Motorcycle riding is a favorite mode of travel for millions of people in the United States. The thrill and freedom of the open road lures countless Americans into buying motorcycles each year. The United States Census Bureau estimates over 125,000,000 currently registered motorcycles are on the road across the country. Unfortunately, there is a high risk of catastrophic injuries when motorcycle accidents occur.
Without the protection of heavy metal car frames, seat belts, airbags, and reinforced glass, motorcyclists are vulnerable to extreme trauma when they collide with another vehicle on the road. All motor vehicles have the potential for getting into serious accidents, but the likelihood of a motorcyclist dying as a result of an accident is 27 times greater than for those traveling in passenger cars and trucks. Motorcyclists commonly suffer head trauma, organ damage, broken bones, severe skin abrasions, lacerations, and burns as a result of an accident.
Victims of motorcycle accidents typically require emergency care, hospitalizations, surgeries, physical therapy, prescription medications, and long recovery periods. The high cost of medical care, combined with lost wages, can quickly devastate the financial health of the victim and their family. Compensation for injuries and damages can often be recovered through a personal injury lawsuit, but the legal process can be overwhelming for the average motorcyclist to navigate. An experienced motorcycle accident lawyer will advocate for victims and secure the compensation they deserve.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?
A motorcycle accident can occur at any time, even to the most careful and safety conscious riders. There is a wide variety of reasons that motorcycle accidents occur, but the most common causes for this type of accident include the following:
- Distracted driving: Cell phone usage, texting, and other forms of distracted driving are the leading cause of motorcycle and car accidents in the United States. In fact, distracted driving has surpassed impaired driving as the top cause of motor vehicle and motorcycle fatalities. Car drivers who engage in distracted driving behaviors often collide with motorcyclists while their attention is diverted.
- Impaired driving: When a motorcyclist chooses to get on their bike and ride after drinking alcoholic beverages, engaging in recreational drug use, or taking over-the-counter or prescription medications, they are breaking the law and putting everyone on the road in danger. Impaired coordination and decision-making skills associated with drunk or impaired driving place a motorcyclist at risk for crashing. Drunk or drugged motorcycle operators can face criminal and civil charges.
- Speeding: Driving a motorcycle over the designated speed limit or driving too fast for weather or road conditions leads to tragic motorcycle accidents. Speeding is the most preventable cause of a motorcycle accident, yet this type of accident happens all too often.
- Careless lane changes: Drivers of passenger cars and trucks always need to be aware of motorcyclists on the road. Failing to check rearview and side mirrors or using signals before changing lanes on a highway or byway can result in a fatal motorcycle accident. The force of a vehicle plowing into a motorcycle from the side is enough to send the bike, driver, and passengers into a deadly spin, often crashing into other vehicles on the road.
- Car doors: Passenger vehicles can become deadly obstacles when drivers fail to look for motorcycles before opening their door. When a driver exits the vehicle without looking, the car door becomes a deadly instrument for a motorcyclist, who may slam into the door when they do not have time or room to avoid it.
- Lane splitting: One of the advantages of riding a motorcycle through heavy traffic is the opportunity for lane splitting. This occurs when a motorcycle drives between two lanes of traffic, often taking them past a long line of stopped or slow-moving vehicles. This is a dangerous practice for all motorcyclists and, when they collide with the vehicles they are passing, results in a high number of serious injuries and death.
- Left-turn accidents: Motorcycles are not always easy to see, especially when they are making a left-hand turn. Car and truck drivers who are traveling through an intersection are not always aware that a motorcycle is waiting to make a left-hand turn. This type of accident typically results in severe injury to the cyclist and any passengers they may have onboard.
- Sudden stops and tailgating: It is never safe to follow another vehicle too close from behind, but it is especially dangerous to tailgate a motorcycle. Getting hit from behind can cause a motorcycle to thrust forward with so much force that the driver can be thrown from the cycle. Many motorcyclists are killed when they are ejected from the bike and are ultimately hit by other vehicles on the road.
- Inclement weather and dangerous road conditions: A motorcyclist does not often have time to correct the path of their motorcycle when they spin on ice, lose traction on wet leaves, or lose control of their bike in heavy rain, snow, or icy conditions. Serious and fatal motorcycle accidents often happen when cyclists encounter uneven road surfaces and potholes. Poor visibility during adverse weather conditions makes it hard for the cyclist to see these obstacles in the road.
What Types of Injuries Do Motorcyclists Suffer in a Crash?
Motorcycle helmets have made a significant difference in protecting motorcycle riders from serious head injuries, but they cannot prevent all head trauma. There are many types of injuries that can occur when a motorcycle gets into an accident:
- Head and brain trauma: When a motorcycle accident occurs, drivers and passengers alike often suffer head and brain trauma. When a person is thrown from a motorcycle, they often suffer head injuries when their body is thrust onto the roadway, onto another vehicle, or when they are hit by another vehicle as they lie on the road. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), fractured skull, concussion, and contusions can cause permanent brain damage.
