Earlier this month, William O’Hara, a 36-year old motorcyclist was killed on the Pacific Coast Highway when his motorcycle collided when another vehicle made a U-Turn. O’Hara’s female passenger was severely injured in the accident. Motorcycle accidents can be devastating, and at-fault parties may be held financially responsible through personal injury claim lawsuits. O’Hara’s family may be considering legal action against the driver of the vehicle, while his passenger may seek compensation to cover the costs associated with her injuries. Details about the accident – and who was at fault – are still coming to light. However, early reports indicate that O’Hara may have been speeding.
Two questions must be answered in deciding if O’Hara’s family and/or his injured passenger may recover damages. First, was the U-Turn the vehicle was in the process of making proper? Second, was O’Hara negligent in operating his motorcycle?
California U-Turn Laws
California imposes certain restrictions on when a vehicle may execute a lawful U-Turn. Most U-Turn related laws were implemented to ensure the safety of the driver of the vehicle making the turn, other drivers on the road, and nearby pedestrians. O’Hara’s family and his passenger may have grounds for a lawsuit if the other vehicle involved in the accident was executing an illegal U-Turn. There are many limitations on lawful U-Turns, which include:
Controlled Intersection U-Turns. U-Turns are prohibited at intersections where signs clearly indicate the prohibition.
Business District U-Turns. U-Turns are prohibited in business districts so long as they are made at clearly marked intersections or marked openings in the street. California defines a business district as a stretch of road where half of the properties within a 300-foot length are used for business purposes, or where an entire 600-foot length of one side of a street is dedicated to businesses.
Residence District U-Turns. U-Turns are prohibited in residential districts when another vehicle within 200 feet – from either direction – is approaching.
Obstructed View U-Turns. U-Turns are prohibited on highways where drivers cannot see at least 200 feet in either direction. The object blocking the view may be fixed, such as a building or sign, or temporary, such as another car or vehicle.
The vehicle that struck Mr. O’Hara’s motorcycle was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. If the driver’s view was obstructed – and he was unable to see Mr. O’Hara quickly approaching on his motorcycle – he or she may be liable for damages. However, their potential liability may be reduced if Mr. O’Hara was, as reported, exceeding the speed limit.
Comparative Negligence in California
California follows the doctrine of comparative negligence, which permits courts to allocate degrees of negligence to multiple parties. When an accident occurs, it is often unlikely for one party to be 100% at fault. Comparative negligence allows a plaintiff to recover damages from an at-fault party up to the percentage of which the party was at fault.
In the case of Mr. O’Hara, his family may be able to recover damages from the driver of the car with which he collided. However, if it is determined that he was, in fact, speeding, their recovery may be reduced by the degree to which the accident is deemed to have been his fault. If, for example, his family seeks $1 Million in damages, but it is determined that he was 30% at fault for the accident, the maximum a court would award is $700,000.
Damages in a California Personal Injury Lawsuit
Personal injury lawsuits can arise from a number of incidents, including motorcycle accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits are a type of personal injury claim that a family may bring after the loss of a loved one at the hand of another person. In the present case, Mr. O’Hara’s family may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit, while his passenger may be able to bring her own claim for damages. Generally, personal injury lawsuits may recover compensation including:
- Economic damages including medical bills, lost wages, nursing or rehabilitation care, and property damage;
- Non-economic damages including pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium; or
- Punitive damages.
Punitive damages would not be available in the lawsuits against the U-Turn driver in this case. These damages are generally prohibited entirely in wrongful death lawsuits and are only permitted in a handful of scenarios in other personal injury suits. In wrongful death lawsuits, punitive damages are only available if the defendant is convicted of a felony-murder. For all other personal injury lawsuits, a defendant must display malice, oppression, or fraud for a plaintiff to recover punitive compensation.