Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits in California


Motorcycle accidents in California can be caused by reckless drivers, dangerous road conditions, or faulty bike parts. Under California personal injury laws, anyone injured in a motorcycle accident can file a lawsuit against those who caused the accident. This includes family members who have lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident who 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:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

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Motorcycle accidents in California can be caused by reckless drivers, dangerous road conditions, or faulty bike parts.

1. When can I sue after a motorcycle accident in California?

Whoever was responsible for causing your motorcycle accident may be liable for your injuries. This could include

  • a driver,
  • another motorcyclist,
  • a pedestrian, or even
  • the city.

You can sue for compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. If you are injured in a motorcycle accident in California, you may be able to recover damages for your:

  • Physical injuries,
  • Lost wages,
  • Medical bills,
  • Future treatment, and
  • Motorcycle damage.

If you were involved in a vehicle accident with another driver, you should consider talking to a personal injury lawyer before you talk to the driver's insurance company. The auto insurance company wants to settle the claim for as little as possible, even if that means you don't get the payment you deserve. Let your lawyer deal with the insurance company so you can focus on your recovery.

2. How common are motorcycle accidents in California and the U.S.?

The percentage of motorcycle deaths in the U.S. has continued to grow over the past couple of decades. 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.1

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), motorcycles are less visible to cars, less stable, and have high-performance capabilities. Motorcycles also lack the protection of an enclosed passenger car. Together, these make motorcycle riders more prone to serious injury accidents and death. Based on miles traveled, the risk of death for a motorcyclist is almost 30 times higher than for cars.2

2.1. Risk Factors for Motorcycle Accidents

All motorcycle riders and passengers are at some risk of injury or death when out on the road. Even experienced motorcycle riders can be at risk of a serious crash. However, there are a number of factors that may place some riders at a greater risk of motorbike injuries or death, including:

  • Helmet use
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Unlicensed riders
  • Alcohol impairment
  • Engine size
  • Time of year 3

Helmet Use: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the single most effective way to save lives in through a universal helmet law. California has a universal helmet law for motorcycle riders. However, more than half of all states in the U.S. have only a partial helmet law, including neighboring Arizona.

Under California Vehicle Code Section 27803, all motorcycle riders and passengers are required to wear a safety helmet. The driver can be ticketed if he or she is not wearing a helmet. The driver can also be ticketed if the driver's passenger is not wearing a helmet.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%.567

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

2.2. Motorcycle Accident Causes and Injuries

There are a number of potential causes of motorcycle accidents and reasons why motorcycle crashes lead to increased risk of injury or death. Causes of motorcycle accidents include:

  • Collision with a stationary object light a curb, sign, or lamppost;
  • Vehicles pulling in front of a motorcycle
  • Vehicles merging into a cyclist's lane
  • Tailgating a motorcyclist
  • Uneven road conditions, especially during construction
  • Temporary metal plates on the ground
  • Loose gravel on the roadway
  • Parts malfunction
  • Hazardous weather conditions

Motorcyclists are also subject to specific types of injuries in a crash. This generally has to do with the mechanics of how a bike falls over during an accident and the lack of protection around the motorcyclist. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and helmets can greatly reduce the seriousness of many of these injuries. Motorcycle accident injuries may include:

  • Road rash
  • Joint breakage (especially shoulder, pelvis, elbows, hips, knees, wrists, and fingers)
  • Broken bones
  • Neck and spinal injuries
  • Head injuries
  • Concussions
  • Nerve damage, such as biker's arm
  • Facial disfigurement
  • Scarring
  • Loss of limb
  • Internal bleeding
  • Eye injuries
  • Hearing damage

3. What should I do after I get in an accident California?

Medical Attention

After any motor vehicle accident, including motorcycle accidents, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention, if needed. If you are injured, call 9-1-1 or ask someone to call for you. If you are not injured, check on anyone else involved in the accident to see if they may need medical attention.

Motorcycle accident injuries can be tricky. Many riders feel fine after an accident and may not even get the contact information of anyone involved. However, many motorcycle accident injuries involve head, neck, or back trauma. These types of injuries should be evaluated by a doctor.

Even if you feel fine right after the crash, you could wake up a couple days later and be in serious pain. Some neck, back, and head injuries take hours or even days before the symptoms present. The sooner these injuries are evaluated, the greater chance you may have of treating and preventing more serious problems.

Gather Information

After a motorcycle accident involving another driver, motorcyclist, pedestrian, or multiple vehicles, you should try and gather as much information as possible about the accident, including:

  • Vehicle license plate numbers;
  • Name and contact information of others involved in the accident;
  • Driver insurance information;
  • Year, make, model, and color of any vehicles;
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN); and
  • Witness contact information.

