Immediately after any type of motor vehicle “accident” (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle, car), most people have one of two reactions: 1.) to blame the other person or 2.) to say, “I’m sorry; it was my fault.”
I – and every other personal injury lawyer worth their law degree – counsel people to NEVER, EVER admit fault after a crash of any type.
Whether you are or are not fault, I guarantee such a statement will come back to bite you in ways you never expected.
The most important reason for not admitting fault is, in legal terms, you are admitting liability by admitting fault. Yet the reality is that you probably don’t know what really caused the collision.
Example: We recently had a client who was in a Santa Monica bicycle collision. He came up to a four-way stop and rolled slowly through it, getting halfway through the intersection. Meanwhile, an 80-something-year-old woman drove up to the intersection, stopped, and went, hitting our client in the intersection.
During the deposition, the woman insisted that she never saw anyone or anything in the intersection. (I admit it. I laughed inside at the insurance company lawyer’s expression.) The insurance company settled for five-figures.
This was an unusual situation, but the point is, you really don’t know exactly what the complete cause of your bike collision is, and, therefore, who is liable. Yes, you might be partially liable if you do not follow the rules of the road, but there may be extenuating circumstances that contributed to the collision.
Other issues that could affect liability are:
- Road Design: the road or signage was not well designed or maintained, was in disrepair, or was missing.
- Product Liability: your bike or the other vehicle could have defective parts or been repaired, maintained, or manufactured incorrectly.
- Other Driver: also might not have been following the rules of the road.
If any of these conditions exist, your case –even if you are partially liable for the collision – could allow me as your bicycle lawyer to argue for comparative liability.
California recognizes comparative liability, which states that each party might hold some responsibility for the collision. If your case were to go to trial, the judge or jury decides IF each party is liable for the collision and, if so, what percentage of liability each party is responsible for.
Consider this hypothetical situation: You are riding your bike at night. You have no lights on your bike. As you ride past a parked car, the driver opens his door and you are “doored.” You suffer serious personal injuries and your bike is trashed. The case goes to a jury trial.
The jury decides that because you were riding at night without lights – clearly against the law – you are partially liable for the collision. They may determine that you are 10% responsible and the driver is 90% liable. In that situation, if they awarded you a $100,000 verdict, you would receive $90,000 from the driver’s insurance company rather than the full $100,000.
Once you have admitted fault at the scene (or in follow up conversations with the other driver’s insurance company), it becomes more difficult for me as your bicycle lawyer to argue comparative negligence. It isn’t impossible, but it is significantly more difficult.
It also means that it is more likely that the insurance company will either refuse to settle or will low-ball its offer. If that happens, then it could push us to go to trial. A trial increases the cost of the case and the time in which the case will be resolved.
I have a friend who is a criminal attorney. He once told me the most difficult part of his job is trying to undo what his clients have told the police. As a civil attorney, I understand. It is very difficult to “unring a bell.”
So, please, don’t admit liability or fault. Let me, as your bicycle lawyer, sort that out later.