In legal terms, a pedestrian is any party that is on foot. Importantly, it does not make a difference whether the person is standing, walking, or running. As long as the individual is on foot, they are considered a pedestrian. Additionally, some states even extend the definition of pedestrians to include individuals on skateboards, scooters, or skates. For example, the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ definition of pedestrian also includes people using a skateboard, roller skates, or a scooter.
Although it may seem obvious, a pedestrian accident is an accident that involves one or more pedestrians being struck by a motor vehicle. Pedestrian accidents are fairly common in the United States. Further, it is not surprising that a high percentage of pedestrian accidents result in severe injuries to the pedestrian.
In fact, pedestrian fatalities in the United States have increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In 2019, pedestrian fatalities totalled 6,590, which was an increase of over 5% from the previous year. In a 2018 report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report that stated pedestrian accidents accounted for 17% of all road related deaths.
The same reports indicated that the highest amount of pedestrian accidents occur during night, when there is reduced visibility for the driver. Another significant factor involved in pedestrian accidents is distracted driving. Common causes for distracted driving include texting while driving, or other use of a cellular phone, changing the radio station, and eating. Another common pedestrian accident is when a pedestrian suddenly runs out in front of a motor vehicle.
For example, there are numerous pedestrian accidents that occur in neighborhoods when the driver either does not see or account for children running out of their driveway. A less common pedestrian accident now is children being hit exiting a school bus. Children being hit exiting a school bus used to be a much more prevalent pedestrian accident, but all states have passed a law that requires drivers to stop when children are exiting a bus. However, there are instances where the bus driver does not engage the signal to stop for drivers, and these pedestrian accidents still occur.
When it comes to the potential liability for hitting a pedestrian, there may be both civil and criminal penalties. For example, the penalty for hitting a pedestrian could include jail time for hitting a pedestrian, a ticket for hitting a pedestrian, or a combination of both imprisonment and a fine. Additionally, the pedestrian may hold the driver who struck them civilly liable for the damages they suffered, if the pedestrian is able to demonstrate that the driver was the negligent at-fault party.
Are There Consequences for Hitting a Pedestrian with No Injuries?
It is important to note that just because a pedestrian was struck by a car, does not mean that the driver of the motor vehicle is the party at fault. Thus, before any criminal or civil liability is assigned to the driver, the at-fault party will have to be determined. For example, if a driver is driving along a downtown street and has a green light, and a pedestrian runs out in front of their vehicle, and is subsequently struck by the vehicle, there will likely be no consequences for the driver for hitting that pedestrian.
However, if in the same case it is proven that the driver of the motor vehicle was speeding while driving downtown, and then struck the pedestrian who ran out in front of them, the driver may be held both civilly or criminally liable for hitting the pedestrian.
As noted above, more often than not a pedestrian accident results in serious injuries to the pedestrian. However, there are cases where a pedestrian is struck by a motor vehicle and the injuries are minor or non existent. In such cases, there may be no criminal or civil penalties for either party. It is important to note that some injuries may not be readily apparent in a pedestrian accident. Therefore, even if the pedestrian says that they are fine at the time, bruising, internal bleeding, soft tissue injuries, or broken bones still may have occurred.
Often, pedestrians may state that they are fine after an accident. This is likely due to the adrenaline rush that occurs following a collision, which in turn causes the individuals pain threshold to increase. This adrenaline rush can last for hours, or even days. However, that same pedestrian may experience significant pain days later. This is why police reports are often made at the scene of a pedestrian accident, to ensure that both parties have the other party’s information, should they wish to proceed with filing a claim against the other.
Sometimes, there actually were no damages to the pedestrian, but there was still damages to the driver’s motor vehicle. In such cases, a police report evidencing the pedestrian suddenly appearing in front of the driver may serve to help the driver file a claim with their insurance company. The police report may also help the driver of the motor vehicle combat any subsequent criminal or civil liability that they may face.
Further, it is important to note that even if there were no injuries to the pedestrian, a motor vehicle operator may still be held strictly liable in some cases. For example, if a driver is speeding in a school zone and strikes a child walking across a crosswalk, they will be strictly liable for that pedestrian accident, regardless of whether or not the child is injured.
