Motorcycle accidents are common in California and often lead to serious injury or death, especially for the riders. Accidents can be the result of:
Under personal injury laws, anyone injured in a motorcycle accident or an ebike accident can file a lawsuit against those who caused the accident. You can sue for such compensation as:
- Lost wages,
- Medical expenses for medical treatment and physical therapy,
- Future treatment, and
- Motorcycle damage.
Family members who have lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to be compensated for their loss.
Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about motorcycle accident lawsuits:
- 1. When can I sue after a motorcycle accident?
- 2. How common are motorcycle accidents in the U.S.?
- 3. What should I do after I get into an accident?
- 4. Who is to blame if poor road conditions caused my accident?
- 5. What are my damages in a motorcycle accident lawsuit?
- 6. Can I file a claim if my spouse was killed in a motorcycle crash?
- 7. How do I know if the driver is responsible for my motorcycle accident?
- 8. What if the other driver says I was responsible for the accident?
- 9. Who is to blame if a malfunction caused my motorcycle to crash?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
After a motorcycle accident, you usually have two years to sue the responsible parties, such as:
- the other driver(s),
- pedestrians, or even
- the city.1
In 2016, there were almost 5,000 motorcycle deaths in the United States. Motorcycle deaths accounted for 13 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. However, there are almost 16 times as many registered passenger cars as motorcycles in the U.S.
Based on miles traveled, the risk of death for a motorcyclist is almost 30 times higher than for cars.2
|Helmet use||California has a universal helmet law (California Vehicle Code Section 27803) for motorcycle riders and passengers. However, more than half of all states in the U.S. have only a partial helmet law, including neighboring Arizona.3 4 |
In 2015, helmets saved an estimated 1,772 lives of motorcycle riders. Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69% and the risk of death by 37%.5 6 7
|Age||From the 1970s through about 2005, motorcyclists under the age of 29 had the highest rates of accident deaths. However, for the last couple of decades, the fatal injury rate of motorcyclists who are age 50 and older has continued to rise. In 2016, over 35% of motorcyclist deaths involved riders aged 50 and over.8|
|Sex||More than 90% of all motorcycle accident deaths involved male riders. This number generally holds true across age ranges.9|
|Unlicensed riders||Over one-fourth (¼) of all motorcycle driver deaths involved unlicensed drivers. In 2016, of the more than 4,600 motorcycle accident deaths, 1,250 involved drivers without a valid license. This compares with about 15% of passenger vehicle driver deaths for those without a valid license.10|
|Alcohol||Alcohol increases a motorcycle rider’s ability to safely operate their bike. More than 1/4th of motorcyclist fatalities involved a motorcycle driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit of 0.08% or above.11|
|Reasons for crashes ||Common injuries|
- Seek medical attention for yourself or other victims. Even if you feel okay, get checked out by a doctor. Some motorcycle accident injuries do not manifest until later.
- Gather as much information as you can about the other involved vehicles and drivers, including contact information, license plate numbers, insurance, VIN numbers, and witness contact information. Also take photos and videos of the scene.
- Do not admit guilt. There may have been a number of factors at issue that you never knew about. For example, the other driver could have been drunk, speeding, or looking at his or her phone.
- Contact a motorcycle accident lawyer. The insurance company has an interest in paying out as little as possible, even if you deserve more. Do not settle your case without talking to an experienced lawyer about your rights.
Under California’s premises liability laws, the government may be liable for injuries that occur on its roadways if they failed to keep them in a reasonably safe condition. This includes a duty to exercise reasonable care to:
- Maintain and inspect the property;
- Repair any potentially dangerous conditions; and/or
- Give proper warning of any dangerous conditions.12
When filing a personal injury claim against the city, county, or state government agency, you may need to prove the following elements:
- The city/county/state-owned or controlled the property;
- The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident;
- The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that occurred;
- The city/county/state had notice of the dangerous condition for a long enough time to have protected against it;
- You were harmed; and
- The dangerous condition was a substantial factor in causing your harm.13
The damages available in a motorcycle accident include any financial loss or harm that resulted from the accident, such as:
- Medical bills,
- Hospital bills,
- Physical or occupational therapy,
- Medication and medical supplies,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Loss of consortium for a spouse or domestic partner,
- Disfigurement or loss of limb,
- Scarring, and
- Pain and suffering.
Loss of consortium is a type of non-economic compensatory damages available to compensate for the loss of a spouse’s or domestic partner’s companionship and intimate relationship.
If your spouse or domestic partner was killed in a motorcycle accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim for damages.14 Family members who can file a wrongful death claim include:
- A surviving spouse or domestic partner;
- Any children;
- Any grandchildren (if the children are deceased); or
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.
