Your Legal Options after a Motorcycle Crash
California has seen a nearly consistent increase in motorcycle accident fatalities since 1999, according to the California Highway Patrol. In 2010, the County of San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency reported 24 people died and 1,170 people were injured in San Diego County motorcycle accidents alone.
Statistically, many of the state’s most dangerous roads for motorcyclists can be found in San Diego County, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune. This includes hazardous intersections like state Route 76 and Palomar Mountain Road.
Victims of motorcycle accidents may face a number of physical and financial concerns, such as unpaid medical bills, being out of work for months and even permanent disability.
Those injured in motorcycle accidents have many pressing questions and concerns that demand swift attention. Below is a guideline for victims and family members to help navigate the myriad legal considerations after a crash.
How can I file a lawsuit against the negligent driver?
The California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 gives you two years to file a personal injury claim after a serious motorcycle accident. A successful lawsuit must prove all elements of negligence are in place, including:
- duty (all drivers owe a duty of care to all other vehicles on the road, including motorcycles);
- breach of duty (this requires proof the other driver behaved in a careless or negligent manner);
- proof the breach of duty directly caused the accident and injury; and
- damages (proof of injury and financial loss, typically proven with medical records and doctor statements).
You may have several avenues for financial recovery if you suffered serious injury or lost a loved one because of another person’s negligence. This includes filing an injury claim with the negligent driver’s auto insurance company and/or your own auto insurance carrier, depending on your coverage.
California residents may have the option to purchase “auto med pay” coverage for their auto insurance policies. This pays for your own medical bills. Check with your insurance policy to determine claim requirements.
My loved one is not in the position to file a claim. Can I file on his or her behalf?
The Judicial Branch of California states a parent, guardian or other legal representative may file a claim on behalf of a victim whose injuries render him or her mentally incompetent and unable to do so. Typically speaking, only family members ages 18 years or older may initiate legal action.
Additionally, per California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, certain surviving family members – such as spouses, children and parents – may have the right to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit in the event of a fatal accident. The state provides a two-year timeframe in which to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim started a personal injury claim before death, the family may continue the legal action via a survival action claim.
How can I prove the driver was at fault?
A successful injury or wrongful death claim or lawsuit must prove the other driver acted with negligence and caused the accident.
Examples of negligence include:
- drunk driving;
- speeding; or
- failing to yield the right of way to a motorcyclist.
Evidence is critical in proving the other driver was at fault for the accident and that injuries occurred.
- photos of the accident scene;
- witness testimony;
- police reports;
- medical records; and
California practices what is known as pure comparative negligence. This means that even if someone was found partially responsible for his or her injuries, the individual still has the right to recover compensation. However, the settlement or award amount will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned.
For instance, if a victim was struck by a distracted driver on the I-5 in San Diego and suffered brain trauma, his final settlement may be reduced by a certain percentage because he wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time of the accident (VC Section 27803 requires all motorcycle riders in California to wear approved safety helmets).
What damages are recoverable in a personal injury claim?
A motorcycle accident claim seeks to address all of a victim’s injury-related losses, including economic and non-economic damages. California’s Civil Codes establish the parameters for compensation in an injury action.
An injury claim may entitle you to financial damages, including:
- medical bills (note that damages’ limitations based on medical insurance payouts and amounts paid by the plaintiff were established by the 2011 case, Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provision);
- lost income (a certain portion of missed wages may be available if your injuries prevented you from being able to work);
- other accident-related expenses (transportation, hiring an in-home nurse and so on);
- pain and suffering; and
- permanent scarring or disability.
A wrongful death claim is separate from the personal injury claim and may include money to pay for funeral and burial expenses, as well as lost household income and loss of consortium.