Overcoming the legal challenges when pursuing a pedestrian-vehicle collision lawsuit
In recent decades, the benefits of walking have been widely embraced by much of the public: It’s great exercise, it’s free, it’s relaxing and it can even boost your mental health.
However, that all comes with a caveat. Whether you’re sharing a roadway with traffic or walking on a designated path or trail, there can be hazards.
We mostly think of pedestrian injuries as being related to cars, but other accidents happen, too. These might include a slip- or trip-and-fall, other types of falls related to hazards on sidewalks or elsewhere.
Michigan pedestrian laws
There’s no law in Michigan regarding right-of-way for a pedestrian at a non-signal crosswalk. There are cities and other municipalities in the state with local laws or ordinances that govern marked or unmarked crosswalks but there’s no law at the state level.
A pedestrian only has the right-of-way at an intersection crosswalk if there’s a pedestrian walk sign with an active signal.
There are a couple of important aspects to the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code:
- A driver is required to yield to a pedestrian when they are on the same side of the street if the pedestrian is lawfully in the crosswalk, but not if the pedestrian is on the other side of the crosswalk or elsewhere on the street.
- A driver isn’t required to yield to a pedestrian who’s not crossing legally—for example, a pedestrian ignoring a “don’t walk” signal or who is interfering with traffic.
Additional laws for pedestrians include:
- A pedestrian must use a sidewalk where there’s one available and is not permitted to walk on the road.
- A blind pedestrian would be treated just like a sighted person unless carrying a cane or accompanied by a service dog.
- A person is not allowed to interfere, block or obstruct traffic on a public street or highway.
|General rules for pedestrians and motorists sharing the road|
|Pedestrians in Michigan are not required to carry a driver’s license. However, if the pedestrian is suspected of violating the traffic code, they can be stopped by law enforcement and are expected to provide verbal or written identification.|
|A police officer may detain a pedestrian violating any section of the traffic code and can issue a civil infraction for either the state law or a local ordinance. (source)|
|Civil infractions for motorists with respect to pedestrians|
|Failure to yield to pedestrians. A driver must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian who is lawfully within the intersection or a crosswalk.|
|Failure to report a crash. A driver who’s involved in a crash where a person is injured or killed (or where there’s property damage of $1,000 or more) must immediately report the accident to a police officer.|
|Failure to take precautions for a blind person in a crosswalk. A driver is required to take extra precautions to avoid an accident if there’s a blind person with a cane or guide dog in a crosswalk.|
|Improper turns. A driver must follow markers, signs, or signals and may not turn other than as marked.|
|Speeding. A driver is not permitted to travel faster than the marked speed limit or at a speed at which they cannot stop quickly if necessary. A driver is required to drive more slowly when there’s a high volume of pedestrians.|
|Failure to stop at a crosswalk. A vehicle driver is required to stop before entering a crosswalk or at a limit line. If there isn’t a crosswalk or limit line, the driver should stop before entering the intersection and stay stopped until the green light appears.|
Michigan fault rules and liability
In any personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent in order to recover damages.
There are 4 required elements for proving negligence:
- Duty. Any person who shares the road has a duty to other road users, which includes drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. to avoid harm or injury.
- Breach. The defendant breached their duty to avoid harming the plaintiff.
- Causation. The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury.
- Damages. The plaintiff’s injuries cost them money.
The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to make the plaintiff whole again, or to restore them to the financial condition they’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened. You might be angry about an accident, and you might feel upset that a driver wasn’t careful or paying attention, but if your injury is so minor that it doesn’t require medical treatment or cost you money, you don’t have a case.
Michigan no-fault insurance law
As of June 2019, Michigan follows a no-fault insurance system.
That means if you’re in a car accident, you make a claim on your own insurance policy first, regardless of who was at fault. In an accident with 2 (or more) drivers involved, you can pursue the at-fault driver’s insurance if your own insurance doesn’t cover all of your expenses.
Of course, not every pedestrian has their own no-fault policy... many pedestrians don’t own a car and would have no reason to have auto insurance.
Here’s how the no-fault insurance law works for pedestrian/vehicle accidents:
No-fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits would be paid by (in order):
- The pedestrian’s own no-fault insurance policy if they have one.
- The pedestrian’s spouse’s insurance policy if they have one.
- A policy belonging to any family member who lives with the injured pedestrian.
As of July 2020, the pedestrian’s ability to recover no-fault PIP benefits is limited to their own or their spouse’s coverage limit. The limits are $50,000 for a driver on Medicaid; $250,000; $500,000 or unlimited.
If the pedestrian doesn’t have insurance, they would still make an insurance claim through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP). The injured pedestrian would apply to Michigan Assigned Claims Plan if there’s no no-fault PIP policy available to them.
The MACP would provide $250,000 in no-fault coverage.
PIP insurance benefits include medical treatment and a portion of lost wages. If the pedestrian has suffered additional damages like emotional distress, pain and suffering, or other non-economic losses, they can file a personal injury lawsuit for those damages.
