Pedestrian Car Accidents: Could the Pedestrian Be at Fault?

In some situations, a pedestrian may be partially or wholly to blame for causing an accident.

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For some pretty obvious reasons, car accidents involving pedestrians tend to end with a disparity of damage -- significant injuries to the pedestrian coupled with little or no damage to the vehicle and no injuries to its occupants. Without the safety features that are available to those inside an automobile, pedestrians are in a vulnerable position on the road.

Maybe for that reason, and perhaps also owing to the popular (but not universally true) adage “Pedestrians always have the right of way,” it's sometimes assumed that a pedestrian cannot be at fault for a car accident. That's not always the case. In this article, we'll discuss when a pedestrian might be wholly or partially at fault for causing an accident.

How to Determine Fault in a Pedestrian Accident Case

Certainly, there are accident scenarios in which a vehicle driver is clearly at fault for hitting a pedestrian. Running a stoplight, failing to stop at a designated crosswalk, and making a right turn on a red light in front of a crossing pedestrian are just a few common examples.

But in general, pedestrians are deemed to have a better chance of avoiding car accidents, compared with vehicle drivers. It's not hard to see why. Car accidents involving pedestrians do not often occur outside the roadway; and pedestrians are the ones who typically determine when, and whether, they leave a sidewalk or shoulder to enter a roadway.

So, how to sort it all out from a legal standpoint? As with most other personal injury claims, the law of negligence determines fault in accidents between vehicles and pedestrians.

Basically, every person is expected to exercise a reasonable level of care under a given set of circumstances. For example, drivers and pedestrians are expected to obey traffic laws and the "rules of the road" when using the streets, highways, crosswalks. If Person A fails to act with reasonable care and ends up causing harm to Person B, the law considers Person A negligent, regardless of who was driving and who was walking.

So, if a pedestrian fails to exercise reasonable care in some way, and that failure causes a car accident, the pedestrian will be considered at fault. For example, if a pedestrian runs out from between parked cars and into the path of an oncoming vehicle, and the driver of the vehicle cannot avoid hitting the pedestrian, the pedestrian will probably be considered at fault for the accident. Likewise, if the driver of the vehicle had sufficient time to take evasive measures, but those measures resulted in the driver crashing into the parked cars instead of hitting the pedestrian, the pedestrian will be liable for any damage to the vehicles and for any injuries to the driver.

Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.

Shared Fault in Car-Pedestrian Accident Cases

Sometimes both a driver and pedestrian are at fault for a car accident. Recall the example above, where the pedestrian was jaywalking. If the driver was also speeding (going 45 in a 25 mph zone, let's say), both the pedestrian and the driver would probably be at fault for the accident.

The outcome of a personal injury lawsuit where both the driver and a pedestrian are at fault varies from state to state. Some states have adopted a contributory negligence system. Most have adopted a comparative negligence system. Let's take a look at how these rules work.

Contributory Negligence. Only a handful of states subscribe to this system. Essentially, under contributory negligence, if the defendant can show that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident to any extent (even one percent), the plaintiff is barred from recovering anything at all from the defendant. This system can cause some pretty harsh results for plaintiffs, but the good news is that the contributory negligence rule is only followed inAlabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Comparative Negligence. Comparative negligence allocates fault between parties. A defendant’s liability may be reduced, but not necessarily eliminated, if the plaintiff is partly at fault for the accident. There are two variations of the comparative negligence system:

  • Pure comparative negligence: Liability is split according to the percentage of fault. So, if the pedestrian is deemed 30 percent responsible, the driver is said to be 70 percent responsible, and the pedestrian's damages total $10,000, the pedestrian will be able to collect from $7,000 from the driver.
  • Modified comparative negligence: Liability is split according to the percentage of fault -- to a certain level. Once a plaintiff meets, or exceeds that level, the plaintiff is barred from recovery. That limit is typically 50%. In other words, if a plaintiff is more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering anything at all from the defendant.

Learn more about Contributory and Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Cases.

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