Tag Archive for legal liability

Why Attorneys Tell You To Never Admit Guilt

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 

Pocrass Photo 6-15

Immediately after any type of motor vehicle “accident” (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle, car), most people have two reactions: 1.) to blame the other person or 2.) to say “I’m sorry; it was my fault.” As a personal injury lawyer, I counsel people to NEVER admit guilt after a crash of any type. Whether you are or are not liable, I guarantee such a statement will come back to bite you in ways you never expected.

The most important reason for not admitting guilt, which is, in legal terms, admitting liability, is because you probably don’t really know the cause of 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 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, I laughed inside at the insurance company lawyer’s expression.) The insurance company settled for a five-figure settlement.

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. These could be:

  • Road Design: the road or signage was not designed well, maintained, in disrepair, or 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 be 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 bike 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 guilt at the scene (or in follow up conversations with the other driver’s insurance company), it becomes more difficult for your attorney to argue comparative negligence. It also means that it is more likely that the insurance company will either refuse to settle or low-ball its offer.

Trials are always more expensive in cost and in time than settlements, so if a fair settlement is possible, that is the more desirable route. (Of course you wouldn’t say THAT to an insurance company either because if it thinks you’re not prepared to go to trial you’re back to them either refusing to settle or low-balling their offer. It’s all a chess game with serious consequences for you.)

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 guilt. Let us sort that out later.

 

Jim Pocrass TrimmedFor more than 30 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com, or visit www.pocrass.com.

 

 

Bike paths: Ride at your own risk.

Most experienced cyclists know that we risk our safety every time we venture into the traffic lane.

But maybe you didn’t know that you’re also at risk when you ride in a designated off-road bikeway (Class I). Except the risk there isn’t from careless or aggressive drivers.

It’s from a bottom-line obsessed bureaucracy that has little or no incentive to protect your safety, or even your life. Because they have no liability whatsoever for the condition of that bike path.

Trip on a misaligned manhole cover on the sidewalk — as my wife did a few years ago — and the company or government agency responsible for maintaining it is legally responsible. Get into an accident on the street because of a missing traffic sign or a dangerous road condition, and the city, county or state agency responsible can be held liable.

But suffer an injury because of a massive pothole or botched patch job in a bike lane, or a huge crack — or even criminal activity — on an off-road trail, and you’re on your own.

Swerving around the frequent bumps and cracks in the bike path around the Marina, I always assumed that someone would be injured there sooner or later — if they haven’t already. And that the county, which is responsible for most of the Marina del Rey area, would be sued as a result.

But I never knew that such a suit would be summarily dismissed.

It wasn’t until I read the statement from Council District 5 candidate David Vahedi that I had the slightest clue that no city, county or state government, nor any private enterprise, bears any legal responsibility for maintaining safe riding conditions on a Class I or Class II bikeway. (I’m assuming they’re still responsible for conditions on a Class III bike route, since those usually require riding in the traffic lane. But I could be wrong.)

When I asked Vahedi if her had any more information, he was kind enough to pass along the law that removed liability on off-road paths and trails, as well as the California appellate court ruling that greatly expanded it.

It’s clear that the original intent of the law was to encourage property owners to grant access to the public by removing liability for conditions they didn’t intentionally cause, and may not be aware of. For instance, DWP might not be willing to provide a trail leading to one of their reservoirs if they had to worry about being sued any time someone slipped and fell on a wet rock.

The problem came when the courts began to interpret any off-road path, trail or sidewalk — including heavily traveled Class I bikeways, such as the Marvin Broad Bikeway along the beach from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes — as being covered under the law. Or on-road bike lanes for that matter, such as the bike lane through the Sepulveda Pass, as Vehedi notes in his comments.

And even, as in his example from the Venice bike path, if they are fully aware of the problem and have done nothing to correct it.

So if you’ve wondered why things never seem to get fixed along our bikeways, that’s why. Problems get corrected when the agencies responsible face liability. If there’s no risk to them, it usually falls to the bottom of a long list of things they intend to get around to eventually, when and if their budget allows — even if that poses a greater risk for everyone else.

Yet while government and corporate lawyers have been quick to capitalize on their new-found freedom from liability, one section of the law has been universally ignored — the one that says warning signs have to be posted if there are any known health or safety hazards along a paved pathway.

So if authorities know that the lights are out along the L.A. River bikeway, they are required to post signs warning riders about it. If L.A. is aware — and they are — that the Ballona Creek trail runs through known gang territory and that riders have been subject to assaults, they have to provide a warning to anyone who might consider riding there.

And if Los Angeles and Santa Monica refuse to enforce the No Pedestrian signs on the beachfront bike path through their respective cities, they have to warn riders about the presence of pedestrians.

Otherwise, they can — and should — be held liable for any injuries that may result.

C.I.C.L.E. reposts an article tracing the early history of the bicycle. Bike craftsmen exhibit their work at the North American Handmade Bike Show. Once they clear the snow, Yellowstone opens its roads to cyclists and other non-motorized traffic for several weeks of car-free riding, starting in mid-March. A woman and her children are hit head-on by a car while riding on a popular bike path on Hawaii’s North Shore. And finally, Bike Date reposts a list of great bike safety tips from the Onion.

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