Legal Options for Pedestrians Hit By a Car

An injured pedestrian's options often hinge on who else was involved in the accident and each party’s share of fault.

Unlike vehicle drivers, pedestrians are on the road with no physical protection, so when a car-versus-pedestrian accident happens, the pedestrian typically comes away in far worse shape.

Making things right after a vehicle-pedestrian crash often involves making sure the injured pedestrian gets fair compensation for their losses, but it's not always easy to understand how to get there. Here's what to know:

  • What you do in the hours and days after a car-versus-pedestrian accident can be crucial to protecting your legal rights.
  • The driver of the vehicle that hit you likely bears at least some legal and financial responsibility for any injuries you sustain, but other entities could also be on the legal hook.
  • Even if a pedestrian bears some level of blame for an accident, that's usually not enough to absolve other at-fault parties of financial liability.

What to Do After a Car-Versus-Pedestrian Accident

After any kind of vehicle accident, if you're hurt, get medical attention right away. If you're not sure whether you're hurt or you think your injuries aren't a big deal, you should still go see a doctor as soon as possible just to get fully evaluated.

Whatever you do, don't wait to get medical attention, as this could easily make any injuries worse. And the longer you wait to get treatment, the harder it may be to convince a judge, jury, or insurance company of the seriousness of your injuries.

Next, you want to confirm who hit you and get the driver's contact and insurance information. If you can't identify the driver because they fled the scene after hitting you:

  • make note of any identifying characteristics of the driver and the driver's vehicle
  • get the names and contact information of any witnesses who might have seen what happened, and
  • report the hit and run incident to the police so they can start an investigation and find the driver who hit you.

Filing a Claim Against the Driver Who Hit You

In the majority of car accidents involving pedestrians, the driver will bear some (if not most or all) of the fault for the accident. This is true even if the pedestrian gets hit outside of a crosswalk.

The reason is that drivers must follow all traffic laws and rules, including obeying the speed limit and traffic signs and signals, and also watching out for hazards in the road, such as people. When a drivers hits a person, the chances are pretty high that the driver was violating one or more traffic laws. If that's the case, then there's a good chance that much of the legal blame will fall on the driver. However, it's still possible for a pedestrian to be at fault for the accident.

For example, if the pedestrian was jaywalking and got hit while darting out between two parked cars, the driver of the vehicle who hit the pedestrian probably won't be liable. But if the driver was drunk, using a phone, or speeding at the time of the accident, then the driver will certainly bear some amount of blame for hitting the pedestrian. The only question is how much.

Every state has its own laws for apportioning liability when both the defendant and plaintiff contribute to the plaintiff's injury. In the handful of states that follow the "contributory negligence" rule, if the case goes all the way to trial and it's determined that the plaintiff bears any responsibility for getting injured, they can't recover anything from the defendant.

In other states, the plaintiff can only recover from the defendant if the plaintiff's responsibility for the accident is less than 50% or 51% (the exact percentage depends on the state). These states follow the theory of modified comparative negligence.

Then there are pure comparative negligence states where the plaintiff can almost always recover damages from the defendant. But any recovery gets reduced in line with the plaintiff's level of fault.

For instance, imagine a driver hits a pedestrian who's jaywalking at the time of the accident. The pedestrian sues the driver for $100,000 for injuries sustained in the collision. A jury decides that the driver is 5% at fault while the pedestrian is 95% at fault. The plaintiff can only recover at most, $5,000 from the driver.

Learn more about contributory and comparative negligence in car accident cases.

Suing Someone Other Than the Driver

In somewhat rare situations, a pedestrian might be able to sue parties other than the driver that hit them. This might occur if a business or other entity somehow contributed to the accident. Possibilities include:

  • A problem with the roads, signs, or traffic signals contributed to the accident. Maybe a pedestrian crosswalk signal was malfunctioning. Or perhaps a traffic light was out. If either of these are the result of negligence by a state or local government, then that government entity could find itself at least partially liable for the accident.
  • A malfunction in the vehicle contributed to the pedestrian accident. If the brakes malfunctioned due to a design defect in the car, it's easy to understand how the car manufacturer could find itself a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the pedestrian.
  • Prior to the accident, the driver became obviously intoxicated at a bar that failed to stop serving the driver. Here, the pedestrian could have a cause of action against the bar under a state dram shop law.
  • The driver hit the pedestrian while working. If at the time of the accident, the driver was performing a job-related task, the employer could be liable to the pedestrian under the legal theory of respondeat superior.

Getting Help After a Car-Pedestrian Accident

If you've been injured in a car-versus-pedestrian accident, the right legal professional can help you understand your legal options and decide on the best path forward. You can use the chat and questionnaire features right on this page to find a car accident lawyer in your area, and check out our guide to hiring and working with a car accident lawyer.

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