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Could Failing to Wear a Bike Helmet Hurt Your Injury Case?

California is a comparative negligence state. That means that if the plaintiff and the defendant both share some responsibility for a crash, the judge or jury must determine each party’s percentage of fault. The potential personal injury award is reduced by the injured party’s percentage of the total negligence. For example, if the jury awards $100,000.00 in damages and you were found to be 20 percent responsible, your damages would be $80,000.00.

In addition to attempting to shift blame for the accident to the plaintiff, defendants in a personal injury suit will also attempt to argue that the victim could have prevented or lessened the resulting injuries by taking certain safety precautions, such as wearing a seat belt, motorcycle helmet, or bicycle helmet.

All passengers must wear a safety belt under California law. The California Vehicle Code also expressly states that a defendant may assert that the plaintiff was negligent because he or she failed to wear a seat belt. However, it does not establish negligence as a matter of law or negligence per se for comparative fault purposes. Accordingly, it is up to the jury to decide whether, in the exercise of ordinary care, the plaintiff should have used a seat belt and the nature of injuries and damages the plaintiff would have sustained if he or she had done so.

Bicycle helmets are treated slightly differently because California law does not require them, at least for adults. In fact, proposed legislation that would have required all adult bicyclists to wear helmets recently failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. In the absence of a helmet law, plaintiffs have a stronger argument that failing to wear one is reasonable, particularly if the bicycle accident victim was taking a short ride and/or riding in a relatively safe area, i.e. biking around a suburban neighborhood.

Bicycle helmets can help riders survive a serious accident, but they do not prevent all traumatic brain injuries. In addition, other injuries are also common in a bike crash, such as spinal cord injuries, broken bones, and lacerations. Accordingly, in some cases, plaintiffs can argue that wearing a helmet would not have made a difference.

Of course, while it may be possible to defeat a comparative negligence claim, bicyclists should still consider the important safety benefits of wearing a helmet.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a San Diego bicycle accident, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.