- Neck and spinal injury: The lack of protective equipment such as seat belts, airbags, and reinforced glass leaves motorcyclists in danger of suffering neck and spinal injuries when a crash occurs. Paralysis, cognitive and physical impairment, and mobility issues can occur from this type of accident. When bones are severed in these areas, they typically cut the nerves associated with helping the victim function independently. Permanent disability can significantly restrict a victim’s ability to support themselves financially or independently.
- Road rash: When bare skin scrapes along asphalt, cement, and other road surfaces during a motorcycle accident, road rash can occur. Protective clothing such as leather pants and long sleeve shirts can protect motorcyclists from getting road rash, but cyclists who wear thin material or ride with bare arms or legs can suffer significant damage to their skin, nerves, and bones if they make contact with the road surface. Severe skin lacerations and contusions, tissue damage, and nerve damage often occur in these situations.
- Bone fractures: The impact of a motorcycle accident can be so great that drivers and passengers on the motorcycle suffer serious bone fractures in multiple areas of the body. Arms, legs, hands, feet, ribs, and the spine are very vulnerable areas on the body. Fractured bones in these areas can also seriously damage internal organs and require surgery with long recovery periods.
- Burns: Fuel, combustible liquids, and road rash can cause serious burn injuries. The recovery from a burn injury is one of the most painful experiences a person can endure. The risk of infection and the need for multiple surgeries further complicate this type of injury.
- Amputation: Losing a limb as a result of a motorcycle accident is not uncommon. The trauma caused by the accident can cause limbs to be amputated at the scene of the accident or later as a result of complications during recovery.
- Infection: Open wounds and burn injuries are prone to infection. Infection is also a risk during and after any surgical procedure. Serious and sometimes life-threatening infections can occur as a result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
What Are Some Laws Specific to Motorcyclists?
Driving a car is different from driving a motorcycle for a number of reasons. As such, there are some laws that impact only motorcyclists and specifically laws that are in California that are not the same as other states across the United States. Among some of the laws that motorcyclists must follow in California include the following:
- Lane splitting: Thus far, California is the only state where this risky practice is legal. As mentioned, it is the practice of a motorcyclists cutting in between two lanes of traffic during a traffic jam. Although lane splitting is legal in California, it is still dangerous. Car drivers may not see a motorcycle approaching behind them from their blind spot and may try to make an aggressive move into another lane, causing an accident.
- Helmets: No matter the age of a motorcyclist, they must wear a helmet while riding their vehicle in the state.
- Headlights: Motorcyclists are required to run with their daytime headlights on at all times if the vehicle they are riding was manufactured after 1978.
- Insurance: All motorcyclists are required to carry insurance. They must have at least $15,000 for injury/death to one person, $30,000 for injury/death to multiple people, and $5,000 for property damage.
- Statute of limitations: If a person was involved in an accident while they were riding a motorcycle, they have only two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit.
California’s Lane Splitting Law
As mentioned, California is the only state where it is legal for motorcyclists to ride in between lanes on highways in a practice most refer to as lane splitting. Given its legality in the state, drivers must be extra careful on the highway to be aware of motorcyclists on the road and swerving between the lanes.
Although the practice is legal, the state does mandate that it must be done in a manner that is safe and prudent. There are ways for motorcyclists to engage in lane splitting while doing it in a manner that is not overly dangerous. When they do engage in lane splitting, cyclists should follow these guidelines:
- A motorcyclist must be cognizant of all cars on either side when traveling between lanes.
- A motorcyclist should return to their original lane if traffic begins to move again at 30 miles per hour or more.
- The best time to lane split is when both lanes of traffic are moving at the same speed or not moving at all. If one lane is moving faster than the other, that increases the odds of one car trying to enter the other lane.
- When lane splitting at night, a motorcyclist should keep their headlight on and wear reflective material.
- A motorcyclist should always be aware of their surroundings but should be particularly alert if they are in a car’s blind spot. A cyclist should avoid traveling in another driver’s blind spot.
- The person should maintain a constant speed that is slightly faster than the traffic in either lane. They should also not speed past slow or stopped vehicles.
- A motorcyclist should never pass between two vehicles that are too close.
What Should Drivers Do if They Are Involved in a Motorcycle Accident?
Knowing what to do if a motorcycle accident occurs can help drivers to remain calm in this type of situation. Here are some suggestions:
- Assess injuries and call for emergency care personnel immediately, even if the injury appears to be minor. Quite often, the emotional impact of a motorcycle accident delays physical symptoms from appearing until hours or even days following the accident.
- Secure the accident scene and remove all cars and debris from the road.
- Take pictures of the accident scene and the surrounding weather and road conditions in case they are needed moving forward in a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim.
- Gather witness testimony and record it on a phone, if possible.
- Get the official police report accident number from the law enforcement person on duty.
- Keep all medical records and results from diagnostic medical tests in a readily available file.
- Victims should contact their employer, especially if injuries will prevent them from returning to work right away.
- An experienced and reputable motorcycle accident lawyer should be consulted.
- The driver should call their insurance agent. This is best to do before a lawsuit has been filed. Some victims supply incriminating evidence to the other driver’s accident investigator and wind up liable for costs.
