Guide to legal options after a pedestrian injury
Walking is one of the best ways to get around. It benefits your health in a variety of ways, it saves on pollution and energy use, and it’s free! But it’s not completely risk-free.
A pedestrian is someone on foot or using a skateboard, roller skates, sleds, or other vehicles outside of bicycles or motorcycles. Overall, the number of pedestrian-related accidents in Tennessee has increased over the past decade. The percent change in pedestrian crashes between 2009 and 2019 is nearly 42%.
Young children and adults over 65 years old are the most likely groups of people to be injured in a pedestrian accident.
Children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are particularly vulnerable. Most pedestrian accidents involving children are close to their homes. Children at that age don’t usually have a good sense of danger, they can be impulsive, and they don’t always take the time to correctly assess risk. The perfect example is the child who excitedly runs into the street without looking both ways when their ball or toy rolls away.
You might teach your child to look both ways before crossing the street, but young children are commonly not developmentally ready to understand the risk. They might turn their heads to “go through the motions,” but they might not actually perceive the danger of a car approaching. And, you can never remind them too many times... think about how often you remind them of other things (like brushing their teeth or picking up their toys)!
The glare from the rising or setting sun can have a dramatic effect on a driver’s visibility. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that a quarter of pedestrian fatalities (25%) are between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and 13% are between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Tennessee pedestrian laws
We all know drivers must follow road rules, but pedestrians have laws to follow, too.
Tennessee pedestrian laws include:
- A pedestrian must use a sidewalk where one is available. If there’s no sidewalk available, the pedestrian should walk along the shoulder of the road facing traffic, staying as far away from traffic as possible.
- A pedestrian has the right of way in a marked crosswalk. A driver must stop or slow down to give the right of way to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, but the pedestrian must obey traffic signals at the intersection. In other words, if there’s a “Do not walk” signal, the pedestrian does not have the right of way and must not cross.
- A pedestrian outside a crosswalk must yield to motorists. You may not jaywalk or cross illegally.
- A pedestrian must not cross a roadway within 10 feet of a vehicle that’s disembarking passengers. This is legal if there’s a cross signal or if a police officer is directing traffic.
Walking under the influence
Yes, that’s a thing, just like driving under the influence.
It’s illegal in Tennessee to walk along a highway when you’re impaired by drugs or alcohol to the point of becoming a hazard.
- Nearly half of pedestrian deaths involved alcohol for the driver or the pedestrian in 2017.
- 1 in 3 pedestrian fatalities involved a pedestrian with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of at least 0.08 grams per deciliter.
- 17% involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08 g/dL, and some pedestrian fatalities involved both a driver and a pedestrian who were under the influence.
Liability for a Tennessee pedestrian accident
The purpose of personal injury law is to make a plaintiff whole, or to restore them to the financial condition they’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened. This applies to any personal injury, whether it’s a car accident, pedestrian accident, slip and fall, injury from a defective product, or something entirely different.
But the concept is always the same:
The plaintiff (the injured person) must prove that their injury was caused by the defendant’s negligence and the injury included a financial cost.
Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care in situations where one would typically expect to come into contact with another person. “Into contact” includes not just your body, but a car you drive or any other form of property that you control. Negligence is an action (or failure to act) caused by carelessness, not intentional harm.
We can’t assume that the pedestrian is always right— or that the motorist is always wrong. Sometimes an accident involves mistakes by both parties.
Tennessee comparative negligence law
Each state follows 1 of 4 fault systems, which are laws that determine whether fault on the plaintiff’s part will affect the outcome of a claim. In some states, if the injured person had any liability for the accident (even if it wasn’t wholly their fault), they can’t recover any damages.
Tennessee follows the comparative negligence rule. Each party is assigned a percentage of liability for an accident. If the injured person is more than 50% at fault for the accident, they are not permitted to recover damages. If they’re 50% liable or less, they can recover damages reduced by their percentage of fault.
Here’s an example of Tennessee comparative negligence works:
Driver Dahlia is Wendy’s neighbor. They’re casually acquainted and live just a few blocks apart. Dahlia is also a careful driver but is often running late, thanks to being a working mom of 3 active children.
On the morning of the accident, Wendy had just headed out and was engaged in an animated phone conversation with her sister. Dahlia was leaving for work and planning to drop her youngest off at school on the way.
It’s an average morning scenario in suburbs across the nation.
But this morning would be different.
Wendy is walking her usual route. She is arguing with her sister (family drama!), speaking angrily and gesturing with her hands as she speaks. She doesn’t really “see” the traffic because she is so absorbed in her conversation that she is walking her usual roads on auto-pilot.
After Dahlia drives a few blocks, her daughter informs her mom (who is already late for work) that she forgot her math book and needs to go home to get it. Dahlia is annoyed because she’ll be even later. She abruptly pulls her car into the closest driveway to turn around and hastily backs out.
As she backs up, Dahlia’s car hits Wendy, who is on the sidewalk behind the driveway. Wendy is seriously hurt and sues Dahlia for her injuries.
In this example, Dahlia was negligent because she didn’t properly look in her mirrors or over her shoulder before backing out of the driveway. However, Wendy was also at fault because she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going and, if she’d been looking out, she’d have seen Dahlia’s car pull into and then reverse in the driveway before her.
The court decided that although Dahlia was at fault, Wendy was 30% liable.
The cost of Wendy’s injuries was $120,000. Her award was reduced by 30%, so she received damages in the amount of $84,000 — the amount of her original award minus 30%.
If you’re a pedestrian who was hit by a car, your options are to:
- Make a claim against the driver’s insurance policy. A Tennessee driver is required to have $25,000 minimum liability coverage for each injury or death per accident.
- File a personal injury lawsuit. If the driver’s insurance coverage is less than your accident-related costs, or if they’re uninsured, you’ll need a lawsuit in order to recover damages.
Types of damages from a Tennessee pedestrian accident
If you’re seriously injured, you can recover economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are those that have a specific cost — like medical treatments.
Non-economic damages are equally important but harder to quantify. These are things like emotional distress or pain and suffering. Insurance won’t cover non-economic damages, but the courts have formulas for calculating what you’re entitled to receive from a lawsuit.
Your damages can include costs from:
- Medical treatment (including doctor visits, hospital stays, surgery, diagnostics, medications, etc.)
- Assistive devices
- Physical or occupational therapies
- Home or vehicle modifications
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
- Wrongful death (if you’re the family member of a pedestrian who was killed in an accident)
- Property loss
- Lost wages from time off of work or lost earning capacity
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 one 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 after a pedestrian accident
- Get 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 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.The driver might be very apologetic. Often, drivers feel worse when they hit a pedestrian than in an accident with another car. But even if the apology seems sincere or you feel bad that they’re distraught, don’t be talked out of making a police report. It doesn’t mean charges will be filed (if the person didn’t commit any traffic infractions), but it does provide important evidence for your claim.
- 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 lawyer has access to reconstruction experts, financial professionals, medical experts, and other experts who can bolster your claim for relief.
The Enjuris personal injury directory can guide you to a Tennessee lawyer near you who’s skilled, ready, and willing to handle your claim. It’s important to speak with a lawyer before you discuss the accident with an insurance company (other than to report the accident).