The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that in 2020 more than 6,500 pedestrians were killed and nearly 55,000 injured in traffic accidents nationwide. These crashes can occur when pedestrians attempt to cross highways or local streets and are more common at night.
In addition to auto accidents, thousands of non-vehicular pedestrian accidents also occur annually. Poor maintenance, sidewalk or parking lot defects, and construction or other debris on walkways can also cause these accidents.
This article provides a brief overview of pedestrian accidents.
Establishing Negligence in Pedestrian Accident Cases
Whether injured by a vehicle or because of a property defect, a pedestrian may recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit for the injuries suffered if someone else's negligence caused or contributed to the incident. Negligence is the failure to do (or not do) something that a reasonable person in a similar situation would do to protect others from foreseeable risks.
To establish negligence in a pedestrian accident, the injured person (the plaintiff) must prove that the person at fault (the defendant):
- Owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances
- Failed to fulfill ("breached") that legal duty through action or inaction
- Caused an accident or injury involving the plaintiff
- Harmed or injured the plaintiff resulting in damages
There may be more than one party with legal responsibility for the pedestrian injury. Depending on the circumstances, potentially liable parties include:
- The driver of a vehicle that strikes a pedestrian
- The party responsible for maintaining the sidewalk, road, or parking lot where the pedestrian was injured
- The pedestrian themself
Usually, pedestrian-vehicle accident cases hinge on the duty of care owed by those involved. Both motorists and pedestrians must follow the rules of the road and exercise reasonable care. In many cases, it may seem obvious who was negligent, but courts look at numerous factors in applying the facts to the negligence elements. A person who negligently operates a vehicle may be required to pay damages for personal injury and property damage caused by that negligence.
Driver's Duty of Care
Generally, drivers must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Failure to do so is considered negligence. A few of the most common factors contributing to driver negligence are:
- Distracted driving
- Failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks
- Disobeying traffic signs or signals
- Failing to signal while turning
- Disregarding weather or traffic conditions
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Driver's Special Duty of Care to Children
Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are at the greatest risk of being hit by a vehicle. Children are smaller and thus less visible, and they can be unpredictable. The law imposes a higher duty of care on drivers when it comes to children.
The presence of children is a warning to the driver to exercise greater care. Thus, a driver must exercise a greater degree of care when they know or should know that small children are at play in the area — for example, while driving by schools, parks, and residential areas.
Pedestrian's Duty of Care
Pedestrians must exercise reasonable care for their own safety. The care required must be proportionate to the danger to be avoided and to any reasonably anticipated consequences.
When determining who's at fault in an accident, two common systems are used: contributory and comparative negligence.
In a contributory negligence system, if the injured party (the plaintiff) is found even slightly responsible for their own injury, they may be barred from recovering any damages from the other party. This can be quite harsh, as even a small mistake can cost the plaintiff everything.
On the other hand, comparative negligence is more forgiving. In this system, the court determines what percentage of the fault belongs to each party. If the plaintiff is found 20% at fault, for example, they can still recover 80% of their damages from the other party.
A few of the most common factors contributing to pedestrian comparative negligence are:
- Jaywalking and ignoring the traffic signal at an intersection
- Entering traffic and disrupting the flow
- Failing to use marked crosswalks
- Darting in front of a vehicle
Other Pedestrian Accidents
Premises liability controls claims for losses based on the actions of property owners or possessors, including most non-vehicular pedestrian accidents. In most states, those in control of land have a duty to maintain their property and a duty to warn people of any hazards on it.
To recover damages in a premises liability case, the injured party must prove a dangerous condition exists. They must show that there is something on the property that presents an unreasonable risk to people on it. They must also demonstrate that the risk isn't obvious. Knowledge of the dangerous condition is established by showing the following:
- The owner created the condition.
- The owner knew the condition existed and negligently failed to correct it.
- The condition existed for such a length of time that it should've been discovered and corrected prior to the incident.
While a property owner is responsible when a dangerous condition exists on their private walkways, such an owner isn't usually responsible for injuries resulting from a fall on a public sidewalk located outside their property, especially one owned and maintained by a city or town. However, some courts will impose liability on a business owner when business customers exclusively use the public sidewalk.
If You're Involved in a Pedestrian Accident
People who may be legally responsible for your injuries might try to blame you for the accident by claiming that your own negligence caused the accident. If you've been involved in a pedestrian accident, you should do the following:
- Call the police immediately.
- Don't leave the scene of the accident before help arrives.
- Gather the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
- Don't make any statements to anyone, including drivers or auto insurers.
- Seek emergency medical services or other medical attention if injured.
How to Handle Medical Bills After a Pedestrian Accident
Medical bills can be overwhelming after an accident. File a claim with the driver's insurance company as soon as possible. Sometimes, your own auto insurance or health insurance may cover some of the medical costs. A personal injury lawyer can provide advice about pursuing a claim or lawsuit to recover these expenses.
Keep all receipts and records of medical treatment to document the cost of your care. Ensure all claims are filed in a timely manner to avoid issues with insurance coverage.
What Steps Should I Take With an Insurance Company After a Pedestrian Accident?
You should notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. Be prepared to provide the facts of the incident, but refrain from making any admissions or settling your claim until you've spoken with a lawyer.
Remember, insurance adjusters are not always on your side. Their aim is to pay out as little as possible. Their first offer is often not the best one, so it can be beneficial to have a professional review the terms to ensure your rights are being protected.
What Are Your Legal Rights After Suffering Accident Injuries as a Pedestrian?
You have the right to seek compensation for your injuries from the party at fault. This can include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights and guide you through the legal process.
Be aware that timelines — known as statutes of limitations — exist for filing a claim. Acting promptly can preserve your legal rights.
How Does a Wrongful Death Claim Work in a Pedestrian Accident Case?
If a pedestrian accident results in a loved one's death, the deceased's family may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. This is a complex process, and it's a good idea to consult with an experienced lawyer. Compensation can include funeral expenses, loss of future income, loss of companionship, and more.
The emotional toll of such an accident can be immense. Pursuing a claim can allow a family to focus on healing while an attorney handles the legal complexities.
What Is Personal Injury Protection, and How Can It Help an Injured Pedestrian?
Personal injury protection (PIP) is a type of auto insurance coverage that pays for medical expenses. In some cases, it also pays for lost wages and other damages, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. It can provide immediate help with medical expenses following an accident.
A pedestrian can use their PIP insurance when hit by a car or other motor vehicle. This usually comes into play when the at-fault party's insurance is not enough to cover all of the medical costs.
When Should You Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer After a Pedestrian Accident?
- Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a pedestrian accident, especially if:
- You have serious injuries
- Fault is contested
- You are being pressured by the insurance company to accept a quick settlement
A pedestrian accident attorney can protect your rights and help maximize your recovery.
Get Legal Advice About Your Claim From a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been injured in a pedestrian accident, you may be wondering what to do next. Because of the statute of limitations, you only have a set amount of time under personal injury law to bring a claim for your car accident injuries.
Get started today by contacting an experienced personal injury attorney near you. Many pedestrian accident lawyers offer potentially free case evaluations.