Lastly, another common pedestrian accident is the “hit and run” pedestrian accident. In some cases, the operator of a motor vehicle may not stop to render aid or file a police report. In fact, the operator of the motor vehicle may just speed away from the scene of the accident in an attempt to avoid the legal repercussions of hitting a pedestrian. Criminal and civil penalties associated with hit and run accidents are severe for the operator of the motor vehicle.
Thus, regardless of whether or not you were the at-fault party in a pedestrian accident, it is always better to stay and render aid and contact the proper authorities, than to attempt to avoid the consequences.
What Should I Do If I Hit a Pedestrian? Do Pedestrians Have a Duty of Care?
As mentioned above, driving a motor vehicle does not automatically make you the at fault party when a pedestrian accident occurs. However, many people will likely believe you to be the at-fault party, as there is a duty to pay proper attention to your surroundings while operating a motor vehicle. Thus, if you are involved in a pedestrian accident, and the pedestrian was the at-fault party, it is important to document everything about the situation to avoid any future civil or criminal liability.
As mentioned above, the best method for documenting the accident is through a police report. A police report will contain the entire story of the accident, including eye witness statements of the accident. Therefore, if the driver of the motor vehicle was not negligent, a police report will be a powerful tool they can use to avoid civil or criminal liability.
Just as motor vehicle operators have a duty of care to keep a proper lookout when operating a motor vehicle, pedestrians also have a duty of care to not go jumping out in front of motor vehicles. When it comes to the civil penalties that a motor vehicle operator may face when striking a pedestrian, the lawsuit will be based on the theory of negligence.
In short, the pedestrian will argue that the motor vehicle operator owed them a duty to keep a proper lookout and obey all traffic laws. Next, the pedestrian will argue that the motor vehicle operator breached their duty of care by striking the pedestrian. Lastly, the pedestrian will argue that being struck by the motor vehicle resulted in them suffering various damages.
The following is a list of damages that a pedestrian may seek in a civil lawsuit against a motor vehicle operator:
- Medical Damages: The most common civil damage sought in a pedestrian accident is the recovery of medical expenses. This includes hospital bills immediately following the accident, any subsequent medical treatment, and prescription medication costs that resulted from the accident;
- Lost Wages or Loss of Earning Capacity: In more severe pedestrian accident cases, the pedestrian may claim lost wages for the time they missed from work as a result of the accident. Additionally, they may also claim a loss of earning capacity if the accident caused them to not be able to perform work, such as causing them to be unable to properly walk or move heavy objects;
- Pain and Suffering: Another common damages claim is pain and suffering. In this damages claim, the pedestrian will demonstrate that they suffered a great deal of trauma and pain as a result of the accident; and
- Emotional Distress: Another damages claim that may be included in a civil lawsuit is emotional distress. In order to prove emotional distress, the pedestrian will have to demonstrate they suffered a psychological injury as a result of the accident, evidenced by psychological treatment.
As noted above, operating a motor vehicle does not automatically make the motor vehicle operator the at-fault party in a pedestrian accident case. Therefore, all of the above damages may also be claimed by the motor vehicle operator in a civil suit against the pedestrian.
For example, the motor vehicle operator may have suffered whiplash while braking. The motor vehicle operator may have suffered severe injuries, as a result of trying to avoid the pedestrian. The motor vehicle operator may have also suffered property damages, as a result of the pedestrian suddenly jumping out in front of their vehicle. Once again, if civilly sued based on a theory of negligence, one party must demonstrate that the other party was at-fault.
Should I Hire an Attorney for a Pedestrian Accident?
As can be seen, hitting a pedestrian with your vehicle is a serious matter. As such, if you have struck a pedestrian with your motor vehicle, it is in your best interests to consult with a local and experienced traffic ticket attorney in your area. An experienced traffic ticket lawyer will be able to advise you of your legal rights, and, if possible, help you gather the necessary evidence to prove that you were not the at-fault party. Finally, an experienced traffic ticket attorney will also be able to represent you in a court of law, as needed.
If you have been civilly sued, you should turn in the claim to your car insurance provider. They will then often provide you with a defense counsel. If you do not have car insurance, you should immediately contact a local and experienced personal injury attorney to assist you in your defense.