Motorcycle Accident Compensation FAQs
I was riding my motorcycle to work when I collided with a car making a left turn in front of me. Who is at fault for the collision?
Cars making left turns in front of motorcycles are the most common cause of motorcycle accidents. They usually occur because the driver at an intersection either fails to observe an oncoming motorcycle and turns in front of it, or sees the motorcycle and misjudges its speed. Both of those are examples of negligence for which a driver can be held responsible.
Traffic laws require cars making left turns to yield to oncoming traffic unless a traffic signal gives them the right of way. Since the driver of the car disobeyed the law by failing to yield, a jury would probably find the driver at fault.
The more difficult question is whether the jury would decide that you were also at fault. In most intersection accidents, juries are inclined to find that fault is shared. A jury might think that you were at fault for failing to anticipate that the car was going to make a left turn, particularly if the driver was signaling the turn.
If you could have avoided the accident by assuming the car would turn in front of you, a jury might hold you at fault for failing to do so. If you were traveling near the speed limit, a jury might hold you at fault for not slowing down when you approached the intersection so that you would have more time to react to other vehicles.
What does “comparative negligence” have to do with my motorcycle accident compensation?
California law uses a scheme called comparative negligence to determine fault. The scheme recognizes that the fault for many accidents is shared. The comparative negligence law apportions fault between the parties whose negligence contributed to accident injuries.
The question discussed above provides an example of how fault might be shared between a negligent driver and a motorcyclist. The fault of the driver who failed to yield is usually greater than the fault of the motorcyclist who collided with the turning car. Any fault attributed to the motorcyclist, however, will reduce the compensation that the rider receives in proportion to the rider’s fault. For example, if the rider is 25% at fault, the rider’s compensation will be reduced by 25%.
Apportioning fault is the jury’s responsibility in cases that go to trial. Experienced personal injury lawyers have a good sense of how a jury is likely to apportion fault after considering all the circumstances of the accident. They take comparative negligence into account when they evaluate claims for settlement.
Will the health insurance coverage I receive from work affect how much I receive for my motorcycle accident?
You are entitled to recover your medical expenses as an element of compensation. That is true whether those expenses were paid out of your own pocket or on your behalf by a health insurer.
Most health insurance policies have a “subrogation clause.” That clause gives your health insurance company the right to be reimbursed for any medical bills it paid on your behalf if your settlement includes compensation for those bills.
Personal injury lawyers routinely handle subrogation issues when they settle a case. In many cases, your lawyer can negotiate with the health insurance company to pay the company less than the full amount it paid to your healthcare providers. That allows you to keep more of the motorcycle accident compensation proceeds for yourself.
I suffered serious injuries while riding my motorcycle without a helmet. Can I still get compensation?
You will be entitled to compensation if the accident was the fault of another person, but the amount you receive might be reduced because of your decision not to wear a helmet. That depends in part on the nature of your injury. For example, if you broke your elbow and cracked some ribs when you were thrown from your bike, whether you were wearing a helmet makes no difference because a helmet would not have protected you from those injuries.
If you suffered facial or brain injuries, the decision not to wear a helmet will probably be considered an act of negligence that contributed to your injuries. Since California law requires riders to wear helmets, juries tend to hold riders responsible for their own head injuries — at least to some degree — when they could have prevented the injury by obeying the law.
Whether you would have suffered the same injury even if you were wearing a helmet is not always clear. Studies show that helmets prevent some deaths and reduce the severity of some injuries. Yet many riders die or suffer a serious injury despite wearing a helmet. If your injury is serious, your lawyer may need to hire an expert to determine whether your decision not to wear a helmet had any impact on your injuries.
Is it true that motorcycle accident cases are harder to win than car accident cases?
Unfortunately, in most cases the answer is yes. That’s unfair, but the reality is that most juries consist of people who drive cars. Few motorcyclists ever sit on a jury that decides a motorcycle accident case because the insurance company lawyer usually succeeds in striking them from the jury panel. Insurance lawyers are able to do that because there are many more car drivers than motorcycle riders on the panel, so they can use their strikes against the few motorcyclists who have been called to jury service.
Jurors who have no experience riding a motorcycle tend to be sympathetic to drivers of cars and unsympathetic to motorcycle riders. Some jurors also accept negative stereotypes of motorcycle riders. They view motorcyclists as dangerous criminals who speed, weave in and out of traffic, and use drugs or alcohol before riding. The fact that people from all walks of life ride motorcycles, including police officers and CEOs of major corporations, does not occur to them.
