A recent posting on this blog addressed the seeming increase in the frequency of vehicle/motorcycle collisions in Humboldt County. This article will discuss some of the challenges involved in successfully litigating cases on behalf of injured motorcyclists.
Even before the personal injury action is filed to obtain just compensation for the injured motorcyclist, there may be court proceedings related to traffic citations against the careless driver who caused the collision. For example, in two different cases being handled by Janssen Malloy LLP, the investigating police officer issued California Vehicle Code citations to the motorist/defendant, and each defendant demanded (as is their right) a traffic court trial to put law enforcement to its burden of proof (defendant must be proved guilty of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt). A defendant may be rightly concerned that conviction for the citation could affect their license status or increase their liability insurance premiums. Often, a defendant demands a traffic court trial hoping that the investigating officer does not appear on the court date, which may result in the charge being dismissed by the Court. However, police departments and the California Highway Patrol are very efficient in seeing that their officers appear for trial testimony in traffic court.
The court trial proceeds differently than a jury trial. First, it is a trial to the court, without a jury (infractions/citations are not entitled to jury determination). Second, there is no prosecutor from the District Attorney’s office to present evidence; the Court swears in the officer and the defendant (and any other witnesses who may testify in the matter), and the investigating officer states the evidence on which the citation is based. The defendant may question the officer (cross-examination), testify himself, and call witnesses on his behalf.
In our firm’s two recent cases, the defendants appeared to contest the charges, and both testified. In the first matter, the Eureka Police Department officer testified to his observations and investigation, and called the motorcyclist (our client) to testify as well. The defendant’s testimony was not credible, and the defendant was found guilty of excessive speed and inattention, which resulted in her striking the motorcyclist from behind at a stop light, where he was at a complete stop, awaiting a pedestrian crossing in the cross walk in front of him. In the second case, a company’s delivery van attempted to cross two southbound lanes on Broadway, intending to turn left into the northbound lanes (and also crossing the center turn lane in the process). The motorcyclist was in the number one lane southbound, with the right of way, when the defendant driver sped out from a stop sign controlled intersection and cut in front of the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist did not have time or space to avoid a collision, and was ejected from the motorcycle and seriously injured. The defendant attempted to blame the motorcyclist for the crash, but the officer’s investigation and description of skid marks, vehicle damage, and the defendant’s own testimony resulted in the defendant’s conviction. Both court trials provided critical information and testimony that will be useful in proving the civil case for damages against the defendants. Both trials involved sworn testimony from the investigating officer, from the defendants, and from the plaintiff (in the first case).
The attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP track the progress of all stages of litigation in every case, to obtain the needed evidence to prove the personal injury case on behalf of our clients. Four of the partners at Janssen Malloy LLP have criminal law backgrounds, either as prosecutors, defense counsel, or both, and use this experience and expertise to properly prepare our cases for successful conclusion. If you or a loved one are injured in a motorcycle/vehicle collision, our attorneys stand ready to assist and protect your rights.