The Case of the Motorcyclist’s Guardian Angel’s “Roving Eye”
Just Another Motorcyclist At Fault (or Not?): In 2013, my office was retained by a motorcyclist who was seriously injured while “splitting lanes” in morning commute traffic on southbound I-880 in Hayward. Our client was the father of a 2 year old girl and was then just days from completing a certification in heavy construction vehicle repair and maintenance. He had been riding his motorcycle at about 15 to 20 mph between the Diamond Lane and the adjoining lane to the right. As he rode under an overpass, a van just a few car lengths ahead, suddenly turned right, out of the Diamond lane and partially into the adjoining No. 2 lane. Our client had no time to even react to the sudden appearance of this van, which instantly blocked the narrow lane-splitting aisle ahead of him. The front wheel of his motorcycle smashed against the rear bumper of the van. The impact launched our client off his motorcycle, throwing him bodily against the rear of the van, after which he fell to the pavement, having badly broken his right leg and pelvis. (His medical bills ultimately exceeded $100,000.) Because our client had landed face down on the pavement and couldn’t move after the impact because of his injuries, he had not seen that just seconds after this collision, the driver of the van had steered her van back to her left, bringing it to a stop fully inside the Diamond lane. The driver of the van later informed the CHP that she had been driving inside the Diamond Lane at all times up until the time of the impact and that she did not know why the motorcyclist had crashed into the back of her vehicle. The CHP report concluded that our client was solely at fault for the collision.
The Miracle Video: The CHP report identified a few witnesses, one of whose paraphrased statement in the report only described how she had seen the motorcyclist splitting lanes as he passed her vehicle just a few seconds before the collision. On the same afternoon of the day on which we had received the CHP report in the mail, I hired a licensed private investigator to interview the witnesses identified in the CHP report. An hour later, our investigator phoned back to inform us that one of these witnesses had been driving a para-transit bus equipped with a video camera system designed to record and retain a total of 40 seconds of video images triggered by any impact or sudden deceleration of the bus. Since this bus driver had been obliged to slam on the brakes of her bus in response to our client’s collision against the van, she suspected that video recording system had been activated, in which event it would have recorded 20 seconds of video before she had braked, and 20 seconds after she had braked. The witness suggested that our investigator should contact her employer and ask to see the video. In response to this information from our investigator, I phoned the para-transit company, which until then had not even checked its video – after all the bus had not been damaged, nor had any occupant of the bus been injured - and within twenty minutes of making that call, I was watching video on my desktop computer that depicted the van turning right out of the Diamond lane and into the adjoining lane to the right, just seconds before our client’s motorcycle crashed into the rear of the van. And just as critically, the video also depicted the van turning back into the Diamond lane after the collision. In response to this miraculous video, I retained a video production company to improve the poor resolution of the video recording. I then forwarded the resulting easier-to-watch video to the insurance company insuring the van, and within days my office obtained a policy limits offer from that insurance company, where just days before I had been informed that that insurer had no intention of paying any money on my client’s claim.
Moral: This client was extremely fortunate for having a para-transit bus equipped with a video system, following just a few car lengths away from his collision just as it occurred. Like the van driver here, people will lie to protect their own interests. Even the bus driver had not been certain that the van had changed lanes just as the motorcyclist approached. For the CHP, this was just another collision. For the insurance company that insured the van driver, it chose to believe its insured. Had we not obtained this video, it would have been extraordinarily difficult to resolve this case, because the evidence would have pitted our client’s fleeting recollection of the sudden presence of the van in front of him, versus the van driver’s self-serving (and false) assertion that she had not turned into the adjoining lane just before the impact. In light of this, if you ride a motorcycle in urban commute traffic, or you care about someone who does, invest in a video recording device that will help to document the truth.