Understanding liability and the laws impacting pedestrians in the Keystone State
Fueled by sport utility vehicles (SUVs), increasingly distracted drivers, and the desire for people to improve their quality of life by walking, Pennsylvania saw pedestrian deaths increase roughly 34% in 2018. This troubling trend extended across the United States.
“We’re seeing the highest number of pedestrian deaths nationally in 30 years,” Russ Martin, the Director of Government Relations for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, said. “I think the big takeaway is that we have this problem that’s becoming worse.”
Walking is associated with better health and increased happiness, which is why we here at Enjuris don’t want you to be afraid to leave your house on foot. We do, however, want you to know your rights as a pedestrian, as well as your options if you’re injured in a pedestrian accident.
Pennsylvania pedestrian accident statistics
In Pennsylvania, crashes involving pedestrians have remained relatively stable over the last 5 years. Pedestrian fatalities, however, increased dramatically from 2017 to 2018, and initial reports indicate that fatalities increased once again from 2018 to 2019.
|Pennsylvania pedestrian accidents and fatalities
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation found that, in 2018, most pedestrian crashes and fatalities occurred while pedestrians were crossing the street at an intersection, mid-block, or a driveway entrance.
|Pennsylvania pedestrian actions - crashes and fatalities (2018)
|Crossing at a specified location
Pennsylvania laws impacting pedestrians
Pennsylvania has passed a number of laws governing the relationship between pedestrians and drivers. Most of these laws can be found in Chapter 35 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code.
Here are some of the most important laws to keep in mind:
- Pedestrians must obey traffic signals.
- If there is no traffic signal, vehicles must give pedestrians the right of way in a crosswalk and at an intersection.
- If a pedestrian is not crossing at a crosswalk or intersection, the pedestrian must yield to the vehicle.
- A pedestrian on a sidewalk has the right of way. Vehicles entering the sidewalk from alleys, driveways, or other locations must yield to pedestrians.
- Pedestrians must yield to emergency vehicles, although the driver of an emergency vehicle must drive with due regard for pedestrian safety.
- A pedestrian cannot suddenly walk or run into the path of a vehicle.
- Pedestrians must use sidewalks, if available. If there is no sidewalk, pedestrians must use the shoulder of the road.
- Hitchhiking is strictly prohibited in Pennsylvania.
Fault and liability in pedestrian accidents
All drivers have a legal duty to drive with reasonable care and to obey all traffic laws. If a driver breaches this duty and the breach causes an accident, the driver can be sued for negligence.
Similarly, pedestrians have a duty to exercise reasonable care when navigating the roads. If a pedestrian breaches their duty and causes an accident, the pedestrian can be sued for negligence.
Let’s look at an example of how a driver might be negligent in a pedestrian accident, followed by an example of how a pedestrian might be negligent in a pedestrian accident.
The student suffers serious head injuries and his parents sue Maxwell for $2 million.
In this example, Maxwell breached his duty to exercise reasonable care when he hit the gas in an attempt to beat the student to the crosswalk. What’s more, Maxwell violated the statute requiring drivers to give pedestrians the right of way at crosswalks. Consequently, Maxwell would be found negligent.
Meanwhile, Jack is driving along West Diamond Street. He’s driving slow because he can hardly see through the pouring rain. At the last second, Jack sees Erin walking along the road. He slams on his brakes, but it’s too late and he crashes into her.
Erin suffers a back injury and sues Jack. Jack files a counterclaim against Erin for damages to his truck.
In this example, the court would likely find Erin negligent because she violated the statute requiring her to walk on a sidewalk when one is available.
In some cases, the driver and the pedestrian might both be at fault for an accident.
What happens then?
Pennsylvania follows the modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, they are prohibited from recovering any damages.
Let’s say that Jack was speeding in the above example and he sued Erin for $100,000. The court might find that Jack was 40% at fault (for speeding) and that Erin was 60% at fault (for walking on the road when a sidewalk was available). Consequently, Jack would only be able to recover $60,000 (i.e., the total damages reduced by 40%).
Common pedestrian accident injuries
When a pedestrian is struck by a motor vehicle, there is nothing to protect them. As a result, pedestrian accidents can be serious and often fatal. Some common injuries include:
What damages are available in a pedestrian accident?
In Pennsylvania, injured parties have the right to seek compensation for all damages that result from the negligent action. These damages can be broken down into 2 groups:
- Economic damages are financial losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and other out of pocket expenses. For example, if a pedestrian is holding an expensive smartphone when they’re hit and the phone breaks, they can recover damages for the phone.
- Noneconomic damages are intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, loss of ability to enjoy life, and disfigurement.
Though there aren’t caps on the amount of economic and noneconomic damages you can recover (unless you’re suing the government), you are limited in terms of when you can file your lawsuit.
Staying safe and preventing pedestrian accidents
The best kind of lawsuit is the one you never have to file.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some tips to avoid pedestrian accidents:
Safety tips for pedestrians
Here are safe walking tips from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation:
- Cross only at crosswalks.
- Don’t cross between parked cars.
- Wait for a gap in traffic, then step one foot off the curb or fully enter the crosswalk and make eye contact with approaching drivers.
- Look left, right, then left again and keep looking
- Always obey traffic signs and crossing signals (never try to beat the light).
- See and be seen (drivers need to see you to avoid you).
- Watch for turning vehicles at intersections, even if you have the right-of-way.
- Watch your children (children can’t judge a vehicle’s speed and distance).
- On streets with multiple lanes in each direction, be aware of what drivers in both lanes are doing (if one driver is allowing you to cross, the other might not see you).
Safety tips for drivers
Here are tips for drivers from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration:
- Look out for pedestrians everywhere, at all times.
- Use caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
- Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and stop well back from the crosswalk.
- Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Follow the speed limit, especially around people on the street.
- Follow slower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where children are present.
- Be extra cautious when backing up.
Of course, sometimes accidents happen.
If you’ve been injured in a pedestrian accident, consider using our free online legal directory to locate an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.