Choosing to walk instead of driving comes with many benefits, including the fact that it is good for both your health and the environment. Unfortunately, pedestrians are also at risk of suffering injuries, or even death, if they encounter a negligent driver. Pedestrians are particularly susceptible to severe injuries and death in an accident given their lack of protection against the size, weight, and speed of a vehicle. “The pedestrian always has the right of way” is a common mantra, but it is important to understand the actual laws governing the rights of pedestrians in California. Both drivers and pedestrians have obligations to protect others on roadways. Read on to learn about the pedestrian right of way laws in California and what to do if you are an innocent pedestrian whom another party’s negligence left injured.
Pedestrian Accident Statistics
Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise. During the last decade, pedestrian fatalities in the United States increased by 53 percent while all other traffic deaths only increased by 2 percent. More than 6,000 pedestrians died due to traffic accidents in the United States in 2018, the most deaths since 1990.On average, a pedestrian was killed every 88 minutes because of a traffic accident. More than 7,500 pedestrian deaths took place when including non-traffic accidents in the total. In addition to these fatalities, approximately 137,000 pedestrians are treated in an emergency department each year. Pedestrian accidents and fatalities are a problem in California. California is one of the five states that saw 47 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2019, even though these states only represent 33 percent of the U.S. population. In just one year alone, 892 pedestrians died in California, up 18 percent four years earlier. More than 14,000 pedestrians were injured in California in one recent year. The pedestrian fatality rate in California is 25 percent higher than the national average, and no state has more pedestrian deaths on its roadways than California.
Causes of Pedestrian Accidents
One of the most common causes of pedestrian fatalities and injuries is motor vehicle accidents. These factors increase the risk that a vehicle will injure or kill a pedestrian:
- Darkness: Darkness increases the risk of pedestrian accidents. In one recent year, 76 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred after dark. The risk is even higher if the pedestrian is wearing dark clothing.
- Intersections: Most pedestrian fatalities in 2018 occurred at non-intersection locations.
- Alcohol: Approximately 50 percent of traffic crashes resulting in a pedestrian fatality in 2018 involved alcohol impairment.
- Electronic devices: The use of electronics by walkers and drivers increases the risk of an accident.
- Urban areas: The majority of pedestrian accidents occur in more dense and crowded urban areas.
California is spearheading several efforts to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries. These strategies include classroom education, community events, presentations, and workshops. Several California cities have set goals through the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic-related fatalities. Caltrans has also developed pedestrian safety measures at high-risk locations using a pedestrian safety toolbox with 47 countermeasures to enhance pedestrian safety, including signal timing enhancement, intersection and roadway design changes, and new pedestrian signs and markings. The focus on pedestrian safety is not surprising given the continuous increase in pedestrian injuries and fatalities in California. Pedestrians are at high risk of suffering a serious injury in an accident because they lack protection and safety gear, resulting in injuries like:
- Head injuries: Without head protection, pedestrians may suffer a blow to the head in an accident. Such a blow can result in a head injury such as a contusion, laceration, concussion, or more serious brain damage.
- Brain damage: Pedestrian accidents are a common cause of traumatic brain injury. The severity of the brain damage associated with a brain injury depends on the affected area of the brain and the force of the blow or depth of penetration. Brain damage can result in a spectrum of symptoms, including comas, vegetative states, or brain death.
- Spinal injuries: The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the body, and any damage to the spinal cord affects the brain’s ability to send signals to different parts of the body. Victims of spinal injuries often suffer from permanent changes in their strength, sensation, and other bodily functions. Severe spinal injuries can cause paralysis.
- Neck and back injuries: The neck and back may take the brunt of any pedestrian accident. Neck and back injuries often require time-consuming rehabilitation and physical therapy.
- Internal damage: If a pedestrian suffers a blow to the body, internal damage can occur, including to organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Internal bleeding and damage to organs can be hard to diagnose, with symptoms often developing days or weeks after the accident.
- Broken bones and fractures: Whether or not a vehicle comes into contact with a pedestrian, they are at risk of suffering broken bones. Pedestrians may throw out their arms to brace for a fall after vehicles strike them. The impact their arms absorb often results in broken bones or fractures. Serious breaks can require surgery and/or physical therapy.
- Cuts, bruises, strains, and sprains: While often less serious than the above injuries, cuts, bruises and other more superficial injuries can still limit the victim’s range of motion or ability to participate in daily tasks.
Be sure to seek immediate medical attention after an accident. In addition to the importance of attending to your health and wellbeing, any delay can provide the defendant with an argument that your delay made your injuries more severe.
