your motorcycle accident lawyer speak to any insurance company. Insurance company adjusters typically offer low settlements. Your attorney will negotiate a fair settlement for you.
Can forgetting to wear a helmet affect a motorcycle accident lawsuit?
No. The fact that you didn’t wear a helmet doesn’t affect your ability to sue the responsible party for damages. However, depending upon the type of injury, it can dramatically impact the amount of recovery. (See above question.)
Do I need to call the police when there is an accident?
A police report is a critical document that provides important information to the insurance company and your attorney. In California, every accident over $500 (most every accident), must be reported. If you neglect to notify the police, you will lose the opportunity to prove your case from the very beginning.