Motorcyclists: Here's What You Should Know About California Lane-Splitting And The Dangerous Door Zone

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Lane-splitting is the practice of driving a motorcycle between other vehicles and the white lines on the road. While it is thought that lane-splitting can limit the risk of rear-end collisions in heavily congested traffic, California is the only state to legalize the practice. Along with the potential benefits of lane-splitting, though, comes an added danger -- there's always a chance that one of the drivers a motorcycle is passing might open their car door without warning. When this happens, the driver of the motorcycle is left with little time to react, and the outcome can be devastating.

If an open car door caused you to crash your motorcycle while lane-splitting, who is responsible for the damages you incurred?

The Door Should Have Never Been Opened

California law states that it is illegal for a driver to open their vehicle door unless they have checked their surroundings and determined that it is safe to do so.

The driver of the car that you collided with may try to argue that the sun was in their eyes, that their view was obscured by inclement weather, or even that they opened their door because a spilled hot coffee led to an emergency situation; but none of these scenarios will serve as a valid excuse. If they could not see your motorcycle coming up behind them, then they did not thoroughly check their surroundings before opening their door, and they are responsible for the damages you incurred.

There is one defense that the other party may claim that will hold up in court -- that you were speeding at the time of the collision. If you were speeding, the driver may have incorrectly estimated the length of time it would take your motorcycle to reach their door, thus resulting in the collision. Since driving over the speed limit is illegal, you would be partially responsible for the collision and the damages you sustained.

But that doesn't mean that you can't try to recoup the percentage of damages that the other party was responsible for.

California Is A Pure Comparative Fault State

California is one of only 13 states to practice pure comparative fault when deciding negligence. In pure comparative fault, a person can recover the cost of damages they sustained in an accident even if they were very much at fault for the accident. In fact, the injured party can be 99 percent responsible for the accident and still seek to recover the cost of the 1 percent of damages they weren't at fault for. 

Even if you were speeding while lane-splitting on your motorcycle when you hit the other driver's car door, they still shouldn't have had their car door open, therefore they're still partially at fault and obligated to pay a portion of your damages.

How is percentage of fault calculated? Your motorcycle accident attorney will gather as much evidence and witness testimony as possible and propose a percentage of fault to the other driver's insurance company. The other driver's insurance company will conduct their own investigation and offer their own idea of how much the car driver was at fault for the collision. If the two numbers match, then you may be able to settle out of court.

If your lawyer's idea of what percentage of fault the other driver had in the collision is very different from the other driver's insurance company's proposal, or if the other driver had no insurance at the time of the collision, the case will go to civil court, and a jury will decide each party's percentage of fault during deliberation.

If you sustained injuries as a result of hitting a car door while lane-splitting in California, you're likely entitled to full or partial reimbursement for those injuries. Contact a motorcycle accident attorney today to start gathering evidence against the negligent driver who opened their car door in traffic.