What Laws Govern Pedestrians?
While pedestrians often have the right of way, this is not a universal truth. California Vehicle Code 21950 requires a driver to:
- Yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection; and
- Exercise all due care when approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk and to reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.
The pedestrian is still required to exercise due care for their own safety. A pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Pedestrians must also avoid unnecessarily stopping or delaying traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.At first glance, the law’s language may seem straightforward, but there are a few important points to keep in mind:
- The law states that a pedestrian cannot enter the path of a vehicle so close that it creates an “immediate hazard,” but does not define the distance that would create an immediate hazard. This leaves significant room for the driver or their insurance company to argue that the pedestrian did not exercise due care.
- The law only covers pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks. Pedestrians do not retain the right-of-way outside of crosswalks. Drivers are, however, required to exercise due care for pedestrian safety on any roadway.
The law is an important tool in determining who is at fault for your injuries. While not detailed in this particular part of the law, a driver is also required to take a common sense and cautious approach to driving and engage in safe driving practices such as:
- Stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks and always stopping at least five feet from crosswalks;
- Stopping for pedestrians crossing at corners;
- Avoiding passing other vehicles at or near a crosswalk;
- Yielding to pedestrians crossing roads, especially when they have made eye contact; and
- Allowing sufficient time and space for elderly, young, or disabled pedestrians to cross.
Whether the pedestrian and driver complied with the law establishes fault for the accident and any resulting injuries.
Establishing Fault for a Pedestrian Accident
To recover compensation for your injuries, you must establish that another party acted intentionally or negligently in a way that caused the accident and your injuries. An experienced attorney can assist you in assessing which party may be at fault for your injuries and gathering evidence to support your case. Parties who might be at fault include:
- A negligent driver. If you were in a marked or unmarked crosswalk and a driver violated the California Code requiring them to yield the right-of-way to you, they have acted negligently—as long as the car wasn’t so close as to create an immediate hazard. Additionally, if a driver failed to exercise due care on any other roadway, they are also at fault. Violations of other traffic laws are also evidence of negligence, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, or failing to follow traffic signs or signals.
- The driver’s employer: If the negligent driver acted in the scope of their employment at the time of the accident, such as a delivery driver on the job, their employer is responsible for their actions. You may prefer to seek recovery from the employer who is more likely to have a large insurance policy.
- Other pedestrians: While less common, another pedestrian’s negligence can cause an accident. For example, another pedestrian might knock you to the ground or into traffic. These scenarios are complicated when it comes to establishing fault and a lawyer can help you sort through the facts.
- The local government: Local infrastructure makes a big difference in pedestrian safety, including sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic signals. If traffic signals are missing or broken, the local government may have failed to live up to its duty of care to pedestrians. Recovering compensation from the government is difficult because the law protects it from many claims. An attorney will work with you to determine whether recovery from the appropriate governmental entity is possible.
- The vehicle manufacturer: A manufacturer has an obligation to test a vehicle before putting it on the market and to only sell products that are safe for the public. If a vehicle malfunction, such as a brake failure, caused or contributed to an accident, the manufacturer is responsible for the resulting injuries.
Identifying the party responsible for your injuries is critical to securing compensation for your injuries. If your injuries were someone else’s fault, that person (or entity) may need to pay for your damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, damaged or destroyed property, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. In addition to helping you build a case against the negligent party, a lawyer can work with you to prepare a comprehensive damage demand that will be an important tool as you consider any settlement offers and if your case goes to trial. Many pedestrian accident cases also involve the driver’s insurance company. You should expect the driver or their insurance company to make one or more settlement offers. A settlement provides a faster result and often gets money to the victim more quickly than a trial, but settlement offers often fall far short of the recovery the victim deserves. Be sure to consult with your attorney before accepting any settlement offer.
Contact an Experienced California Pedestrian Attorney Today
A lawyer will be an important partner in each step of your pedestrian accident case. The May Firm has a history of securing results for our injured clients. Our award-winning lawyers focus on getting the best outcomes for our clients and we approach each case with compassion and experience. While we cannot guarantee results in any specific case, the May Firm works with each client to understand their unique goals and to create a strategy that is aimed at achieving those goals. The May Firm has more than 22 years of experience, a 99% recovery rate, and collects zero fees unless we recover money on our clients’ behalf. If a pedestrian accident injured you or a loved one, contact The May Firm today at (844) 629-3476 or through our website for a free consultation.