Determining Liability in Pedestrian Accidents
Both pedestrians and vehicle operators have rights and responsibilities on our streets. The most pertinent laws regarding the obligations of each party include:
- Drivers and bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks.
- Pedestrians must use sidewalks where available. If there are no sidewalks, they must walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic.
- Pedestrians cannot suddenly leave the sidewalk and enter into traffic so that an oncoming vehicle cannot stop.
- Pedestrians, unless directed otherwise by a traffic or police officer, must obey all traffic signals and traffic control devices.
- A driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give a warning by sounding the horn when necessary.
- Drivers must exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway.
- Drivers must stop for pedestrians at intersections to allow pedestrians to cross the road, whether there is a marked or unmarked crosswalk.
- Pedestrians outside of crosswalks must yield to drivers.
If you have been injured while out as a pedestrian, you must show that the at-fault driver was negligent. If the driver broke the law or failed to obey the rules listed above, that can be a strong indication that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care and was negligent.
To prove negligence in Washington, you must establish three elements:
- The defendant (the at-fault driver) owed the pedestrian a duty of reasonable care;
- The defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care; and
- The defendant’s breach caused the pedestrian’s injury.
Comparative Fault in Washington
Washington recognizes a standard of “pure comparative fault.” This means that both the driver and the pedestrian can share in the fault of the accident.
For instance, if you’re a pedestrian who fails to exercise proper care, you could be judged partially (or wholly) at fault for the injuries you suffered. Say you’re walking next to the sidewalk rather than on it, and a driver who is texting while driving strikes you. In a court case, you might be found to be 20% at fault and the driver 80% for distracted driving.
If the total amount awarded is $100,000, the sum will be reduced by your percentage of fault. In other words, you would receive only $80,000.
Damages Available to the Pedestrian
If you prevail in court in a pedestrian injury case, you could be entitled to both economic and non-economic compensation. Economic damages include your medical expenses, lost wages, and any property damage. Non-economic damages include factors that are not as easily quantifiable, such as pain and suffering and loss of consortium (companionship).
Statute of Limitations
It is important to note that the statute of limitations in Washington for filing a personal injury lawsuit is three years.
Actions to Take After an Accident
If you’re struck by a vehicle, seek immediate medical attention even if you feel no pain or discomfort. Injuries have a way of surfacing hours, days, or sometimes even months later. Getting an immediate medical examination following an accident not only protects you and your well-being, but also your rights should you decide to seek a legal remedy.
At the scene, call the police to investigate. Talk to any witnesses and get their statements and contact information. Get the driver’s contact and insurance information.
Take pictures with your cell phone illustrating what happened. If there are traffic signs that the driver may have ignored, take pictures of those as well. As soon as you get home, write down or record on your phone everything that happened as you recall it.
Another important step is to involve an attorney. Take your gathered evidence to an experienced personal injury firm.
Trust an Experienced Law Firm
If you make an insurance claim against the negligent party, you will be assigned a claims adjuster, whose job is to get you to say or do something they can use to pin the fault on you. You have no legal obligation to talk to the negligent party's insurance company, and you should avoid doing so. It is their job to lowball or even deny your claim. However, you should report the incident to your own insurance company because you may have applicable coverage. It's complicated...so that's why you need to involve a knowledgeable attorney who can sort out and protect you from the claims adjuster’s tactics.
You also need an attorney to pursue your claim in court if the insurance company gives you the runaround with stalling tactics or lowball offers. If your injuries are serious enough, a personal injury lawsuit may be your best option.