Pedestrian Accidents Overview
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that each year nearly 5,000 pedestrians die in motor vehicle related accidents, and approximately 76,000 pedestrians in 2012 suffered injuries when hit by a car or truck. These accidents can occur when pedestrians attempt to cross highways. In addition to pedestrian-vehicle incidents, 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.
Whether injured by a vehicle or property defect, a pedestrian may recover damages 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, 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 as a result
When a pedestrian is injured, there may be more than one party with legal responsibility for the accident. Depending on the circumstances, potential 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 himself or herself
Usually, pedestrian-vehicle accident cases hinge on the duty of care owed by those involved. Both drivers and pedestrians must follow the rules of the road and exercise reasonable care. In many cases, it may seem obvious who was negligent, but the 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 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 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 of danger 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
A pedestrian must exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety. The care required must be proportionate to the danger to be avoided and reasonably anticipated consequences. Contributory negligence may be assessed against a pedestrian if they failed to exercise such care and contributed to the cause of their own injuries.
A few of the most common factors contributing to pedestrian negligence are:
- Ignoring the "walk" signal at an intersection
- Entering traffic and disrupt the flow
- Failing to use marked crosswalks
- Darting in front of a vehicle
Other Pedestrian Accidents
The legal area of premises liability controls claims for losses based on the actions of property owners or possessors, including most non-vehicular related pedestrian accidents. In most states, those in control of land have a duty to maintain their property and a duty to warn people of hazards on it.
To recover damages in a premises liability case, the injured party must prove a dangerous condition exists; that is something on the property that presents an unreasonable risk to people on it, and the risk isn’t obvious. Knowledge of the dangerous condition is established by showing that:
- The owner created the condition; or
- The owner knew the condition existed and negligently failed to correct it; or
- 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 will be responsible when a dangerous condition exists on his or her private walkways, such an owner isn’t usually responsible for injuries resulting from a fall on a public sidewalk located outside his or her property, especially when this property is 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 names and phone numbers of any witnesses
- Don’t make any statements to anyone, including drivers and insurers
After the Accident
If you or someone you love has been in a pedestrian accident and was hurt, you may be wondering what to do next. Because of laws called statutes of limitations, you only have a set amount of time to bring a claim for your injuries. Therefore, it is best to have an attorney look at your claim right away and help you asses your case. Then, you can leave the legal worries in their hands, and focus on getting your health back on track.