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Can I Still Sue If I Wasn’t Wearing a Bicycle Helmet?

Thousands of bicycle accidents happen every year in California, and injured bicyclists may wonder what their options for legal recourse are after such an event. California law changed in 2015 to allow bicyclists over the age of 18 to decide whether they wish to wear helmets while riding. The state still requires that riders under the age of 18 wear helmets, but adults are free to ride bicycles without helmets. However, they do so at their own risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of death or head injury in the event of an accident. However, there is no legal expectation for adult riders to wear helmets in California. After suffering an injury from a bicycle accident, an injured rider who was not wearing a helmet may not need to worry about the state’s comparative negligence law. Take the time to contact a bike accident lawyer near you just in case.

Comparative Negligence in California

Under the pure comparative negligence law of California, plaintiffs may still recover damages even if they were partially at fault for the accident in question. For example, a jury finds the plaintiff of a $50,000 claim 10% at fault for his damages. The plaintiff then loses 10% of his cash award for a total of $45,000 instead. In states that follow a modified comparative negligence law, a plaintiff may only recover partial compensation if his or her fault percentage is less than that of the defendant. There is no such restriction in California, so a plaintiff can still recover damages even if he or she is 99% at fault.

Knowing this, one may assume that a bicyclist who was not wearing a helmet should be partially liable for an accident. However, there is no legal basis for this assumption since there is no helmet law for adults in California. This indirectly places a higher duty of care on motor vehicle drivers around bicyclists.

While a bicyclist may absorb some degree of fault for negligent actions such as sudden lane changes without signaling, turning without signaling, suddenly stopping when it is unsafe to do so, or riding against the flow of traffic, an at-fault driver should not assume that a bicyclist will absorb fault simply for neglecting to wear a helmet. The effectiveness of bicycle helmets is also unclear, so there is no way to accurately claim to wear a helmet would have made a noticeable difference in any given bicycle accident. Additionally, plaintiffs may sue for non-head injuries and other damages, so the question of whether they wore a helmet would be irrelevant in such cases.

What to Do After a Bicycle Accident in California

An injured bicyclist should seek immediate medical attention, even if injuries seem mild at first. Adrenaline will dull pain sensations, and what feels mildly painful today could be excruciating tomorrow. Severe crashes may necessitate an ambulance. After receiving medical care, obtain a copy of your medical report from your doctor that outlines your injuries, prognosis, and expected treatment plan. This will be invaluable to a future lawsuit.

Once you have recovered enough to do so, contact a reliable personal injury attorney with experience in bicycle accident cases. Your attorney will help you gather the evidence necessary for building a strong case and will review the details of the accident to determine whether there is any reason for you to worry about absorbing any liability for the incident. A bicycle accident lawsuit can yield compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, property damage, missed pay from work, and the long-term costs of necessary ongoing medical treatment resulting from your accident.