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Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

Police Reports & Comparative Liability

by David Olan

Recently my partner Brian Carness obtained an excellent settlement for a client who suffered serious personal injuries when hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. Brian was able to get policy limits from the driver’s insurance and the rest of the settlement from the motorcyclist’s uninsured – under-insured motorist insurance.

driver olanBrian obtained this result in spite of the police report naming our client at fault – and therefore liable – for the accident. As most bicyclists and motorcyclists in particular know, they are very likely to be named at fault in an accident. Often officers seem to have a built-in bias against bikers and cyclists, and frequently officers are not aware of laws that may affect these two groups.

What few people know is that a police report is considered “hearsay,” meaning the police officer did not see the accident himself.  However, the officer can testify as to statements made and physical evidence.

It’s still a good idea to file a police report if you’re in any type of motor vehicle accident. Though the police officer’s conclusions may not always be accurate, they usually get the basic facts (such as insurance information, witness information, where the accident happened, speeds of vehicles), which can be very helpful when we begin investigating your case.

motorcycleBut what about the situation where maybe you were, at least partially, at fault? California recognizes comparative liability. This means that if both parties are to some degree liable for an accident, the jury or judge can apportion a percentage of liability. If compensation is awarded, the defendant only has to pay the percentage that matches your liability.

Here is an example. Let’s say you rolled slowly through a stop sign instead of making a full stop and are hit by a truck that doesn’t stop at its stop sign. You suffer serious personal injuries. We investigate the accident and find that the truck’s brakes had not been serviced for a year and there were numerous reports from drivers that the brakes were bad.

If this case went to court, the jury or the judge – depending on whether or not it was a jury trial – might determine that the trucking company was 80% liable for the accident and you were 20% liable for the accident. If Olan Law obtained a $100,000 verdict for you, the trucking company would only have to pay 80% of $100,000 or $80,000.

The truth is, it is unlikely that you can determine if comparative liability is applicable to your case. Only an experienced trial lawyer can really evaluate your case to determine the merits of your potential case. That’s why Olan Law always offers a free, no-obligation consultation to potential clients.

Drive safely out there.


David Olan is a leading Los Angeles trial lawyer representing people who have suffered serious personal injuries or who have lost a loved one to a wrongful death.   David also represents individuals in wrongful termination and breach of contract cases.

For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact David Olan at 310-566-0010 or at, or visit


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