About twelve pedestrians are killed every day in traffic in the United States. Scores more are injured – about 70,000 pedestrians every year. Negligence – either a negligent driver or a careless pedestrian – is inevitably the cause of most pedestrian accidents, and most of these accidents are preventable. If you are injured by a negligent motorist, bus driver, truck driver, or motorcyclist while you are a pedestrian in Southern California – and everybody’s a pedestrian sometimes – discuss your rights, options, and legal recourse with an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney.

The state of California enforces a number of laws and regulations governing crosswalks and pedestrian traffic. While there is, of course, no way to control the behavior of others who are walking or driving, adherence to the rules regarding crosswalks and pedestrians – when combined with a large dose of caution – is the best way to stay safe as a pedestrian on Southern California’s streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.

California’s crosswalk laws require motorists to yield in marked crosswalks and intersections. Pedestrians, for their part, have a legal duty to be cautious and careful when crossing a street. When a negligent motorist collides with a pedestrian, in some cases, it is the pedestrian who was negligent. In Mendelson v. Peton (1955), the plaintiff, Morris Mendelson, sued for injuries suffered when he was struck by Marcelle Peton’s automobile on Sunset Boulevard. The plaintiff, according to the defendant, suddenly “loomed” in front of her, so a California jury found that Mr. Mendelson was negligent for failing to consider the hazard of walking into heavy traffic.

HOW IS LIABILITY DETERMINED IN A PEDESTRIAN ACCIDENT?

As a “pure comparative negligence” state, California allows the injured victims of negligence to recover compensation for injuries even when they are partly at fault for a traffic collision. If an injury case generated by a pedestrian accident goes to a trial, jurors determine the percentage of fault to be assigned to each party. The determination of liability, of course, is central in a personal injury case.

For a personal injury claim to prevail, the injured person bringing the claim (the plaintiff) must prove that person named as the defendant was negligent by demonstrating that:

– The defendant owed what the law calls a “duty of care” to the plaintiff.
– A breach of that duty of care happened when the defendant was negligent.
– The defendant’s negligence was the primary cause of the accident.
– The defendant thus owes quantifiable damages to the plaintiff for medical costs, lost wages, and for pain and suffering.

California crosswalk laws allow pedestrians to cross the street in marked and unmarked crosswalks if the pedestrians have a green light. Pedestrians, however, must yield to vehicles that are already legally in the intersection when the signal first turns green. In Myers vs. Carini (1968), the plaintiff, Ian Myers, was struck a vehicle driven by the defendant, John Carini.

When the jury learned that Mr. Myers had walked five feet into the intersection before the signal turned green, jurors determined that Mr. Carini was not negligent or liable for Mr. Myers’ injuries, and no compensation was awarded.

WHERE DO MOST PEDESTRIAN ACCIDENTS HAPPEN?

You might be surprised to learn that crowded urban centers are not where most pedestrian mishaps happen. In fact, the pedestrians injured most frequently in California are away from cities and out on the highways; drivers changing flat tires, highway maintenance personnel, and police officers conducting a traffic stop or investigating a collision. But wherever someone is injured by a negligent driver in California, that victim is entitled to complete compensation for all medical care and all other injury-related expenses and damages.

The safety suggestions for pedestrians are basic. When it’s possible, use a sidewalk, and if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic but stay as far from the traffic as you can. Stay alert and focused – “walk defensively” – and be prepared for anything. If you need to text someone, stop, because if you keep walking while you’re texting, you could walk into a car or something equally dangerous.

Stop and look both ways before crossing a street, and cross streets only at crosswalks and intersections. At night, bring a flashlight with you, and wear bright clothes. If you’ve had anything to drink, think twice about walking near traffic. If an accident happens to a pedestrian who is intoxicated, that pedestrian will almost certainly be considered the negligent party, and damages will not be available.

HOW CAN DRIVERS HELP KEEP PEDESTRIANS SAFE?

Southern California drivers can help to protect pedestrians – and can also protect themselves from personal injury lawsuits filed by injured pedestrians – by not texting or talking on a cell phone while driving; by not drinking or using intoxicating drugs while driving; by keeping their vehicles safe and routinely maintained; and by compliance with all California traffic rules and regulations.

Pedestrians don’t expect to be in accidents so they generally wear no safety equipment at all.
That means that many of the injuries sustained by pedestrians are catastrophic injuries like traumatic brain and spinal cord damage. When an injury is permanently disabling, a victim requires the maximum possible compensation. An experienced Orange County personal injury attorney can help.

If you are injured by a negligent motorist while you are a pedestrian in Southern California, seek medical attention at once, and do not discuss your case with any insurance company representative before consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Your attorney can review the details of your injury claim, provide the frank and honest legal advice you’ll require, and if necessary, fight for the compensation and justice that a pedestrian accident victim deserves. Be aware that California, like every state, enforces a time limit – a
statutes of limitations” – in personal injury cases, so it’s important to act promptly after being injured by negligence.

In most personal injury cases, with several exceptions spelled out by the law, injury victims in California have two years to file an injury claim, but you should not wait two years and then try to file a claim at the last minute. The sooner you put an attorney on your case, the more likely it is that your injury claim will prevail and that you’ll receive the full compensation amount you need.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.