Category: California Personal Injury

Motorcycles and Lane Splitting: Liability After a Crash

California is home to some of the country’s most beautiful thoroughfares and scenery. This makes it very attractive to motorcycle riders from across the country. California also has relatively relaxed motorcycle laws. It is the only state in the country that does not expressly forbid and prohibit lane-splitting. Rather, lane-splitting is more of a gray area and discretion is left in the hands of California Highway Patrol (CHP).

Earlier this year attempts to adopt lane-splitting regulations was unsuccessful. This was thanks in large part to pushback from the motorcycle community. The ambiguity about lane-splitting causes confusion about liability if a motorcycle accident occurs. When is lane-splitting permissible? When is lane-splitting dangerous? Should the driver of the car(s) and/or truck(s) involved in the accident be held liable if a motorcycle was riding between two lanes of traffic? Should riders have an extra responsibility if they choose to navigate through traffic between lanes?

Lane-Splitting: Safe Alternative for Motorcyclists?

It may be helpful to understand why California does not formally prohibit lane-splitting. In states where lane-splitting is prohibited liability is more easily determined. If a motorcyclist breaks the law and splits lane – he or she is likely to be held accountable for that decision in the event of an accident. In California, however, the lack of formal guidelines makes an allocation of liability less clear.

A UC Berkeley study, as reported by the American Motorcyclist Association, found that “motorcyclists who split lanes in heavy traffic are significantly less likely to be struck from behind by other motorists and are less likely to suffer head or torso injuries.”  The study, which reviewed data from 6,000 motorcycle-related traffic accidents between 2012 and 2013, found that the injuries to the 997 motorcyclists involved in those accidents were significantly less severe than to motorcyclists who were not engaged in lane-splitting at the time of the crash. The study found that traffic congestion was one of the leading causes of motorcycle accidents. Engaging in the practice of lane-splitting – when done safely – can help to reduce the chances of being involved in or seriously injured in an accident.

When Is Lane Splitting Safe?

According the UC Berkeley study, lane-splitting can reduce the likelihood of being involved in a motorcycle crash. However, lane-splitting must be done safely. Lane-splitting may be safe when:

  • Congested traffic is not exceeding 50 MPH; and
  • Motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles on the road by more than 15 MPH.

Liability After a Lane-Splitting Crash

California follows the concept of pure comparative negligence. This means that after an accident anyone who is at least partly at fault may be held liable for resulting damages. The fact that California uses comparative negligence may also be another reason for their hesitance to prohibit lane-splitting.

Rather than outlaw a measure that may give motorcyclists an added layer of protection on the road, California may have decided that pure comparative negligence will help to divvy up and assign liability if accidents occur. Motorcyclists who take the risk of splitting lanes must do so in a safe manner – failure to do so properly may result in liability they may not have incurred had they stayed put in a designated lane.

When lane-splitting is the cause or one of the causes of an accident it is likely that most – if not all – of the liability will rest with the motorcyclist. If you are a motorcycle rider who in an accident while splitting lanes you must be able to prove that the other driver(s) involved are also partly to blame. Proving that other drivers were at-fault will require showing that the rider exercised extreme care and precautions while lane splitting. Indications of safe lane-splitting include:

  • Riding at a low rate of speed;
  • Riding in a straight line between lanes;
  • Not weaving between other vehicles in traffic;
  • Wearing reflective gear; and
  • Using the horn and lights to warn other vehicles of your presence.

Completing the California Motorcyclist Safety Program is also helpful. Proving that other drivers were at-fault will also require evidence that the other drivers were negligent. Negligence may include:

  • Speeding;
  • Abrupt lane changes;
  • Using a cell phone or other mobile device;
  • Distracted driving; or
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Experienced Motorcycle Crash Attorneys

Motorcycle accidents often inflict significant, life-altering injuries on riders. An experienced motorcycle crash attorney may be able to help injured riders to recover compensation. This can help to cover the costs for medical expenses, rehabilitation, nursing care, lost wages, and more. If a motorcyclist was injured while lane splitting it is important to begin an investigation into other possible causes of the crash. An attorney understands the information that will help a crash victim and has access to specialists who can help to shed light on other causes.

To learn about how you may be able to recover compensation after a motorcycle crash – even if you were splitting lanes – contact a personal injury attorney in your area today. Even though lane splitting is not illegal, it does carry with it a burden if something goes wrong. The right attorney may be able to help you shift some of this burden to other parties who were involved.

Statute of Limitations in California Personal Injury Cases

If you have been injured in a California accident you are probably all-too familiar with the costs and expenses that can add up in the days, weeks, and months that follow. In 2013, one study found that the average cost of a bodily injury claim was approximately $15,000 and the average cost of a property damage claim was approximately $3,000. When lost earnings and reduced earning capacity are factored into the equation, a California accident victim can face truly staggering costs as they try to recover.

How can an accident victim be expected to manage these costs? Most Americans do not have enough in savings to cover a $500 emergency, let alone tens of thousands of dollars for damage control after an accident. In California, personal injury accident victims may recover compensation through personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits, however, must be filed within a certain period of time. This period of time is known as the statute of limitations.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California?

So, if you’ve been involved in an accident, how much time do you have to file a personal injury claim for damages? The answer will depend on the type of injury you sustain, who you are filing the claim against, and when you discover your injury. For most bodily injury claims in California, however, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident that caused the injury. This means that the clock begins to run as soon as you are injured in the accident.

This, however, is the general rule. California law has evolved to include more specific time frames for more specific harms. It also includes protections for accident victims that may not immediately notice an injury.

