California law requires everyone riding a motorcycle, scooter or motorized bike to wear a helmet. In an accident, bikers are much more likely to suffer bodily injuries than occupants of other vehicles. Wearing a helmet can reduce the chances of a serious head or neck trauma. As such, failure to wear a helmet can be found to be a contributing cause for these injuries and may lower the amount of compensation a rider can recover in a lawsuit.

Under the California Vehicle Code, all motorcycle riders must wear helmets that meet stringent federal safety standards and that are properly sized and fastened. The penalty for noncompliance is a stiff fine plus probation. In addition, a vehicle code violation can constitute negligence per se when it is a substantial factor in causing harm. But failing to wear a helmet does not bar a motorcyclist injured in an accident from seeking compensation from a driver who may have been at fault.

However, California law applies the rule of pure comparative negligence. This means that in a personal injury lawsuit, the judge or jury assigns a percentage of fault to each party involved in causing the accident and the resulting injuries. The damages awarded are adjusted based on those percentages of fault. In a motorcycle accident case, not wearing a helmet can factor significantly in determining a rider’s degree of fault. The judge or jury must decide such factual issues as:

  • Whether the rider would have suffered the type of injuries sustained had he or she been properly helmeted
  • Whether the rider’s injuries would have been less serious had he or she been properly helmeted
  • Whether the rider would have suffered other injuries had he or she been properly helmeted (In rare instances, wearing a helmet can cause injury.)

As an example, a rider who was not wearing a helmet suffers $100,000 in damages as a result of head trauma sustained when the motorcycle was hit by a car. The fact finder concludes that the car’s driver was solely responsible for causing the crash. The fact finder also determines that the motorcyclist’s injuries would have been 65 percent less severe had he been wearing a proper helmet at the time. Therefore, the damages awarded to the rider would be reduced to $35,000. Note that California law does not require that the plaintiff be less at fault than the defendant in order to recover damages.

Favaro, Lavezzo, Gill, Caretti & Heppell, PC represents accident victims throughout the North Bay area of California, with offices in Fairfield and Vallejo. If you or a family member was injured in a motorcycle accident, feel free to contact us online or call 707-674-6057 for a free initial consultation.