If the other people involved in the accident are not cooperating with giving their information, leave the scene of the accident, or become aggressive towards you, you should call the police.

Since most people now have a smartphone, it may be a good idea to take photos or video of the accident scene and record vehicle information. You may also want to take pictures or video of your bike and any injuries.

Be Careful About What You Say After an Accident

After an accident, it is common to say you are sorry about what happened. Be careful about what you say after an accident and make sure nothing you say can be taken as admitting you are at fault.

The other driver may come out yelling, saying you caused the accident and try and get you to admit you were at fault. Don't admit fault, even if you think you may have been the cause of the accident. 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.

The question of who is “at-fault” in an accident should be a question left up to the jury. Let your lawyer deal with the other drivers, the insurance company, and the city so you don't have to. If someone else caused the accident, then you deserve compensation for your injuries.

Contact a California Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

You should consider talking to personal injury attorney with experience representing motorcycle riders in California. The insurance company may give you an offer and want you to sign a waiver quickly to get your check. Remember, 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.

4. Who is to blame if poor road conditions caused my accident?

Motorcycles are much more sensitive to road conditions. A car can run over gravel, uneven pavement, or potholes without even feeling it. However, if a motorcycle hits poor road conditions, the rider could lose control and crash.

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

The property owner may have a duty to repair any known road conditions that could lead to motorcycle crashes. If the city or property owner does not keep the road in proper condition, they may be liable for any injuries or damages caused.

Under California's premises liability laws, people are required to keep property they own or occupy in a reasonably safe condition. This includes a duty exercise reasonable care to:

  • Maintain the property;
  • Inspect the property
  • Repair any potentially dangerous conditions; and/or
  • Give proper warning of any dangerous conditions.12

Even if the city owns the property, such as a public roadway or parking lot, the city or government agency may be responsible for any dangerous conditions. When filing a personal injury claim against the city, county, or state government agency, the injured rider may need to prove the following elements:

  1. The city/county/state owned or controlled the property;
  2. The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident;
  3. The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that occurred;
  4. The city/county/state had notice of the dangerous condition for a long enough time to have protected against it;
  5. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  6. The dangerous condition was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.13

5. What are my damages in a California motorcycle accident lawsuit?

The damages available in a California motorcycle accident include any financial loss or harm that resulted from the accident. The types of damages available may depend on whether the victim was injured or died as a result of the motorcycle crash.

In most personal injury lawsuits, the injured victims or their family can sue for compensatory damages, which may include:

Loss of consortium is a type of damage available to compensate for the loss of a spouse's or domestic partner's companionship and intimate relationship. Damages for a loss of consortium are a type of non-economic compensatory damages.

6. Can I file a claim if my spouse was killed in a motorcycle crash?

If your spouse or domestic partner was killed in a motorcycle accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim for damages. Under California's wrongful death laws, the surviving family members may be able to file a claim even if their loved one is not able to.14

Family members who can file a wrongful death claim in California include:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • A surviving domestic partner;
  • Any children;
  • Any grandchildren (if the individual's 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 expenses;
  • Funeral expenses;
  • Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned if he or she had survived; and
  • Compensation for the loss of companionship and support.

Example: Yolanda gets a phone call that her husband Roger was in a motorcycle accident with a driver who rear-ended the motorcycle. Roger is in a coma when Yolanda gets to the hospital. Roger never recovers and dies from his injuries.

As Roger's spouse, Yolanda may have a wrongful death claim against the driver. Yolanda could file a lawsuit seeking damages for the cost of Roger's medical bills before he died, funeral costs, and loss of income Roger would have earned had he survived. Yolanda could also seek non-economic damages for the loss of companionship because of losing her husband in the accident.

7. How do I know if the driver is responsible for my motorcycle accident?

After an accident with another driver, you may not know the cause of the accident or who was responsible. Under California's negligence laws, a negligent party is liable for any injuries caused to another. In a car-motorcycle accident, a negligent driver could be liable to the injured motorcycle rider for any injuries.

To recover damages after an accident, the accident victim or surviving family members generally need to show the driver was negligent. This elements for negligence include showing:

  1. That the driver owed the motorcyclist a duty of care;
  2. The driver breached that duty of care through negligence; and
  3. That the driver's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the motorcyclists injuries or death.15

Drivers do not need to know the motorcyclist to owe them a duty of care. In general, anyone who operates a vehicle on California roads owes a duty of care to other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. 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, an injured motorcyclist 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.”

Under California law, negligence per se may be presumed based on the violation of a

  • law,
  • statute, or
  • an ordinance, such as a traffic violation.

