If you were injured in a bicycle accident, whether or not you were wearing a helmet at the time could become a point of discussion during settlement negotiations or litigation. The insurance company might argue that your failure to wear a helmet was negligent and you should therefore be held partially or entirely liable for your own damages. Fortunately, there are many potential ways for a seasoned bicycle accident lawyer to overcome such a dispute.
Arguments Your Attorney May Use to Combat Allegations of Comparative Fault
If you believe the insurance company might argue that you are partially liable for your own damages, you should consult a personal injury lawyer right away. Your attorney can perform an immediate investigation to gather all available evidence of liability and, if necessary, can bring in experts to provide testimony regarding the cause of your injuries and their severity.
Below are just a few arguments your attorney might use to combat allegations of comparative fault due to failure to wear a bicycle helmet:
1. California Law Does Not Require All Riders to Wear Helmets
California is a comparative negligence state. That means if an accident victim’s own negligence contributed to their injury, they may be held liable for the portion of damages that corresponds to their own percentage of fault. For instance, if a judge or jury determines that you were 25 percent at-fault for the crash and you incurred $80,000 in damages, your recovery would be reduced to $60,000.
A common example of California’s comparative negligence law in action is when a motorcycle rider doesn’t wear a helmet and gets hit by a negligent driver, resulting in a head injury. Motorcycle riders are required by law to wear helmets, so if they fail to do so and suffer a brain injury, their damages award will very likely be reduced. Likewise, passenger-vehicle occupants are usually required to wear seat belts, and they can be held partially liable for their own damages if they fail to do so and this contributes to their injuries.
However, California law does not require bicycle riders over the age of 18 to wear helmets. In fact, the California legislature has struck down a proposed bill that would have required all cyclists to wear helmets. If you were over the age of 18 when your accident occurred, your attorney can argue that you did not have a duty to wear a helmet since it is not required by law to do so.
2. A Person of Reasonable Prudence Would Not Have Worn a Helmet Under the Same Circumstances
To prove that you were negligent, the insurance company must demonstrate that a person of ordinary prudence would have acted differently under the same circumstances, and this would have resulted in a different outcome. But there are many circumstances under which a reasonable person might not wear a bicycle helmet. For example, if you were riding just a few blocks to the grocery store, you shouldn’t be expected to wear a helmet.
3. You Would Have Suffered the Same Injuries Had You Been Wearing a Helmet
Although a top-rated bicycle helmet might reduce your risk of a head injury, it does nothing to protect the other parts of your body. If, for example, you broke your leg, suffered soft tissue damage, or injured your spine in a crash with a negligent driver, you shouldn’t be held liable for the resulting damages just because you weren’t wearing a helmet.
In fact, the efficacy of helmets in preventing head injuries is unclear. It’s not uncommon for bicycle accident victims to suffer brain injuries even though they were wearing a helmet. If the insurance company hasn’t brought in a well-credentialed expert to evaluate what would have happened had you been wearing a helmet, your attorney may argue that their arguments should be excluded.
Can Bicycle Riders Be Held Partially Liable for Their Damages Even If They Were Wearing a Helmet?
Yes, in some circumstances. Just like passenger-vehicle drivers, bicyclists have a duty to exercise reasonable care in order to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. That means if cyclists fail to obey traffic laws or otherwise behave negligently, they may be held partially or entirely liable for any accidents that occur as a result.
For example, you may be held liable for damages if a crash occurred because you were riding a bicycle:
- While under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- At night without the required lamp and reflectors;
- A substantial distance from the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway even though you were traveling slower than traffic; or
- Outside of a designated bicycle lane even though one was available.
There are, however, certain circumstances under which riders are permitted to engage in the behaviors listed above. For example, you can ride away from the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway when you are overtaking a vehicle or bicycle, approaching a right-hand turn, or about to make a left-hand turn at an intersection.
The bottom line: If the insurance company is arguing that your own negligence contributed to the accident, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. A seasoned personal injury lawyer who is well-versed in California’s bicycle accident laws can take over correspondence with the insurer and make sure you are treated fairly.
It’s a good idea to contact a lawyer and NEVER speak with the defendant’s claims adjuster yourself. The claims adjuster might take any statements you provide out of context in order to dispute liability or the severity of your injuries. Your attorney can handle all phone calls, emails, and other dialogue with the adjuster so you don’t make any compromising statements.
Your lawyer can also gather evidence to support your claim—including evidence you might have overlooked. For example, if there were any nearby surveillance cameras that might have recorded the crash, your attorney can try to obtain the footage. If the at-fault driver was distracted by a cell phone, which is common in bicycle accident cases, your attorney can try to access his or her cell phone records. If necessary, your lawyer can file subpoenas to obtain evidence that is being withheld.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Bicycle Accident Attorney?
The best bicycle accident lawyers offer free consultations and work on contingency fee contracts. That means you won’t have to pay anything unless your attorney wins your case through a settlement or trial verdict. It also means your lawyer will have incentive to devote the necessary time, effort, and resources to help you recover the highest possible compensation.
Discuss Your Case with a Bicycle Accident Attorney in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
At the Law Office of Michael D. Waks, we know how difficult it can be to deal with the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of a bicycle crash. Attorney Michael Waks is passionate about helping accident victims stand up to large insurance companies and pursue the compensation they need to move on with life.
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