Who’s liable for a pedestrian accident?
It doesn’t matter which party is liable (at fault) in a pedestrian/vehicle accident in order to receive no-fault insurance benefits. However, if you need to file a lawsuit, it will be very important to know who was at fault for the accident.
When it comes to fault for a car accident (or any personal injury accident), Michigan follows what’s known as the “51% Rule” of modified comparative fault.
In Michigan, if you’re 51% or more at fault for an accident, you may not claim damages.
As a plaintiff with a portion of fault, your damage recovery would be reduced according to your allocation of fault. In other words, say the court determines that a defendant owes you $100,000 to cover costs for your injuries. If you were 20% liable, the court would reduce that award by 20% and you’d receive $80,000 in damages.
There could be any number of scenarios when a pedestrian could be at fault for their own injury. For one, walking while texting or otherwise using a mobile phone or device would suggest that the pedestrian wasn’t taking reasonable care to watch where they were going.
For example, a pedestrian might try to “beat the light” and run across an intersection with a “stale” light just before it changes to green.
In general, unpredictability and failure to pay attention to traffic and follow road rules would raise the likelihood that a pedestrian would be considered at fault or partially at fault for an accident.
Premises liability claims
Not all pedestrian injuries are caused by cars.
Premises liability law covers accidents caused by a hazardous condition on property. For a pedestrian, this might mean a broken or cracked sidewalk, falling tree branches, holes or poorly marked edges, or obstacles that could cause a person to fall or become injured.
If the property owner negligently maintained the area, you might have a claim if you were legally permitted to be there. This might apply to injuries that happen in places such as a privately-owned supermarket or office building parking lots, for example. If you’re injured on private property, you’d make a claim to the owner of the property.
But if you’re injured as a pedestrian on a street, it would depend on who’s responsible for maintaining that section of the road. Usually, it will be the property owner, or a local government or municipality.
The laws for suing a government agency are different from how you’d file a claim against a private party. Michigan has a Governmental Tort Liability Act that allows some immunity to liability by government agencies.
However, there are exceptions, like maintenance of public highways and negligent operation of a government-owned vehicle.
Because suing a government agency is a different process than filing a regular personal injury lawsuit, you’d want to consult a lawyer to find out the best way to make a claim.
10 safety tips for pedestrians
- Always cross at a corner or intersection and use a marked crosswalk where available.
- Yield the right-of-way to a vehicle if crossing where there’s not a marked crosswalk.
- Before crossing, look left, then right, then left again to check for cars.
- Walk facing traffic.
- Obey traffic signals and walk signs.
- Be alert — don’t text or be occupied on your phone while walking.
- If you’re wearing a listening device, either keep 1 ear “free” or the volume low enough that you can still hear outside noise like traffic.
- Wear reflective clothing when walking at night and carry a flashlight.
- Avoid walking while intoxicated; impairment can increase your risk of being hit by a car.
- Walk on the sidewalk or designated walking area where one is available. If there isn’t a sidewalk, stay as far to the left as possible.
What to do if you’re injured in a pedestrian accident in Michigan
- Seek medical help. Call 911 for medical help. If you’re unable to do so, ask a driver or bystander to call for you.It’s important to get a medical examination as soon as possible, even if you think your injuries are so minor that you don’t require treatment. Visit your doctor, an urgent care center or a hospital. Symptoms of some serious injuries might not appear for days or weeks after the accident, so documenting your condition immediately after the accident is crucial for an insurance settlement or legal claim.
- Call the police. A police report is essential and should contain the driver’s information, the facts of the accident, a description of the scene, and other information that will be important to your claim.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the person will face any charges, especially if they weren’t violating any traffic laws. But don’t let them convince you that a police report isn’t necessary. It’s your right (and for your own protection) to get one.
- Obtain witness contact information. Witnesses can be the most valuable tool in a legal claim. Take each witness’s name, phone number, and email address.
- Document the scene. If you’re able to do so, take photos of the road conditions, traffic signals, any damage to the vehicle, and other factors that might have affected the accident.
- Contact a personal injury lawyer. A reputable law firm has access to reconstruction experts, financial professionals, medical experts, and other experts who can bolster your claim for relief.
Why do you need a Michigan personal injury lawyer?
A Michigan personal injury lawyer can be your advocate — it’s their job to help you get the financial compensation you need and deserve.
Even if you think your insurance company is cooperating and willing to settle for what seems like a reasonable amount, it’s best to get an expert opinion. Especially if your injuries will result in continuing medical treatment, time off from work or a disability, you want to have a lawyer advise you on whether the amount the insurance is offering will be enough.
Once you accept a settlement from the insurance company, there’s no turning back or changing your mind and asking for more. The insurance company may be motivated to settle your claim, but realize that it wants to do so for the least amount of money.
Also, if there is a lawsuit because insurance doesn’t cover the extent of your damages, it will be important for your lawyer to minimize the amount of fault attributable to your actions.