- Keep up with all regimens and instructions from physicians to support any injury and disability claims.
An experienced and knowledgeable motorcycle accident lawyer can help injured victims navigate the legal process involved with insurance claims and personal injury lawsuits. Legal counsel and representation can ensure that the victim’s legal rights are protected, and that they receive the compensation they deserve.
Accident Report Requirements in California
When someone is involved in a motorcycle accident in California, there are some requirements for reporting the accident that all participants must know before they move ahead with the process. In the event of a motorcycle accident, the parties should call the police if any of the following occur:
- There was an injury to one of the parties involved.
- The amount of damage sustained by the vehicles involved exceeded $1,000.
- There are special circumstances that led to the accident, such as a driving under the influence suspicion.
If there is a situation involving a case of impaired driving or other aggravated issues that led to the accident, the parties are required to call 911. If there are no injuries or damage of less than $1,000, those involved can still call the police, but they should call the non-emergency line.
After an accident, there are some instances in which those involved need to report the accident to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Those instances are as follows:
- There was an injury at the scene regardless of the severity. Even if no one requires medical attention, the accident must be reported.
- There was more than $1,000 worth of property damage.
- Someone was operating their vehicle without a license.
- One of the drivers was intoxicated or impaired at the time of the accident.
Determining Negligence in an Accident
When there is an accident involving a car and a motor vehicle, it might be unclear who is at fault. California law states that the party who was negligent in the accident is the one responsible for any injuries caused by another. The same rule applies in a car/motorcycle accident; if the car driver is negligent, they must pay for any damages or injuries they caused to the motorcyclist.
To obtain damages, a victim must prove negligence on behalf of the other driver. To do that they must prove the following:
- The driver owed the motorcyclist a duty of care, meaning they needed to practice safe driving around the motorcyclist.
- The driver failed to maintain that duty of care.
- The driver’s negligent act substantially contributed to the motorcyclist’s injuries.
The duty of care provision covers all drivers and their fellow drivers. There need not be any prior relationship between two drivers to justify that duty. That responsibility applies to not only other drivers, but also motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Facing a Bias as a Motorcyclist
There is a perception that those who ride motorcycles are far more reckless and aggressive on the road than the average driver. The perception is that motorcyclists speed and weave, and generally drive in a careless manner on the highway with no regard for their fellow drivers. Although there are some motorcyclists who do drive irresponsibly, there are also just as many car drivers who do the same. However, regardless of the reality, there is a perception that motorcyclists are far more dangerous drivers, and they must deal with an inherent bias in the system.
That bias is not some harmless misconception; it can lead to significant problems in a liability case. Some of the problems with this bias include the following:
Presumption of liability: The bias is one shared by not just the public; it exists among police officers, judges, and insurance adjusters. Their assumption that a motorcyclist is naturally reckless could hurt a person’s case.
Low settlement offer: An insurance adjuster’s bias could impact the amount of money a motorcyclist gets as part of a settlement offer. Given the stereotype, the insurance adjuster might assume the person does not deserve the full settlement amount, and may attempt to offer a modest settlement.
Reduced damage award: Given this general perception of motorcyclists, it might find its way into the minds of jury members. Although judges attempt to seat jurors who do not have any obvious signs of bias, everyone is human and these preconceived notions might exist.
How to Deal with an Inherent Bias in the System
When a motorcyclist is involved in an accident, it is important to establish a good first impression on all parties involved. Establishing a good rapport and reputation among all the actors can go a long way in minimizing, if not eliminating any bias that might exist. Some tips on establishing that good first impression are as follows:
- Be calm and offer assistance: For those involved in an accident, the most important thing for a motorcyclist to do is to maintain their composure. They should inquiry about the condition of the other persons involved and offer to help. The one thing they should not do is offer an apology. Such an action could lead to liability issues later. Those first few moments could shape a victim’s perception and might change the way they pursue any liability cases going forward.
- Wear a helmet: Even though it is the law in the state, by wearing a helmet, a driver is demonstrating that they are concerned about their personal safety and are law-abiding citizens.
- Drive safely: When it comes time to determining the cause of an accident, it will make a good impression on eyewitnesses if the motorcyclist was driving carefully, obeying all the traffic laws, and being mindful of their fellow drivers. Eyewitnesses might even be hard-pressed to say that the motorcyclist was not the cause of the accident.
- Document the scene: As with regular traffic accidents, it is important for the motorcyclist to document the scene as best as possible. They should take pictures of the accident scene, the vehicles involved, and any conditions that led to the accident. Taking note of the road and weather conditions can also help to demonstrate why the motorcyclist might not automatically be the one at fault.
- Obtain witness contact information: Witnesses can help dispute an accusation or bring validity to a claim. If there is a person on the scene who is reliable and can testify on behalf of the motorcyclist, it is important to obtain that person’s contact information, including their name, address, and phone number.
Los Angeles Motorcycle Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Represent Injured Motorcycle Accident Victims
If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, call the Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyers at ACTS Law. We will hold the negligent party accountable for your injuries and fight to obtain the compensation you deserve. Protecting your rights is our top priority, and we will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. Call us at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.
Located in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.