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Bicycle Insurance Claim Tip: California’s Comparative Fault

“If I am injured in a bicycle accident and I was doing something illegal, I can not win my insurance claim, right???”

Wrong.  Many years ago, the California Supreme Court considered the case of Li v. Yellow Cab Co.  In that case, the plaintiff, who was traveling down a public road, suddenly steered across three lanes of traffic and was struck by a tax driver who was speeding and running a yellow light.

In light of these facts, the Court decided to adopt the doctrine of comparative negligence.  This means that if you are injured in a bicycle accident, the judge (or jury, if there is one) must assign a fault percentage to each of the parties.

Assigning Fault Percentages

If the judge determines that the defendant driver was completely at fault, and that the plaintiff cyclist did nothing wrong that contributed to the accident, the determination will be 0% fault to the plaintiff and 100% fault to the defendant.

If the judge decides that both the driver and the cyclist were at fault, the judge will then decide what percentage of fault is fair to place on each.  For example, if the cyclist was going the wrong way down a one-way street, but was struck by a driver who was speeding and was under the influence of an intoxicant, the judge may very well decide that the plaintiff cyclist is only 25% at fault, while the defendant driver is 75% at fault.

Obviously, there is no strict formula for determining these percentages, but typically the lawyers involved in a case will be making arguments as to which percentages are appropriate and the judge or jury may very well adopt one of the percentage formulas presented by a lawyer.

How Does The Fault Percentage Change The Injured Cyclist’s Compensation?

For purposes of explaining this concept, let’s assume that the cyclist (who was going the wrong way down a one way street) in the above case is injured and that the cyclist’s damages are then determined by the judge/jury to be $100,000.  This amount is then reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the cyclist.  Thus, if the cyclist in this case was determined to be 25% at fault, the cyclist’s compensation would be reduced by 25%, or $25,000.  Thus, the cyclist in this case would ultimately be compensated in the amount of $75,000.


Thus, if you are injured in a cycling accident, the fact that you may have been negligent is not determinative. You should still consult with an attorney in order to determine whether some percentage of fault may still fall on another insured party.