Are Pedestrians Ever at Fault in an Accident?

By  //  October 4, 2020

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Most people believe that a motorist will always be at fault in an accident involving a pedestrian.

One reason for this position is the oft-repeated phrase “the pedestrian always has the right of way.” However, this phrase is incorrect. The truth is, there are plenty of situations in which a pedestrian might be the at-fault party in a collision.

One example would be a pedestrian who steps from between two cars and proceeds to jaywalk in the path of oncoming traffic.

Other situations that can result in assigning fault to a pedestrian in an accident include:

• Crossing streets and roadways against traffic signals

• Walking into a street or roadway while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

• Walking along roads, highways, or streets that are not meant for pedestrian traffic

• Darting out into the street

If the actions of the pedestrian place the motorists in a position in which they were unable to avoid the accident, the pedestrian becomes responsible for the accident.

Fault Determination

U.S. pedestrian deaths are the highest they’ve been in three decades. There are times when a driver is clearly at fault when an accident with a pedestrian takes place. Examples of these times are when a driver runs a stoplight, does not stop at a designated crosswalk, or turns right at a red light where a pedestrian is attempting to cross the street.

When the parties in an accident dispute who is at fault, a judge or jury will decide the matter. To make their decision, the court will hear explanations from the parties involved. The court will also evaluate the police report, apply the applicable laws to the situation, and sometimes hear testimony from expert witnesses.

Pedestrians possess the right to compensation if the court decides the driver is clearly at fault in the accident. However, things can happen much differently when the evidence shows the pedestrian played a role in creating the accident. In some cases, the motorist may be able to sue for compensation.

All people possess a responsibility to obey traffic laws when using streets and roadways. When one person fails to exercise “reasonable care” and causes harm to another individual, they are the at-fault participant in an accident. This standard of reasonable care also applies to pedestrians.

Shared Fault

There are situations when both the pedestrian and motorist are at-fault for an accident. If the facts in the example above show the driver was traveling at 45 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, both the driver and pedestrian possess fault.

Once a finding happens that both the motorist and pedestrian is at-fault in an accident, the process will differ in various jurisdictions. However, most jurisdictions use either contributory negligence or comparative negligence systems.

Contributory Negligence

This system is a little older, but it is still used in a handful of states. Contributory negligence guidelines make it impossible for a plaintiff to receive any compensation if the defendant can show that there is any measurable degree of fault with the actions of the plaintiff.

Comparative Negligence

The comparative negligence system allows for the allocation of fault between the parties to an accident. This allocation allows for a reduction in defendant liability without requiring a total elimination of responsibility.

There are two comparative negligence system types.

• Pure comparative negligence – The percentage of fault for accident participants is calculated to determine liability. For example, when a determination that a pedestrian is 20 percent responsible for an accident takes place, the driver is 80 percent liable for damages.

• Modified comparative negligence – The division of fault causes a shared liability up to a certain point. A plaintiff that exceeds a certain level of the fault will not receive compensation. The threshold is often 50 percent, but it can vary among jurisdictions.

The Bottom Line

If you are a pedestrian and you’ve been accused of being at fault in an accident, you may need to contact a pedestrian accident lawyer. Determining the fault in an accident that involves a pedestrian is sometimes not the cut and dry process that many people imagine.

The circumstances of the accident and applicable laws may cause the pedestrian to either share responsibility for the accident or become identified as the sole culprit.

An attorney may be able to prove partial or complete fault on the part of the driver. One reason this is important is drivers carry automobile insurance, while pedestrians may not be insured. That means if you’re found at fault, the driver’s damages will come directly out of your pocket.