The Motorcycle Accident Settlement Process in California

Getting Started with The Motorcycle Accident Settlement Process

If you have been injured in an accident while riding your motorcycle in California, there is a good chance you do not know what's involved in the motorcycle accident settlement process or what the first steps are to take. When you retain an attorney, they will handle all aspects of the motorcycle accident settlement process, but until you make your decision to hire the best motorcycle lawyer for your case, you will want to understand the basics of this process.

There are a lot of factors to consider in the motorcycle accident settlement process in California. The main one being whether or not your case can settle at the insurance claim stage, or whether it will have to go into litigation and whether or not a trial will be necessary.

How your motorcycle accident case will ultimately be resolved (settlement, litigation or trial) will be dictated by the types of and amounts of the claims you are making, the evidence you have to support those claims and the expertise of the person or law firm presenting that evidence.

Most Cases Will Settle in an Insurance Claim

In approximately 97 percent of personal injury cases, a settlement is negotiated at the insurance claim stage without having to go to trial. However, no insurance company will simply give away money. You need to prove your case and fight for a fair settlement. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are in the best possible position to not only receive a settlement (rather than be forced to court) but to also increase the settlement amount. 

For instance, if you are suffering from serious injuries that are clearly the result of your motorcycle accident, it is unlikely your claim for a settlement will outright be refused -- unless of course you were partially or fully at fault of the accident. This being said, even if your injuries are obvious, the insurance company will probably dispute how your accident occurred, who was at fault and even the extent of your damages. 

But you've got to set your claim up for success if you want to settle it

If this happens, and you don't have the right evidence, enough time and the proper legal expertise to clearly prove liability, causation and damages, your case could end up in a lawsuit. Then, the outcome of your case is no longer in your control, but will be in the hands of twelve jurors or a judge. And, we already know the unfortunate misconceptions a large majority of the population (who makes up the potential jury panel) has about motorcyclists. 

Settlement of Your Motorcycle Accident Claim

Note that you may still be offered a settlement at any stage of the California motorcycle accident settlement process - at the inception of the case, throughout litigation and even in the middle of trial. 

The terms of the settlement must be acceptable to both parties for the claim to be resolved. Settling your case will take time, as you need to present all the evidence required to prove your damages and engage in back and forth negotiations until you reach a number that works for both sides.

Once the settlement is agreed on by both parties, you will sign a settlement release. This means the dispute is considered closed forever and you cannot bring a claim for further damages in the future. You get only one chance to settle your case, so you'll want to be sure you have a motorcycle accident expert by your side through the entire motorcycle accident settlement process to ensure you get a fair settlement.

Timeline of The Motorcycle Accident Settlement Process 

The time necessary to settle your motorcycle injury accident claim depends on the length of time required for you to conclude all medical treatment related to your injuries. You or your lawyer cannot fully evaluate the case and what amount to ask for in a settlement demand until all medical bills (past and future) are calculated.

A personal injury claim cannot be settled without a clear understanding of all past and potential future medical care. Because, once your case settles, any expenses or medical care you require in the future becomes your responsibility. So, you need to understand your future damages and include those in your claim prior to agreeing to any settlement. Otherwise, you may not be properly compensated. 

Also, both sides need to complete their investigation into the facts to clearly understand the evidence on each issue in the case such as liability and any potential shared liability, actual damages and pain and suffering damages. Understanding the available evidence and the damages is equally important for both sides. And, only after this understanding has been reached, can you proceed with settlement of your motorcycle injury case.

Types of Claims You Can Make in The Motorcycle Accident Settlement Process

You may have suffered serious personal injuries (referred to as "bodily injury") as a result of your motorcycle crash and/or received damages to your bike (referred to "property damage.") A personal injury claim is much more complicated than a claim for property damage (damage to your bike and/or gear) alone. But, both claims start by contacting the other party's insurance carrier to open a claim.

Once your claim is open, the claims adjuster will attempt to limit the amount of money you are paid on both your property damage and bodily injury claims. You are at an immediate disadvantage because the insurance adjuster is experienced and deals with hundreds of these claims at once. A dedicated motorcycle accident attorney will level the playing field. They understand how to work with the insurance company, they will provide valuable advice and they will get you the amount you are entitled to for damages. 

Motorcycle Accident Bodily Injury Claims 

When you suffer injuries in a motorcycle accident caused by someone else, you have the right to compensation from that person's insurance company. Even if you aren't the litigious type and don't want to sue anyone, the insurance claims process is the only way to go about getting your medical bills paid.

Making a bodily injury claim is the main part of the motorcycle accident settlement process. To prove your claim you will need to provide the insurance adjuster with copies of all relevant medical records and billing. Be careful though, because adjusters will try to get you to release more of your medical history than is necessary to prove your bodily injury claim. If you have a competent motorcycle attorney, they will control what information is shared with the other side.

Once you provide all evidence of your injuries, the adjuster should be in a position to make an offer to settle your bodily injury claim. You can be assured that their opening offer is not their top offer, so you should negotiate with them until you reach a fair number. If you go this alone, you need to understand that adjusters will take advantage of your inexperience with the motorcycle accident claim process and low ball you. You really should get a solid motorcycle attorney on your case!

Motorcycle Crash Property Damage Claims 

The California motorcycle accident settlement process includes compensation for your property damage. This is the cost for replacing or repairing your motorcycle and any personal property or gear that was damaged or destroyed in your crash. 

To prove your property damage claim, you will need to submit a repair estimate from a reputable repair shop and prove of the value of any other gear or personal property that is part of the claim. If the cost of repairs exceeds the value of your motorcycle, it will be declared "totaled" and you will be offered the value of the bike instead of proceeding with the repairs. The most frequently used guides by the insurance adjusters to determine your bike's value are the NADA and Kelley Blue Book. 