A skilled motorcyle lawyer compensates for those stereotypes by educating the jury about the myths that surround motorcycle riders. A good personal injury lawyer also presents an injury victim to the jury in a way that helps the jury understand and sympathize with the victim. Presenting evidence of careful riding is also essential to a fair verdict in a motorcycle accident case.
Is it worth bringing a claim if my only injury was road rash?
Road rash or “road burns” has the potential to be a severe injury. Road rash is painful and it may lead to serious complications if a rider does not receive prompt medical attention.
Road rash occurs when skin is scraped away as the rider’s body slides across the road. An infection can set in if the rash is not promptly treated.
Sometimes road rash requires skin grafts. That procedure can be long and expensive. Even wounds that can be closed with stitches typically require follow-up care. Most road rash injuries result in scarring and permanent disfigurement of the skin.
In many cases, road rash is a sufficiently severe injury to make an injury claim worth pursuing. If you suffered any injury while riding your motorcycle that was caused by a driver’s negligence, you should seek advice from a personal injury lawyer.
Can I bring a personal injury claim even if no other vehicle collided with my motorcycle?
If a motorcycle accident was caused by the negligence of another person, business, or government, it is possible to bring a claim for compensation. Collisions are the most common kind of insurance claim involving motorcycles, but a collision is not required.
Some motorcycle accidents are caused by a near miss. In other words, a driver changes lanes without checking the car’s blind spot, or turns in front of a motorcyclist, and the rider must swerve to avoid a collision. If that evasive maneuver ends in a crash, even without a collision, the rider can bring an injury claim against the negligent driver (provided the driver can be identified).
Some motorcycle accidents are caused by obstacles in the road that fall from trucks or other vehicles. An improperly secured load or shredded tires can create unavoidable road hazards that cause motorcycle riders to crash. Again, a claim can only be made if the truck driver can be identified, but when the driver is known, the negligent failure to secure a load or to replace worn tires entitles the rider to seek compensation.
Other road hazards are the responsibility of state, county, or city governments. In some cases, the failure to repair known road defects, including potholes and ruts in the road, can be the basis for a lawsuit when those defects caused a rider’s accident. Railroad companies can also be liable if the poor condition of tracks and roadbeds causes a motorcyclist to fall while crossing the track.
Can a motorcycle passenger bring a personal injury claim?
Motorcycle passengers are usually in a better position than motorcycle operators to bring personal injury claims. A motorcycle passenger rarely does anything that contributes to an accident, and therefore does not usually face a reduction of compensation based on comparative negligence rules.
In addition, a passenger can pursue two potentially negligent parties: the motorcycle operator and the driver of the other vehicle involved in a crash. If both were at fault, the passenger can recover a share of his or her total compensation from each of them.
Even if the motorcycle was involved in a single-vehicle accident — in other words, the motorcycle crash was entirely the operator’s fault — the passenger can bring a claim against the operator. A motorcyclist is required by California law to maintain bodily injury insurance, so the passenger should have a source of funds from which to collect compensation even if the motorcyclist’s financial resources are limited.
Do I have to tell the police if I am involved in an accident?
If the accident involved injury or property damage, you are required to report it to the police as soon as you can. Failing to report a reportable accident is a crime. If the accident was another driver’s fault, you want to make sure to get that driver’s name and address in case he or she leaves the scene of the accident without talking to the police.
You must also file a written accident report with the California DMV within 10 days after any accident that resulted in an injury, no matter how minor, or property damage of more than $750. You must file the report no matter who was at fault. If you plan to make an insurance claim for injuries you sustained in the accident, you should talk to a personal injury lawyer before you file the report to make sure you do not say anything that might damage your case.
Do I have to hire a lawyer if I get into a motorcycle accident?
If you only have a property damage claim or if your injuries were very minor, you might be able to handle your motorcycle accident compensation claim without the assistance of a lawyer. If you were seriously injured and another driver was at least partially responsible for your injury, you should talk to a personal injury attorney.
An experienced lawyer can help you evaluate your case and can advise you how to maximize the compensation you are entitled to receive. Since personal injury lawyers charge contingent fees, you do not need to worry about whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to handle your case.