In order to show negligence per se, the injured rider needs to show that:

  1. The defendant violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation;
  2. The violation caused death or injury to person or property;
  3. The death or injury resulted from an act the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and
  4. The person who suffered the death or the injury was 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:

Example: Jason is trying to get to a job interview and he is running late. Jason is mapping his destination while driving, only taking his eyes off the road for a matter of seconds. Jason looks up to see traffic stopped in front of him and swerves to avoid a collision. However, Jason didn't see Michael in the next lane on a motorcycle, and hit the motorcycle, causing Michael to crash.

Jason may have been driving negligently, but Michael may be able to win a claim for damages by showing Jason was “negligent per se.” In this case, Jason violated a statute against distracted driving 17. Jason caused the accident leading to Michael's injuries. The statute against using your phone while driving was designed to prevent these types of distracted driving accidents. Michael, operating a vehicle on the road, was just the type of person these laws were meant to protect.

If Jason was negligent per se, Jason may be liable to Michael for any injuries, loss of income, and property damage that was caused by the accident.

8. What if the other driver says I was responsible for the accident?

After an accident, the other driver may get angry at the motorcyclist, even if the driver caused the accident. The driver may try to get the motorcyclist to admit they did something wrong. In some cases, the driver gets angry at the motorcyclist because the driver did not check their mirrors or blind spots for other vehicles.

If the other driver blames you for the accident, do not admit fault. You can tell the other driver they can talk to your lawyer about the case but you do not have to determine who was at fault on the side of the road. Liability is a legal question that should be decided in court.

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 the injured party's damages could be reduced to reflect the shared level of fault.

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.

Example: Kevin is riding his motorcycle along windy roads in Topanga Canyon, on his way to work. Kevin is in a hurry and passing cars when he sees an opening. Lance is driving on his way to work along the same road and shaving while he drives to save time.

Kevin and Lance get into an accident and Kevin has to go to the hospital and racks up $50,000 in medical bills.

The jury determines Lance is 80% at fault because he was driving while distracted. The jury also finds that Kevin is 20% at fault because he was driving too fast. If Kevin wins his case, he may be able to recover $40,000 in damages from Lance to represent 80% of the fault. Kevin may be responsible for the remainder of his damages.

9. Who is to blame if a malfunction caused my motorcycle to crash?

Even if you are an experienced rider and riding defensively, you may not be able to account for a motorcycle malfunction that comes out of the blue. Some motorcycle accidents are caused by a defective part or piece of machinery. When traveling at highway speeds, a part breaking could cause you to crash or leaving you unable to stop.

With part malfunctions, you may have no idea what happened or even that a part defect was to blame. However, under California's “products liability” laws, the business who designed, manufactured, or sold the defective part or product is liable for injuries caused by that product.

In product liability cases, the injured rider does 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, the injured rider has to show:

  1. The defendant(s) designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
  2. The product contained the defect when it left the defendant's' possession;
  3. The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. The plaintiff 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 users if they were aware of the problem.

Example: Xavier was modifying his Yamaha motorcycle with aftermarket parts. The parts were branded as fitting a number of motorcycle models, including Xavier's Yamaha. When riding his motorcycle on the weekend, the after-market part came loose, getting stuck in the wheel, causing Xavier to lose control of the bike and crash.

Even if Xavier was not using a manufacturer's part for his modifications, Xavier may have a claim against the aftermarket parts manufacturer and the business that sold the part for any injuries or damages.

Xavier does not have to show that anyone was negligent in handling the part. Instead, Xavier only has to show:

    • The part was defective,
    • The part was defective when it left the defendant's' possession,
    • Xavier used the part in a foreseeable manner, and
    • Xavier was injured as a result of the defect.

Call us for help....

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For questions about motorcycle accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. If your case is in Nevada, please visit our page on filing a motorcycle accident lawsuit in Nevada

We 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.


Legal References:

  1. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute. Motorcycles and ATVs, 2016.
  2. Same.
  3. Same.
  4. 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.”)
  5. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Washington, DC: March 2017. Motorcycles (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 353)
  6. 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)
  7. Derrick AJ, Faucher LD. Motorcycle helmets and rider safety: A legislative crisis. J Public Health Pol. 2009;30(2):226–242.
  8. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute. Motorcycles and ATVs, 2016, see footnote 1 above.
  9. Same.
  10. Same.
  11. Same.
  12. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
  13. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1100. Dangerous Condition on Public Property. Essential Factual Elements.
  14. 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.”)
  15. See, e.g., 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.”)
  16. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 418(a); California Evidence Code 669; and Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255.
  17. 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.”)

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