As a courtesy to our motorcycle accident clients at Sally Morin Law, we help them negotiate their property damage claim at NO FEE. This is simply a service we offer along with our representation of them for their serious bodily injury claim.

The Stages of a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit 

If your case ends up having to go to litigation (you have to file a lawsuit in court), the motorcycle accident settlement process gets a little more complex and lengthy. There are several different stages in the lawsuit or litigation process, and you probably shouldn't try to tackle these without a focused and hardworking California motorcycle accident lawyer.

1. Getting the lawsuit started

The motorcycle accident litigation process begins with the filing of the complaint. The complaint sets out your legal claims using the appropriate legalese the court understands. After the complaint is filed, you will need to serve it personally to the at-fault party. Then, they have 30 days to file their answer with the court. This is when a written response is received from the party being sued in response to the allegations.

2. The discovery process

The next step is called discovery. This is when both sides gather information regarding your accident and the damages. This includes:

  • Turning over bills and medical records,
  • Taking depositions (live testimony from you, the other driver and witnesses),
  • Getting a physical examination where you are examined by the other side's hired doctor
  • Providing all information regarding damages and fault related to the accident,
  • Hiring and deposing experts to help prove the cause of the accident and your damages.

3. Law and motion filings

During or after the discovery process, your motorcycle accident lawsuit may involve filing various motions with the court. These are documents sent to the court to resolve any matters or legal issues before your case goes to trial. Motions can be filed by either party. They are legally complex, time-consuming and can often make or break the case. 

4. Trial setting

After most of the discovery and some of the motion filing is completed in your motorcycle accident lawsuit, your case will be set for a trial date. The date is usually scheduled 12-18 months or more in the future, depending on which county in California your lawsuit is filed.

5. The pre-trial settlement conference

Even after the lawsuit has been started, discovery has taken place and all motions have been filed, and you have a trial date, most California judges won't give up on the motorcycle accident settlement process. They will force the parties to make one last-ditch attempt at working out a motorcycle accident settlement. This is usually in the format of a pre-trial settlement conference. To avoid the risk of uncertainty of what might happen at trial, a settlement at this point can be the most certain resolution.

6. Trial

But, often the parties have invested so much time, energy and money into the litigation process that they want to take their chances at trial. 

The Motorcycle Crash Trial 

Once all the above steps have been completed, your case will head to trial. This is when you and your attorney must prove the defendant was at fault for the accident and the injuries you suffered were a direct result of the accident. This process can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses and experts to testify.

The determination as to whether your burden of proof has been met will be decided by either a panel of jurors or a judge. They will also decide how much your case is worth. Your lawyer will do their best to prove what you deserve for your crash, but the jury (or judge) can disregard what was presented at trial and randomly select what they feel is an appropriate verdict or award. There is no accurately predicting what the outcome might be.

Questions to Help You Decide on a Settlement or Trial

There are several questions that must be answered prior to a motorcycle accident attorney advising you whether or not to settle during the motorcycle injury settlement process. These include:

  1. What is your risk tolerance? A settlement is certain. A trial is not. 
  2. What are your chances of prevailing at the trial? If there are potential issues in your case that might confuse a jury, like shared liability or any pre-existing injuries, your chances of winning go down.
  3. What are your potential damages? If your damages are not significant, the actual expenses of going to trial could easily eat up any increased amount you get.
  4. What are the sources of financial recovery? If the party who injured you only has limited insurance and little or no other financial resources, taking the case to trial would just be throwing money away. If the other party is a large corporation or someone with a large insurance policy, it makes more sense to fight for the full value of your case at trial, but only if a reasonable settlement can't be reached.
  5. How long do you want your case to last? Trials can take several months to years to occur. Settlements tend to go more quickly.
  6. Are you seeking to have your "day in court" or get a fair and solid settlement? With a good motorcycle lawyer by your side, you can negotiate a fair and solid settlement without having to go to ever go inside a courtroom.
  7. There are several more questions to ask as well, such as: How well will you (or the other party for that matter) present in front of a jury? How are motorcyclists perceived by your local peers? Can you afford to take a week or weeks off of work to sit in a trial? Are you willing to risk the other side filing an appeal delaying your final resolution even more months or years? --  but you'll have to discuss those with your attorney.

Advantages of getting a good motorcycle accident settlement

The motorcycle accident settlement process in California can sometimes result in a smaller financial result when the case does not proceed to trial. But, there are huge advantages to taking a settlement, such as:

  • Eliminating the risk of receiving a small award from the jury or receiving nothing because the jury believed you were at fault.
  • Giving you certainty as to when and how much you will receive for your case.
  • Letting you put the accident behind you much sooner and with less stress. 

Collecting money from the motorcycle accident settlement process

Once the parties agree on a settlement, the agreed upon amount is guaranteed. On the other hand, if a jury awards an amount, it can be appealed by the other side. Or, if the amount exceeds the policy limits of the negligent party, more legal procedures may be necessary to collect the balance. Also, the other party can easily file bankruptcy, leaving you with nothing more than you would have gotten in a settlement - after you spent a lot more time and money at trial. 

Also, it is important to note that California is a comparative negligence state, so even if the jury awards you a certain amount, if you caused any part of your motorcycle accident, that award will be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Talking to a Motorcycle Attorney

It is critical you understand the insurance company will not be on your side. A motorcycle accident attorney has the insight, knowledge and expertise necessary to help ensure you receive the best possible settlement. Sally Morin Law has been helping settle motorcycle accidents in California for twenty years. We will provide you with a FREE online evaluation of your case so you can get started with the motorcycle accident settlement process.