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The Rights of a Motorcycle Rider in California

Rights Of Motorcyclists

Likely because of our mild weather and beautiful scenery, California leads the nation in the number of motorcycle riders that reside in our state. There were approximately 950,780 motorcycles registered in California in 2018, according to a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Motorcycling is popular as a recreational pursuit, as well as a convenient commuting option. It is also the most dangerous form of motorized transportation. According to statistics from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), there are hundreds of fatal motorcycle accidents every year in the state. And although there are far fewer motorcycles on the road than passenger vehicles, given the weight disparity and the lack of rider protection, the fatality rate for bikers is much higher. Given these facts, it is important for all bikers to understand the legal rights of a motorcycle rider in California.

The best way to protect your legal rights following a motorcycle accident is to retain an experienced motorcycle accident attorney who knows how to fight an insurance company that is looking to pay pennies on your serious bodily injury claim. The injury lawyers at AutoAccident.com use aggressive and innovative strategies to maximize the value of your case.

Motorcycle Accidents - Liability and Legal Time Limits

Any motorcyclist who is injured due to the negligence, recklessness, or carelessness of another party has the right to seek compensation from the negligent party for their medical bills, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. In California, the bodily injury claim must be settled, or a personal injury lawsuit must be filed before the two-year anniversary of the incident that caused the injuries. If the negligent party is a government entity or public agency, the time limit is much shorter - action must be taken to formally notify the agency of the claim within 180 days.

Claims arising from motorcycle accidents often involve allegations by the opposing insurance company that the rider caused or contributed to the cause of the incident. A skilled motorcycle accident attorney can argue against such allegations and enlist the services of an accident reconstructionist, if appropriate.

Most Common Types of Injuries in Motorcycle Collisions

Unfortunately, given the physics involved, injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents are often catastrophic. Below is a list of the most common types of injuries seen in motorcycle accident cases:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI). This includes concussion, post-concussion syndrome, and other types of severe head trauma. The long-lasting effects of head trauma can be devastating.
  • Neck and back injuries. The range of spinal injuries can span from sprains and strains to paralyzing spinal cord damage. Often, spinal injuries from motorcycle crashes are permanent and chronic.
  • Deep skin abrasions or “road rash”. This is a very common injury for riders caused by sliding across the surface of the road after impact. There are degrees of tissue loss, but road rash is highly prone to infection, and can also cause nerve damage. Scarring is also common in such cases.
  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations
  • Death
Types of Damages in Motorcycle Accident Cases

Because motorcycle crashes can cause such catastrophic injuries, the monetary damages in such cases are often substantial. Some of the economic and non-economic damages that may be sought by injured riders are:

  • Medical expenses bills already incurred and for projected future care related to the motorcycle wreck
  • Loss of income for all time missed from the job due to accident-related injuries
  • Loss of future earning capacity if the rider is unable to return to work, or to his or her usual career
  • Pain and suffering for the emotional suffering and physical pain from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash

Additionally, if the injured rider was married at the time of the incident, the spouse may be entitled to compensation for the negative impact the injuries had on the marital relationship. These are known as loss of consortium damages.

If the rider was killed in the accident, the decedent’s heirs may be able to file a wrongful death claim for burial expenses, funeral expenses, loss of financial support, and loss of love, affection, and/or parental guidance.

Tips for Defensive Motorcycle Riding Habits 

The majority of motorcycle accidents involve a collision with another vehicle. The force of impact and the lack of protection for the rider often results in severe injuries, or worse, a fatality. Intersections are particularly dangerous. Here are some suggestions for defensive motorcycle riding tactics: 

  • Slow down while approaching an intersection, during poor weather, and in conditions with reduced visibility.
  • Monitor all side streets for oncoming vehicles.
  • Do not lane split near intersections.
  • Stay out of other drivers’ blind spots.
  • Anticipate vehicle lane changes.
  • Watch for and avoid road debris, potholes, and uneven pavement.
Legality of Motorcycle Lane Splitting in California

In 2017, California legalized the practice of lane-splitting by motorcyclists. This allowed bikers to ride between rows of vehicles - either stopped or moving - in the same lane. Here are some rules and safe practices for lane-splitting in California:

  • The rider should travel no faster than 10 miles per hour greater than surrounding traffic.
  • Lane-splitting should only be attempted in slow-speed areas.
  • Lane-split in the left lanes only.
  • Do not lane-split on highway ramps or in areas with sharp curves.
  • Only one rider at a time should split lanes.
Responsibilities of a Motorcycle Rider on the Road

Motorcycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. They must follow the same rules of the road as all motorists, including maintaining a safe distance from other cars while riding. If we could all work together safely, the number of tragic crashes would fall.

Below are some regulations in California that motorcyclists must follow:

  • A helmet that meets Department of Transportation (DOT) standards is required for both rider and passenger.
  • Any motorcycle manufactured after 1978 must be equipped with functioning daytime headlights.
  • Any motorcycle manufactured after 1973 must be equipped with functioning rear and front turn signals.
  • If the bike is 2013 or newer, it must have a compliant exhaust system.
  • Handlebars cannot be more than 6 inches above the rider’s shoulders.
  • As with all motor vehicles, the operator must carry at least $15,000/$30,000 for bodily injury liability insurance and $5,000 for property damage liability.

For additional information on what you should know about motorcycle crashes, watch the video below by our personal injury law firm.

Contact an Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorney Today

Thanks for reading our discussion about the rights of a motorcycle rider in California. Insurance companies are notoriously hard to deal with following an accident. The insurance adjuster may want you to believe that the company has your best interests in mind. To be blunt - it does not. The insurance company is interested only in paying little to no money on your claim.

The skilled injury lawyers at AutoAccident.com are very familiar with the tactics used by billion-dollar insurance companies in their quest to lowball your bodily injury claim. We have our own strategies to maximize your financial recovery. Let us do the work while you focus on healing. For compassionate, free, and friendly advice, call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.

Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 6.29.21]

Photo by: Orientaly / Shutterstock.com

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