December 13, 2016
A Los Angeles County jury awarded $3.7 million to a motorcyclist who suffered multiple injuries in a 2014 vehicular accident in a case that demonstrates how comparative negligence functions in the state. The case involved lane splitting and applied recently passed legislation in California, which affected the compensation amount.
The defendant drove her Lexus into another lane without signaling, causing a motorcyclist to swerve out of the way. However, the plaintiff plowed into her vehicle and was thrown off his bike, which landed on top of him, resulting in serious injuries. During the trial, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff was tailgating, speeding and lane splitting, claiming that he bore some responsibility for the accident. The plaintiff countered that the defendant changed lanes without signaling and was not paying attention. The plaintiff initially demanded nearly $1.5 million, later reducing the amount to $1.2 million. The defendant countered with a $941,000 offer.
In California, personal injury cases factor comparative negligence into the case. In this situation, the jury found the plaintiff 13 percent liable and the defendant 87 percent responsible. When the jury returns an award, the money is divided by the appropriate percentage. In this case, the gross verdict was nearly $3.8 million, which was then reduced by 13 percent — the amount of the plaintiff’s responsibility. As such, the final award to the plaintiff was nearly $3.136 million. This means that a plaintiff in the state can sue and recover damages even if they bear the majority of the burden. However, their percentage of the burden will then be subtracted from the final payout.
After Jan. 1, 2017, California will enforce lane-splitting laws, which means that motorcyclists can share a lane with other vehicles or cycles. The California Highway Patrol will draft new safety practices for motorists so that drivers in the state know what guidelines are in place. With the new laws, partial liability might be negated when lane splitting comes into play, especially if the rider follows the laws about speed and other rules.
John Rosenbaum is an Orange County Personal Injury and Workers Compensation attorney. During a personal injury case, you might not know if you should settle out of court or pursue a jury verdict. We will review the facts of the case with you and provide guidance to help you make an informed decision. Contact us now for help.