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.

Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

In 2020, over 6,516 pedestrians were killed in crashes, the highest number since 1988. An estimated 54,769 pedestrians were injured nationwide. Accidents involving pedestrians and cars often happen in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, but they can happen on any street in any town in America.

If you're an injured pedestrian, you're probably wondering what you can do to get compensation for your accident-related losses. Here's what you need to know:

  • What you do in the hours and days after a pedestrian-car accident can be crucial to protecting your legal rights.
  • The driver of the car that hit you is probably legally responsible (liable) for at least some of your injuries, but other people and entities could be on the legal and financial hook too.
  • Pedestrians can share some of the blame for an accident, which typically reduces the amount of compensation a pedestrian receives.

What to Do Immediately After a Pedestrian-Car Accident

The first steps you'll want to take after a car-pedestrian accident are the same steps you would take after any car accident. If you or anyone involved in the accident is injured, call 911. If you don't require immediate medical attention, call the police. An officer will come to the scene, talk to the people involved in the accident and write a police report. Police reports can be a crucial piece of evidence for your car accident case.

Once you're safe and help is on the way, you should:

  • exchange insurance and contact information with all drivers and anyone else involved in the accident
  • get insurance information for the owners of all cars involved in the accident if the owners are different from the drivers
  • get the names and phone numbers of witnesses, and
  • take pictures of the accident scene and your injuries.

In the days following the accident, if you haven't already, it's important to get medical attention as soon as possible even if you think your injuries aren't a big deal. (Car accident injuries can be late-appearing.) If you wait to get treatment, your injuries might get worse and you will have a harder time convincing an insurance adjuster (or judge or jury if you file a lawsuit) that your injuries are serious.

Next, you'll want to contact your insurance company after the accident and get a copy of the police report as soon as it's available.

What Are My Legal Options After a Pedestrian Accident?

If you're an injured pedestrian, your goal is full recovery of all accident-related losses (called "damages"). The quickest way to get compensation is often through an insurance claim. If settlement negotiations fail, you can file a car accident lawsuit in civil court.

Filing a Pedestrian Injury Insurance Claim

If you're an injured pedestrian, you need to figure out who might be responsible (liable) for your losses. Options typically include:

  • the drivers involved in the accident (or their employers if the driver was on company business at the time of the accident)
  • the owners of all cars involved in the accident if the owners are different from the drivers
  • anyone who contributed to the accident (see below), and
  • your own auto and health insurers.

Most injured pedestrians file claims against the driver's liability insurance policy (or the car owner's if the owner is different from the driver). Almost all states require vehicle owners and drivers to carry liability insurance to cover the costs of property damage and personal injuries they cause when they are at fault for an accident. (A dozen or so "no-fault" insurance states have a different system for covering pedestrian injuries.)

Pedestrians might also use their own health insurance to pay medical bills after an accident or even their own car insurance. Many car insurance policies cover you when you're driving and when you're walking. Your insurer may then seek reimbursement from an-fault driver's insurer.

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If insurance negotiations break down or a driver's coverage isn't enough to fully compensate you after a pedestrian-car accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. Learn more about steps in a personal injury lawsuit.

How to Win a Pedestrian Accident Claim

Whether you are filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit, you'll have to show:

  • the person or entity who hurt you (the "defendant") owed you a duty
  • the defendant violated this duty, and
  • the defendant's violation caused you (the "plaintiff") harm.

If you're a pedestrian who was hit by a driver, you'll easily be able to show that the driver owed you duty. All drivers have a duty to follow traffic laws and watch out for hazards. When a driver hits a person, chances are the driver was violating one or more traffic laws. If that's the case, the driver is liable for the accident. (But pedestrians and others may share blame for the accident, see below.)

Let's look at an example of how a pedestrian injury claim might play out. Say you're walking in a clearly marked cross-walk when a car barrels through the intersection and hits you. The driver is clearly at fault for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a cross-walk and potentially for other violations as well, like speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign. You'll submit a claim to the driver's insurance. You might receive a settlement offer pretty quickly, or you might need to negotiate for a better offer. If the insurance adjuster makes a low-ball settlement offer, you can file a lawsuit.

Can the Pedestrian Be at Fault in a Car-Pedestrian Accident?

Pedestrians, like drivers, owe a duty to others on the road to obey traffic laws. If a pedestrian fails to follow the rules, and that failure plays a part in the accident, the pedestrian can be liable (entirely or partially) for the accident.

For example, let's say you're jaywalking when you're hit by a car. You walked into the street from between two parked cars and the driver had no chance to stop or swerve before the crash. You'll likely be at fault for the accident and you'll have to turn to your own insurers to pay for your medical bills and other losses. You might even have to pay for the driver's accident-related car repairs or medical bills.

But, as is more often the case, drivers and pedestrians share fault for an accident. For example, say you're jaywalking at the time of the accident, but the driver didn't see you because he was distracted by his phone. This scenario is treated differently in different states.

A handful of states follow what's called a "pure contributory negligence" rule. This means if you contributed even the slightest bit to the accident, you can't get compensation.

Most states follow a "comparative fault" rule. This means that you can recover some damages even if you are partly at fault for an accident. But your recovery is reduced in line with your degree of fault.

Returning to our example of the jaywalker who was hit by a distracted driver. Let's say the case goes all the way to trial, and the jury finds that the jaywalker's accident-related losses total $100,000. The jury also finds that the jaywalker was 30% responsible for the accident, and the driver was 70% liable. Under comparative negligence rules, the driver must pay the jaywalker $70,000 ($100,000 reduced by 30%, the degree of fault assigned to the jaywalker).

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

Third-Party Liability for Pedestrian Accidents

In some cases, pedestrians can file claims against a person or entity other than the driver who hit them. Possibilities include:

The government agency responsible for maintaining or designing a road. For example, if a pedestrian crosswalk signal was malfunctioning at the time of the accident you might be able to prove that the government agency responsible for maintaining the signal is at least partially liable for your losses.

The manufacturer of a car involved in the accident if the car was defective. For example, if a car's brakes failed because of a design defect and the car hit you as a result, you might be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the car manufacturer.

A bar owner who overserved alcohol to the driver who hit you. Bars and restaurants can be sued if an intoxicated patron causes an accident (called a "dram shop law").

The employer of the driver who hit you. If the driver was performing a job-related task at the time of the accident, the driver's employer might be liable under the legal theory of respondeat superior.

How Much Is My Pedestrian Accident Lawsuit Worth?

Each pedestrian-car accident is different and most car accident settlements are confidential, so it's hard to predict how much compensation you will get for your losses. The types of losses typically covered include:

  • your past and future medical bills
  • your prognosis (likelihood of fully recovering from your injuries)
  • lost income (past and future), and
  • pain and suffering (physical and mental).

The value of your claim and the likelihood that your case will settle often depends on how easy it will be for you to prove liability and the availability and amount of insurance coverage.

Getting Help After a Car-Pedestrian Accident

If you've been injured in a pedestrian-car accident, talk to a lawyer. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you understand your options and decide on the best path forward. Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with a lawyer for free.

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