At crosswalks and intersections, the interplay between drivers and pedestrians can seem pretty fragile and fraught with risk, especially in densely populated environments and on bustling downtown streets. Pedestrians have the "right of way" in many situations, but they also need to obey a number of key traffic-related laws that have been put in place for their protection. This article discusses liability and other common issues in traffic accidents between vehicles and pedestrians.
Car-Pedestrian Accident Statistics
Accidents between cars and pedestrians aren’t as uncommon as you might think, and they often have dire consequences. A look at these numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells the story:
- Each year, 4,378 pedestrians are killed after being struck by vehicles on U.S. roads and highways.
- 69,000 pedestrians were injured after being struck by a vehicle in 2008.
- Those numbers add up to one pedestrian death every two hours, and one pedestrian injury every eight minutes.
- Alcohol impairment (on the part of the driver or the pedestrian) played a part in 48% of traffic accidents that resulted in the death of a pedestrian.
Fault Will Hinge on Negligence
A pedestrian-car accident is almost always governed by a legal concept called “negligence,” which is basically a fancy term for carelessness. A driver (or a pedestrian) is deemed negligent when his or her failure to act with reasonable care causes (or plays a role in) an accident, and someone suffers injuries or other damages as a result.
So, after a car-pedestrian accident, how do you establish who was negligent? Typically, a police report will be filed by the law enforcement officers who respond to the accident. After a traffic accident involving a pedestrian, this report might include the officer’s conclusions and/or witness statements about the accident and how it occurred. Was the pedestrian in a crosswalk? Did the driver run a stop sign or otherwise disobey traffic signage? Did the pedestrian dart out from between parked cars instead of crossing at an intersection?
While it’s true that in most traffic situations, vehicle drivers must yield to a pedestrian’s right of way, that’s not always the hard and fast rule. Learn more about when a pedestrian may be at fault for an accident.
Car-Pedestrian Accidents and Insurance Coverage
After a car-pedestrian accident, health insurance or car insurance coverage usually kicks in to cover medical expenses and other damages. Here are a few options for injured pedestrians:
The pedestrian’s own insurance coverage. A pedestrian who is injured after being struck by a car may need to turn to his or her own health insurance (or disability coverage) to pay for medical treatment, especially after a hit-and-run accident, or in rare cases where the pedestrian is clearly at fault for the incident.
The driver’s car insurance coverage. If the driver is at fault for the accident, a pedestrian who has been injured will probably be able to file a third-party claim with the driver’s insurance carrier, to cover costs of all relevant medical care, lost income, and other damages caused by the accident. The case may reach a relatively quick settlement or, if the parties can't find common ground, the injured pedestrian may need to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. In that case, the driver's insurance carrier would likely step in to defend the lawsuit.
If you're seriously injured in a pedestrian-car accident, give serious consideration to discussing your case with an attorney, to make sure that your legal rights are protected.
Criminal Liability and Car-Pedestrian Accidents
After an accident between a car and a pedestrian, an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit may not be the only consequence. In some rare cases, a driver may face criminal charges as well.
If alcohol plays a role in any car crash, a DUI/DWI charge will likely result. And if a pedestrian dies after being struck by a drunk driver, a homicide charge like involuntary manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter could be a possibility.
In some states, reckless driving is classified as a misdemeanor crime, and a driver who hits a pedestrian while operating a vehicle in a particularly dangerous way could face a reckless driving charge.
Learn more about Civil vs. Criminal Consequences After a Car-Pedestrian Accident.