Every state has traffic laws that control how a person drives their car and laws outlining the responsibilities of pedestrians while walking on public roadways. However, even with these laws in place, pedestrian accidents still occur. In the event of such an accident, it is important to seek the advice of a pedestrian accident lawyer as, in most cases, the driver of the motor vehicle is held liable. Here is a look at the reasons why.
Pedestrians are At a Disadvantage When It Comes to Protecting Their Safety
According to J.D. Power, the average car in the U.S. weighs slightly over 4,000 pounds, though the vehicle’s weight can vary dramatically depending on the type and size of the car. These cars can travel up to 120 miles per hour or more while offering the occupants an array of safety features, including seat belts, airbags, and a protective steel frame.
Pedestrians, on the other hand, typically weigh less than 300 pounds. According to Nike, the average person can walk a mile in 15 to 22 minutes. They are less visible on the roadway than motor vehicles with headlights and taillights, and helmets are not usually part of the discussions about pedestrian safety.
As explained by Smart Growth America, however, the disparities in the size and speed of a vehicle vs. a pedestrian is not even the biggest disadvantage facing pedestrians. Those who travel by foot usually travel on roads designed to move motor vehicles through an area as quickly as possible. This issue is particularly impactful for individuals in lower-income neighborhoods who have fewer transportation options, fewer area parks to exercise, and who are often surrounded by heavily traveled arterial roads.
Because of these issues, pedestrians are referred to as vulnerable roadway users, and the duty of care that drivers of bigger and faster motor vehicles owe to pedestrians on the roadway almost always means that the motorist is at least partially at-fault for causing an accident resulting in an injury as they are required to look for and stop for pedestrians, even when they are crossing a roadway outside of a crosswalk or at an intersection where the driver has a green light.
Many Types of Negligent Driving Behavior Can Lead to an Accident
As noted, roadways were designed with fast-moving cars in mind. Many cities have failed to provide or maintain sidewalks, particularly in low-income areas, which forces pedestrians, in many cases, to walk on the roadway amid the traffic.
While on the roadway, they can quickly fall victim to common forms of driver negligence, such as:
- Distracted driving. A driver distraction involves anything that causes the driver to take their hands from the wheel, their eyes from the road, or their mind from the task of driving safely. One type of distraction that is of particular concern to traffic safety experts is texting while driving. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the time it takes a driver to read or reply to a text while traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, their vehicle will travel the length of a football field. This is plenty of time for a pedestrian to step into a crosswalk without the driver noticing and applying their brakes.
- Alcohol impairment. Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of fatal motor vehicle accidents involving any type of roadway user, including a pedestrian. Alcohol creates deficits in the brain functions needed for safe driving, including visual tracking to follow a pedestrian’s movements into and across a roadway. A drunk driver also has difficulty making good driving decisions and responding appropriately to emergency driving situations, such as slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian that unexpectedly entered the roadway. Drivers impaired by drugs can also experience deficits in operating a motor vehicle safely.
- Fatigued driving. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s trucking industry, 18 hours without sleep can cause similar effects on an individual’s driving ability as operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, which is the legal impairment limit for most adults over 21. While driver fatigue is most commonly associated with long-haul truck drivers and night shift workers, anyone without adequate or quality sleep can experience driver fatigue, as can those impaired by alcohol or drugs. Like alcohol impairment, driver fatigue creates deficits in the ability to see and respond to a pedestrian in the roadway, making a crash more likely to occur.
- Speeding. One of the most common causes of any motor vehicle accident is a driver operating their vehicle too fast for the traffic conditions of the roadway. Speeding drivers not only deprive themselves of the time needed to see a pedestrian on the road and respond by braking, but they also increase the distance that the vehicle will travel after the brakes have been applied, as the brakes work to pull the weight of the vehicle to a complete stop to avoid hitting the pedestrian.
- Failure to yield the right-of-way. At intersections with traffic lights, drivers must stop and allow another roadway user to travel the right-of-way through the intersection in a different direction. At intersections marked with a stop sign, the driver must stop and allow other vehicles to pass through the intersection before resuming their journey. Failure to yield is one of the leading causes of accidents in intersections.