The types of damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include any costs associated with the loss of the family member, including:
- Burial and funeral expenses;
- Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned if they had survived; and
- Compensation for the loss of companionship and support.
To recover damages after an accident, you would need to show the driver was negligent. These elements for negligence include showing:
- That the driver owed you a duty of care;
- The driver breached that duty of care through negligence; and
- That the driver’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your injuries.15
Drivers do not need to know you to owe you a duty of care. In general, anyone who operates a vehicle on California roads owes a duty of care to other
- cyclists, and
If a driver was not acting like a reasonable person would under similar circumstances and caused an accident, the driver may be liable for any injuries.
Negligence Per Se
In some cases, you may not even have to show that the other driver acted negligently. If the other driver was violating a traffic law intended to prevent such accidents, the driver may be considered “negligent per se.”
In order to show negligence per se, you need to show that:
- The defendant violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation;
- The violation caused your injuries;
- The injury resulted from an act the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and
- You are a member of a group the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to protect.16
In motorcycle accidents, negligence per se can be demonstrated by violating traffic laws, including:
- Following too closely
- Failure to yield
- Running a stop sign
- Distracted driving
- Texting while driving
- Reckless driving
- Not keeping the vehicle in proper repair
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI)
If the other driver blames you for the accident, do not admit fault. Even if you share some of the blame for the accident, the other driver may be partially liable for your injuries.
Under California’s “comparative fault” law, if more than one party shares in the fault for the accident, the jury can apportion fault and damages. This means that your damages could be reduced to reflect the shared level of fault.
Example: If one driver is 60% to blame for the other driver’s injuries and the injured driver is responsible for 40% of the accident, the injured driver may be able to recover 60% of their damages from the other driver.
Some motorcycle accidents are caused by a defective part or piece of machinery. Under California’s “products liability” laws, the business that designed, manufactured, or sold the defective part or product is liable for injuries caused by that product.
In product liability cases, you not need to prove the company was negligent. Instead, strict liability in motorcycle defect cases can be imposed for:
In most product liability lawsuits, in order to recover damages, you have to show:
- The defendant(s) designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
- The product contained the defect when it left the defendant’s possession;
- You used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
- You suffered harm or an injury as a result of the defect.
Product defects in motorcycle injury crashes can include
- custom motorcycles,
- custom parts,
- mass-market products, or
- OEM as well as aftermarket parts.
Even if a part is not specifically designed for a certain motorcycle, a manufacturer could be liable for injuries or damages for not warning you if they were aware of the problem.
For questions about motorcycle accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California auto accident attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We offer case reviews. There is a statute of limitations to file claims, so do not delay.
See our related article on California motorcycle laws.
If your case is in Nevada, please visit our page on filing a motorcycle accident lawsuit in Nevada.
Our California motorcycle accident lawyers have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities throughout northern, central, and southern California. We create attorney-client relationships with injury victims every day.
Disclaimer: Past settlement amounts in motorcycle accident cases do not guarantee future motorcycle accident settlement offers.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute. Motorcycles and ATVs, 2016.
- California Vehicle Code 27803 (“(a) A driver and any passenger shall wear a safety helmet meeting requirements established pursuant to Section 27802 when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle. (b) It is unlawful to operate a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a). (c) It is unlawful to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a). (d) This section applies to persons who are riding on motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycles operated on the highways. (e) For the purposes of this section, “wear a safety helmet” or “wearing a safety helmet” means having a safety helmet meeting the requirements of Section 27802 on the person’s head that is fastened with the helmet straps and that is of a size that fits the wearing person’s head securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement. (f) This section does not apply to a person operating, or riding as a passenger in, a fully enclosed three-wheeled motor vehicle that is not less than seven feet in length and not less than four feet in width, and has an unladen weight of 900 pounds or more, if the vehicle meets or exceeds all of the requirements of this code, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and the rules and regulations adopted by the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (g) In enacting this section, it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that all persons are provided with an additional safety benefit while operating or riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.”)
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Washington, DC: March 2017. Motorcycles (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 353)
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Washington, DC: October 2015. Estimating lives and costs saved by motorcycle helmets with updated economic cost information (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 206)
- Derrick AJ, Faucher LD. Motorcycle helmets and rider safety: A legislative crisis. J Public Health Pol. 2009;30(2):226–242.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute. Motorcycles and ATVs, 2016, see footnote 1 above.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1100. Dangerous Condition on Public Property. Essential Factual Elements. Common road conditions that lead to motorcycle accidents may include metal plate coverings, water leaks, cracked cement, uneven sidewalks, loose gravel, lifted asphalt, damaged road signs, potholes, broken light posts.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 418(a); California Evidence Code 669; and Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255.
- California Vehicle Code 23123.5 VEH (“(a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.”)