In California, pedestrians generally have the right of way when crossing a roadway whether at a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk. While crossing in a marked crosswalk is always the preferred location to traverse a street, especially a larger or busier street, often there are no marked crosswalks nearby. Crossing at an “unmarked” crosswalk generally refers to crossing at a corner where there are no lines painted or other changes shown in the roadway to warn motorists that pedestrians may be crossing. Not surprisingly, crossing streets where the speed limit is higher generally presents a greater hazard to pedestrians as motorists traveling at greater speeds do not have the same amount of time to stop or otherwise avoid a pedestrian.
Unfortunately, California once again leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities with about 700 pedestrian deaths occurring in each of the past two years. It should come as no surprise that the greatest percentage of pedestrian fatalities, 70%, occur at night. It is also noteworthy that 70% of all pedestrian deaths involve males. Whether this is so because males tend to take greater risks or because females are more cautious by nature the outcome is the same. Pedestrians need to be more careful when crossing streets and need to exercise greater caution when crossing larger streets with higher speed limits. Needless to say, the clothing pedestrians wear obviously effects their visibility and wearing lighter colored clothing should be given serious consideration when walking at night. Garments with reflective strips or manufactured with reflective materials are widely available and have been worn by bicyclists for years.
With distracted driving becoming increasingly prevalent with the widespread use of electronic devices by drivers, pedestrians face increasing risks of being struck while crossing roadways. Studies demonstrate that drivers are accessing their cellular phones with greater frequency with the obvious result that they are taking their eyes off the road while traveling at speeds that prevent them taking evasive action to avoid pedestrians. While talking on cellular phones is a potential hazard to pedestrians, texting requires a greater amount of time to both read and send and presents an even greater hazard to pedestrians. Significantly, even those motorists who come to a stop at a crosswalk are often holding cellular phones in their right hand while making right hand turns thereby blocking their view of pedestrians crossing from their right. It is always advisable to make eye contact with a driver when crossing at any intersection even when you have the right of way and are crossing with the light or the “walk” sign.
When crossing where there are no traffic control devices and vehicles are traveling at speeds of 30 or more miles per hour, pedestrians should step into the crosswalk but not continue walking until they observe vehicles coming to a stop. Most importantly, never assume a driver sees you! Even when one vehicle comes to a stop, the vehicle in the lane next to the stopped car may continue on especially when they are traveling in the opposite curb lane. It is essential that you not continue walking even though you have passed two stopped vehicles as the car in the third lane may not see you and continue into the intersection. Always look for oncoming cars no matter where you are in the street and irrespective of whether you have the right of way or not! Having the right of way may provide you with a good argument to recover damages and a stronger case should litigation be necessary but it will not prevent you from being struck by a distracted or speeding motorist nor will it avoid you suffering significant and permanent injuries.
As pedestrians struck by automobiles often sustain serious injuries and often cannot take necessary steps to protect themselves from further injuries by oncoming vehicles, it is imperative that you take whatever action you can to remove yourself from the roadway. Alternatively, have the vehicle that struck you remain in its stopped position or point of rest (POR) so as to protect the fallen person from being contacted by other passing vehicles. Calling 911 for emergency care providers, ambulance and paramedics, will provide you with necessary medical care but may also document the location of the accident and the vehicle(s) involved which often proves invaluable should you bring a claim for your injuries and damages.
Summoning police to investigate the accident and obtain information about the identity of involved parties as well as identifying information about witnesses who may be able to provide you with valuable evidence will also help to protect your rights should you seek reimbursement for hospital and related medical treatment. Should you suffer significant injuries you are entitled to and should pursue compensation for your pain, suffering, loss of earnings and other damages that you may incur.
As some police departments do not respond unless severe injuries are incurred it is essential that injured pedestrians do everything they can, or are capable of doing, at the scene to memorialize the positions of vehicle(s) and the location of all signage or traffic control devices. In short, it is imperative that a record be made of the location of all involved parties/vehicles and, if possible, that photographs be taken with an available cellular phone to document the scene. Unfortunately, police agencies will typically prepare reports of their investigation of accidents that are either incomplete or otherwise inconclusive. Regrettably, with the pedestrian often being taken to the hospital by ambulance and not being present when the officers arrive, it is all too common that reports reach erroneous conclusions and frequently favor the motorist who remains at the scene. These factors make it critical that witnesses, photographs and any other information available be sought out and recorded. Remember, one photograph can be invaluable in establishing the who, what and where of an accident that even witnesses may not be able to recall when called upon later.
Regrettably, even drivers who acknowledge fault at the scene may be persuaded to alter their testimony when called upon to testify in a deposition later. It has become increasingly common for a motorist to accept responsibility at the scene but, after spending time with a representative of his or her insurance company or the lawyer the insurance company hires to defend the claim, change their story and disclaim responsibility for the accident. While this may seem to be a cynical observation of those responsible for causing injury to others, the fact remains that it is rare indeed for the person responsible to testify honestly and openly when seated next to their representative whose primary objective is to avoid liability at all costs!
For these reasons and others and as with all cases of injury resulting from the negligence or dangerous conduct of another, it is imperative that you contact an attorney experienced in representing injured people before you contact an insurance company theirs or yours! While you may feel that insurance companies will do everything they should do to determine fault and compensate victims the facts are otherwise. Insurance companies are only concerned with avoiding paying claims not with compensating injured parties. As well, many motorists drive without the legally required insurance protection. While not commonly known, your automobile insurance policy may provide you coverage for injuries sustained as a pedestrian where the driver of the at fault vehicle is not insured. This coverage, known as uninsured motorist coverage, is extremely valuable and should be maintained as an essential part of any automobile insurance policy. In fact, carrying higher limits of this coverage is extremely important and may provide you with full compensation where the at fault party had little or no coverage. Please be sure to read the article on our blog about uninsured motorist coverage for more information about this little known but critical coverage.
Other provisions of your policy may also provide you with benefits whether or not the other driver in insured. Most policies provide “Medical Payments” coverage to help pay your medical bills. While this coverage will not compensate you for pain, suffering or loss of earnings, with the high cost of medical treatment escalating annually it is important that you recover all benefits to which you are entitled.
Lawyers who represent injured people do so on what is known as a contingency fee which simply means that their fee is paid as a percentage of the recovery from the insurance company when they achieve a satisfactory settlement for their client. The client pays nothing when they hire an attorney and any costs the attorney incurs will only be reimbursed to the lawyer from the settlement fund and not before.
Most importantly, look at the qualifications of the attorney that you are considering hiring and consider scheduling a face to face interview before retaining a lawyer. Remember, advertising is not a reliable resource to locate a competent, experienced attorney. Likewise, having a catchy phrase or phone number does not establish a lawyer’s qualifications. Researching a lawyers background and his/her history of obtaining outstanding results for their clients is a far more valid basis for selecting an attorney.
Referrals from former clients and reviews on various consumer websites are also a valuable source when looking to hire an attorney who may be, after your doctors, the most important resource in your recovering for the financial losses you incur. Just as you would never undergo surgery with a doctor because they advertise on passing busses, nor should consider hiring an attorney whose phone number may be easy to remember!