Why is the left hand turn so deadly for motorcycle riders in MA and CA?

motorcycle accident claims

As a motorcycle accident attorney in Los Angeles, CA, I have seen one scenario probably more often than any other.  This is the one where the biker is approaching an intersection or is near an entry to a parking lot of a shopping center and a driver in an automobile turns left in front of the bike, causing the rider to either collide with the car broadside or to lose control of the bike and lay it down while the rider is ejected to the pavement.

Why is this such a common scenario for motorcycle accident claims?

I have often employed accident reconstruction experts in these cases and they seem to always base their expert opinion on several common factors as follows:
  • Visibility: When I depose the defendants in these cases, I inevitable get them to admit on some level or another that they simply did not see the motorcycle prior to commencing the left hand turn.  This can depend upon weather, time of day (or night), the time of year and related amount of light, obstructions such as other vehicles or fixed objects, shadows, bright sunlight in the eyes of the driver of the car and many other things.
  • Time and Distance: One other very common response by the driver turning left is that, “I thought I could make it.”  Misjudging the distance between the approaching motorcycle and attempting to maneuver without properly assessing the speed at which a stopped vehicle can turn in front of a moving vehicle is one of the main culprits for these collisions.

What does the law say about the responsibility of the car turning left in front of the motorcycle?

Most states have a fairly uniform rule on parties turning left either at intersections or to cross any roadway to approach a driveway or side road.  For example, California Vehicle Code section 21801 states that the driver making the left, “shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movemen.” Likewise, Rhode Island Vehicle Code section 31-15-11 prohibits any turning movement from a direct course unless and until “it is reasonably safe to do so.”
Therefore, the legal responsibility for these accidents usually lies with the driver turning left.  While the motorcycle rider proceeding on a direct path must also use caution especially when approaching an intersection, the automobile, truck or SUV making the left hand turn has the “last clear chance” to avoid the collision by simply not initiating or trying to complete the movement without sufficient distance to do so.

Why is it important to consult a motorcycle injury lawyer as soon as possible following a left hand turn accident?

People’s stories often change following a traffic collision.  Unfortunately, it is human nature to some degree to deny responsibility when they cause personal injury or death to another person.  When it comes to motorcycle riders, the person in the automobile will also often accuse the biker of speeding, running a red light or other allegations which can detract from the full apportionment of fault on the motorist who turned left.  Depending speed, the use of safety gear and other factors, these incidents usually result in significant injuries including fractures and head trauma that may require hospitalization.
While the biker is attempting to recuperate, the at fault driver and their insurance company will be working hard to obtain “evidence” that supports any counterclaim of fault on the motorcyclist.  This includes interviewing and taking recorded statements from witnesses and “tainting” their testimony.  This makes it crucial for the biker to have his own legal team working hard to obtain and maintain good proof of full responsibility on the part of the other driver by conducting their own investigation and garnering of evidence.

Having a good attorney familiar with motorcycle accident claims retained early can be the difference between obtaining full compensation including pain and suffering or getting a claim either denied or a settlement that doesn’t reflect the full value of the claim.

Sources: California Vehicle Code section 21801(a); Rhode Island Vehicle Code 31-15-11.


Steven M. Sweat is a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA with an emphasis in California motorcycle accident and injury claims.  He has practiced personal injury law for almost 18 years and is a regular contributor to this blog and other legal blogs on tort laws in the United States.

If you were injured in a Massachusetts Motorcycle Accident (MA Bike Crash) please contact Mass. Attorney David Slepkow 401-437-1100

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