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Thanks to the combination of California’s climate and the environmental awareness of its citizens, bicycles and motorcycles have become the preferred means of transportation for a large segment of the population. This also means that bicycle and motorcycle riders must share the streets and highways of the state with automobiles. Although it may seem that automobile drivers are always at fault when an accident occurs, this is not the case.
Q: If a bike and car collide, who is at fault for the accident?
A: Under California law anyone operating an automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, Segway, or any other form of transportation on a public street or roadway is required to obey all the state and local traffic laws. The law requires that bike riders obey all stop signs, traffic lights, lane and road access restrictions, and turning laws as if they were driving a car. The decision of fault in the question presented here would therefore be based on the facts as determined by the investigating police officer at scene of the collision
Q: Do the California highway laws favor bicycles over automobiles?
A: No. The laws of the state, county, and city apply equally to all. Questions of fault and liability are decided on the basis of the facts as they apply to a given situation
Q: Why are there so many accidents involving bicycles and automobiles?
A: While it may seem that there are many bicycle / automobile accidents, there are actually fewer of these accidents than there are automobile / automobile or automobile / truck accidents. However, we tend to hear more about bicycle / automobile accidents because the bike rider is far more likely to be injured, often seriously, than the driver of a car. It is also a fact that bikes are more difficult to see than an automobile, particularly if they are approaching from the right or left rear of the auto.
Q: If a bike rider isn’t wearing a helmet, can they still recover damages for injuries caused by an accident involving a bike / automobile collision?
A: Yes, they can. Although the California helmet laws require that bike and motorcycle riders wear a helmet this requirement is often ignored, particularly by those under the age of 15. The fact that the cyclists was not wear a helmet has no bearing on whether, ot not, the cyclist was injured. The fact is that the automobile driver’s (the defendant) actions caused an accident that would have happened regardless of what cyclist was wearing. The cyclist should, however, be ready to prove the following facts:
1. The defendant had a lawful obligation to operate their vehicle in a safe manner.
2. The defendant failed to fulfill this obligation by causing an accident.
3. The defendant failure to fulfill that obligation resulted in an injury to the cyclist.
4. The defendant’s actions were clearly the cause of cyclists injuries.
Q. Suppose both a cyclist and an automobile driver were equally at fault in an accident where the cyclist was injured. What happens then?
A: The civil courts of the State of California operate under the doctrine of “pure comparative negligence.” Under this doctrine, the fact that both parties may have been at fault does not relieve one party of their legal responsibilities solely because the other party may have been acting in a reckless manner. In such instances, it will usually be up to a jury or to arbitration to decide whose negligence initiated the chain of events that led to an injury.
Q: I was injured in a bicycle accident while I was not wearing a helmet. What should I do?
A: As you can see from the above questions and answers, the questions regarding liability for personal injuries in bicycle versus automobile collisions can become very complicated legal issues even in what appears to be a “cut and dried” situation.
The laws of the State of California are always changing. A cyclist injured in an accident of the types discussed in this Q and A should make an appointment with a personal injury attorney that is experienced in cyclist / automobile accidents. Personal injury attorneys will be aware of any recent law changes and will also have access to accident investigators and accident reconstruction professionals who are often necessary to determine matters of fact in these complicated cases.
Even though you may believe that you have no legal recourse in your bike accident, only by consulting a personal injury attorney can you fully understand your legal rights after a bicycle accident.
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