Pedestrian vs. Driver - who's at fault?

It’s unavoidable that motor vehicles and those on foot have to share the same roads sometimes. Almost every time that a collision occurs between them, the pedestrian receives far more damage – and sometimes dies – while the driver is unhurt. However, does this mean that it’s the driver who is also usually at fault?

Sometimes it’s very clear who is at fault, such as in this case of a distracted driver. Other times, it’s not so cut and dried. So how is fault determined? Several factors come into play.

Driver Negligence

Often when a car hits a pedestrian, it’s because the driver was not exercising reasonable care, or is simply negligent. Generally it’s the driver’s responsibility to exercise reasonable care towards pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists – this is the foundation of defensive driving. But this duty can be abandoned, such as in cases where the driver is:

  • Distracted or inattentive
  • Speeding or breaking traffic signals or laws
  • Failing to yield to pedestrians
  • Driving drunk or high

Drivers also have a legal duty to take greater care around children as they are often unpredictable around roadways, even if an adult is also present. A driver could be at fault for failing to take extra precautions to prevent an accident in areas where kids are active.

Pedestrian Negligence

Even though pedestrians do far less damage than the cars that hit them, they can at times be to blame for collisions that occur because of their negligence. The general expectation is that pedestrians must act reasonable and follow traffic rules in maintaining their own safety.

Common mistakes that contribute to negligence include:

  • Crossing the street on a “don’t walk” signal
  • Jaywalking (crossing the street without a crosswalk)
  • Walking or running in the flow of traffic
  • Dashing out in front of a car

Pedestrians are expected to stay alert and watch for conditions that could endanger them. Relying only on traffic signals is not always the safest thing to do. Common sense in the face of changing conditions is the better way to go.

Negligence of both Pedestrian and Driver

Many times there’s fault that can be assigned to both the pedestrian and driver. These are the more contentious accidents and have a high level of complexity. In these situations, different theories will come into effect that help the courts determine who should pay, depending on what level they were at fault.

These rules will vary state by state, but three main categories are:

  • Pure contributory negligence. If the person who was injured contributed in any way to the cause of the accident, the defendant does not have to pay at all.
  • Pure comparative negligence. If both the driver and pedestrian can be assigned fault for any injuries, the two parties will split the cost based on what percentage at fault they are. For example, a person who is 75% at fault pays for that same percentage of damages. This can get confusing, but there are metrics to define it.
  • Modified comparative negligence. Costs would be split between the driver and the pedestrian in cases where the plaintiff is exactly half or less at fault.

As you can see, determining fault is complex, and relies on an experienced attorney to make sense out of all of it. Also, it’s the key piece to being compensated for damages if you were hurt or experienced any losses. Contacting Bill Coats is the best thing to do to determine how to move forward with your case. Bill has decades of experience representing accident victims, and knows the logic and the law in getting fast, full, and fair settlements. Serving Whatcom and Skagit Counties, Bill Coats Law is conveniently located in downtown Bellingham, Washington. Begin the process of financial recovery by contacting him here

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