  • Bodily Injury Claims: must be filed within two years of the date of the accident or within one year of the date you discover a related injury. Common causes of bodily injuries may include assault, battery, product liability, premises liability, and negligence.
  • Property Injury Claims: must be filed within three years of the date that your property is damaged or destroyed. Claims for damage to property may be brought for theft, trespass, fraud, nuisance, and physical destruction.
  • Injuries Caused By Medical Malpractice: must be filed within three years of the incident causing your injury or within one year of the discovery of the malpractice.

However, special circumstances may cause the applicable statute of limitations to be paused or accelerated.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations in California

What happens if there are circumstances beyond your immediate control that make it impossible for you to file a claim for damages within the appropriate statute of limitations?

California may permit the statute of limitations to be “tolled” in certain situations. Tolling the statute of limitations is basically like hitting the pause button. They are paused until the special circumstance no longer exists. Circumstances that may cause the statute of limitations to toll include having a defendant who is a minor, out of state, imprisoned, or mentally insane.

Government Defendants May Cause Limitations on Time Permitted Under Statute of Limitations

If you are injured in a California accident and believe that the government is responsible you are permitted to ask for the government to compensate you for your injuries. However, the process involved in seeking compensation from the government is different than for other defendants. If you are interested in seeking compensation from the government you will have to move quickly. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims is significantly shorter when the government is involved.

In order to recover compensation from the government, you must file an administrative claim with the government within six months of the accident that caused your injury. If you do not file this administrative claim within that six month period your chances of recovering compensation (from the government) are slim. (There are certain exceptions to the rule.) After you submit your administrative claim the government must respond. They have 45 days to approve or deny your claim. The government, more often than not, will deny your claim, if only to avoid the repercussions of not responding at all. If the government does not respond to your administrative claim the original two-year statute of limitations is reinstated. When the government issues a denial, you then have six months to file a personal injury claim in the appropriate civil court.

Hire an Attorney to Ensure Your Claim is Filed Within the Statute of Limitations

The steps you take immediately following a California accident can really affect your ability to recover the compensation you may truly need in the future. The best way to ensure that your personal injury claim for damages is filed on time is to hire an experienced California personal injury attorney. An attorney will focus on making sure that your claim meets all legal and procedural requirements while you focus on your physical and emotional recovery after an accident.

This article is from Citywide Law Group – a team of Los Angeles personal injury lawyers with a track record of success.

The New California Cellphone Law And Negligence Cases – CA

An expanded cellphone law that its author says is designed to “prevent distracted driving” takes effect this coming January 1.

The move takes place as cellphone use while driving has expanded in California and elsewhere. As a result, CHP spokesperson Jon Sloat called the bill “welcome news” for law enforcement. Beginning in January, officers will write tickets whenever they see drivers using cellphones, whether they are talking, texting, “checking their GPS or their music,” he added. The bill’s primary sponsor was Assembly-member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

Last year, cellphone related crashes killed sixteen Californians and injured 500 others, and Officer Sloat believes these numbers are vastly under-reported.

The California Cellphone Law

When lawmakers began debating the current cellphone laws a little over a decade ago, most available devices were quite rudimentary compared to the ones of today, and the more advanced models were often priced out of reach of many drivers. Moreover, social media platforms and smartphone apps were not nearly as well-developed then as they are today. As a result, since most people still used their phones primarily for talking and texting, the Legislature passed very narrowly tailored laws to address these concerns.

In 2014, the Fifth District Court of Appeal court ruled in favor of Steven Spriggs, who received a ticket for using his cellphone to access a GPS map while he was stuck in traffic. The court ruled that since Mr. Spriggs was not talking on his phone at the time, the statute as written did not apply. “We conclude the statute means what it says — it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it,” the court wrote. At the time, the CHP elected not to appeal this decision, probably because the court was clearly correct in its interpretation of the narrow law.

A.B. 1785 passed by wide margins in both the Assembly and the Senate. It essentially replaces the existing “talking and texting” language with the phrase “holding or operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device.” The law also limits the use of cellphone mounts.

Direct Evidence of Negligence

When drivers are cited for violating the new Vehicle Code 23123.5, prosecutors must still prove that the driver was using the device and not checking the time, glancing at a status update, declining an incoming call, or otherwise using the device in an approved way. However, in civil court, the burden of proof is lower. So, evidence that a cellphone was on and was in the front passenger area would probably be sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that, more likely than not, the driver was using the device at or near the time of the crash.

It is well-settled law in California that most statutory violations, including VC 23123.5 infractions, constitute negligence per se (negligence “as such”). The elements are:

  • Infraction: The jury must determine, based on the evidence, that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a safety law; the jury could make such a finding even if the tortfeasor was not convicted in criminal court, because of the lower standard of proof.
  • Cause: The violation must have been “a substantial factor in bringing about the harm,” which is not the same thing as the sole factor in bringing about the harm.

Violating a traffic or other law sometimes raises a presumption in favor of additional punitive damages. To obtain these damages, the plaintiff must offer clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor recklessly disregarded the safety and property of others, and 90 percent of drivers agree that using a cellphone while driving is a serious hazard.

Indirect Evidence

Cellphone use is one of the most dangerous kinds of distracted driving because it involves all three areas of distraction:

  • Cognitive (taking your mind off the road),
  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road), and
  • Manual (taking at least one hand off the wheel).

This definition obviously encompasses a wide array of behaviors that may or may not cause car crashes. For example, since it involves two types of distraction (cognitive and visual), turning one’s head to speak to a passenger is almost as distracting as using a cellphone. In these situations, the jury determines if the driver breached the duty of reasonable care. In a nutshell, there is a significant difference between having an emotional face-to-face discussion with a significant other while driving and turning one’s head for a moment to ask if the air conditioner is blowing too hard.

In both direct and indirect evidence cases, compensatory damages generally include money for economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as loss of enjoyment in life. If you’ve been injured, make sure to see our guide on how to find a good personal injury lawyer in California.