Negligent Drivers Cause Most Accidents Involving Two Motor Vehicles
Occasionally, an accident occurs involving two motor vehicles, and the drivers attempt to say that the accident was the fault of a pedestrian. An example of how this scenario might occur would be if a driver swerves to avoid a pedestrian in the roadway and winds up having an accident with another vehicle.
While pedestrians are required to yield the right-of-way as other roadway users are, the drivers of motor vehicles are expected to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. Unless the pedestrian ran the roadway directly into the motorist’s path, other reasonable actions could have been taken, such as braking. If a driver swerves into an adjacent travel lane without ensuring that the lane is clear, they are liable for the expenses and impacts of the occupants in that vehicle.
Another example would be when a driver stops for a pedestrian in the crosswalk, and the vehicle behind them fails to realize that the lead vehicle has stopped and rear-ends it. Again, the pedestrian is not liable for this accident as they had the right-of-way to proceed through the intersection. Instead, liability for the accident likely falls with the driver of the following vehicle for following too closely or failing to notice that the vehicle in front of them had stopped.
Even Though Pedestrians Rarely Cause Accidents, They Still Need Attorneys
Why does fault matter when it comes to a pedestrian accident? Because even in no-fault states, the at-fault party is responsible for compensating the injured party for the expenses and psychological impacts of their injury if the injury costs exceed the limits of the pedestrian’s personal injury protection policy or the severity satisfies their state’s serious injury threshold.
Compensation for injuries incurred in a pedestrian accident can be sought by filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party’s auto liability insurance policy. While this seems like a simple, straightforward process that one could handle without the assistance of an attorney, it isn’t.
Instead, it’s a process that involves understanding the legal obligations of insurance carriers, the tactics that insurance companies use to devalue liability claims that are filed against policies they service, and how to file a lawsuit if the insurance company fails to compensate the claim fairly. It’s an overwhelming process for one person to attempt to handle it independently.
A personal injury lawyer has education and experience navigating the personal injury claims process. They have a team of legal professionals to help gather the documentation and evidence needed to prove the claim and justify its value. They are aware of the insurance company’s tactics and immune to those tactics because they understand the law.
A pedestrian accident injury claim is rarely an open-and-shut case. However, the services a personal injury lawyer can provide can help injured pedestrians to obtain the compensation they need for the expenses and impacts of their injury.
How Long Do You Have to File a Pedestrian Accident Claim?
You cannot file a claim anytime if you’ve been injured in a pedestrian accident. All states have what is known as a statute of limitations, which is the maximum amount of time two parties in a dispute have to begin legal proceedings. This time begins when the injury occurs and varies by state, with most states permitting claims to be filed within one to five years of the accident.
The statute of limitations is an extremely important deadline for your claim. Failing to file a lawsuit within this period will usually result in losing the claimant’s right to seek compensation through the civil court system. Further, allowing the statute of limitations to expire will almost always result in the at-fault party’s insurer refusing to settle the claim, as they are no longer legally required to do so once this deadline has passed.
An experienced pedestrian accident lawyer will manage the timeline of your claim to ensure that your right to use the court system is protected and your ability to engage in the settlement process with the at-fault party’s insurer.
How to Afford the Services of a Pedestrian Accident Attorney?
As noted, having an attorney is crucial to the success of your pedestrian accident claim. However, many injured pedestrians refuse to hire an attorney because they don’t think they can afford one.
Understand this: Because most pedestrian accident lawyers use a contingent fee billing method, anyone who needs the services of an attorney can afford to hire one. The contingent fee means the attorney only gets paid if you receive compensation for your claim. If you lost your case, you do not owe your legal team for the work they put into your case.
The contingent fee agreement is a legally binding agreement that you and your Finkelstein & Partners, LLP’s personal injury lawyer in New York will sign when you agree to begin working together on your claim. The agreement outlines the services your attorney will provide and designates a percentage of the compensation you receive as your attorney’s payment. Once you sign this agreement, they and their legal team can begin working on obtaining the compensation you need.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.