Understanding fault when an auto accident involves a pedestrian in the Commonwealth
Pedestrian deaths in Virginia have increased dramatically over the last decade.
Experts point to several factors that have likely contributed to the rise in pedestrian fatalities, including the fact that more people are walking and driving, increased speed limits, and the growing popularity of larger vehicles such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
Let’s take a look at pedestrian accidents in the Old Dominion State, including the laws that are in place to protect pedestrians and the damages pedestrians or their loved ones may recover after an accident.
Pedestrian injury statistics
In the United States, total traffic deaths have fallen 8% in the last decade, while pedestrian deaths have increased 42% over the same period.
In Virginia, there were 1,623 accidents involving pedestrians in 2018 (a 0.9% increase from 2017).
|Virginia pedestrian accidents (2018)|
|Pedestrians killed||Pedestrians injured||Pedestrian crashes|
|123 (15% of all traffic fatalities)||1,584 (2.4% of all traffic injuries)||1,623 (1.2% of all traffic crashes)|
A number of factors contribute to fatal pedestrian accidents, but the following chart provides some insight.
|Virginia pedestrian fatalities (2018)|
|Pedestrian action||Pedestrian fatalities||Drinking pedestrian fatalities|
|Crossing at intersection against signal||9||5|
|Crossing at intersection (no signal)||10||3|
|Crossing intersection (with signal)||3||0|
|Crossing not at intersection||39||14|
|Lying in roadway||7||4|
|Not in roadway||8||0|
|Playing in roadway||2||0|
|Standing in roadway||14||7|
|Walking in road with traffic||7||1|
|Walking in road against traffic||10||2|
|Working in road||2||0|
Though pedestrian accidents have injured and killed people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, most pedestrians killed in accidents are 65 years of age and older.
Virginia pedestrian right-of-way laws
When a pedestrian and a car collide, the first legal question that’s likely to be asked is:
Who had the right of way?
Right-of-way laws identify who must yield (give up) the right of way in a given situation. In Virginia, drivers must yield to pedestrians at:
- Any clearly marked crosswalk
- Any regular pedestrian crossing (including roads that interrupt sidewalks)
- Any intersection where the maximum speed limit of the road on which the driver is traveling is less than 35 miles per hour
In addition, a pedestrian crossing at an intersection has the right of way over vehicles making turns onto the road being crossed by the pedestrian.
Other Virginia laws impacting pedestrians
Though pedestrians have the right of way in certain situations, they must still avoid carelessly or maliciously stepping in front of a vehicle.
In addition, pedestrians are required to cross roads, wherever possible, at intersections or marked crosswalks.
Determining fault in a pedestrian accident in Virginia
All drivers have a legal duty to drive with reasonable care and to obey all traffic laws. If a driver violates these duties and causes an accident, the driver can be sued for negligence.
Similarly, all pedestrians have a duty to exercise reasonable care while navigating the roads and to obey all traffic laws. If a pedestrian violates these duties and causes an accident, the pedestrian can be sued for negligence.
What happens if a driver and pedestrian are both at fault for an accident?
Virginia is one of the few states where a plaintiff is prohibited from recovering any damages if they are found even the slightest bit at fault. This law is known as the “pure contributory negligence law.”
Let’s look at an example:
Warren crashes into Samantha and Samantha sustains a serious spinal injury. Samantha sues Warren for $1 million.
The jury finds that Warren was 95% at fault for driving while intoxicated and texting while driving. However, the jury finds that Samantha was 5% at fault for crossing the road at a place other than an intersection or a marked crosswalk when both were present 1 block away.
Under Virginia’s pure contributory negligence law, Samantha is prohibited from recovering any damages.
Damages available in a pedestrian accident
Unsurprisingly, pedestrians typically bear the brunt of the damage when pedestrians and motor vehicles collide.
Some of the most common pedestrian accident injuries include:
Virginia awards both economic and non-economic damages in pedestrian accident cases.
Economic damages are tangible losses that come with a price tag (medical bills, property damage, lost wages, etc.). Non-economic damages refer to losses that don’t have a clear dollar value (pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.).
How insurance companies handle pedestrian accidents
If you’re an injured pedestrian, you can file an insurance claim against the at-fault driver — assuming the at-fault driver has liability insurance (not all drivers in Virginia are required to carry liability insurance).
Once you file an insurance claim, you’ll probably be contacted by an insurance adjuster. Be aware that the adjuster is working for the driver’s insurance company and is trying to determine if you may have been at fault or partially at fault for the accident. If the insurance adjuster believes you were at fault or partially at fault, they may deny your claim or offer a reduced settlement.
If your insurance claim is denied or the driver doesn’t have insurance, then it’s time to reach out to a personal injury attorney.
Pedestrian safety tips
Walking is associated with numerous physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, walking is free and environmentally friendly. Because of all the benefits, we here at Enjuris don’t want you to give up walking.
We do, however, want you to be safe.
Here are some pedestrian safety tips from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles:
- Be predictable, follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals.
- Plan a route with safe crossings.
- Avoid distractions, alcohol and drugs, and be alert.
- Dress to be seen, but never assume drivers see you.
- Wear reflective clothing, and carry a blinking light or flashlight at night.
- Walk on sidewalks facing traffic.
- If there’s no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
- Watch for cars backing up, especially in parking lots and driveways.
- While crossing, look for cars in all directions, including those turning left or right, and make eye contact with turning drivers before proceeding when possible.
- Remind vulnerable children and older adults to be safe as pedestrians.
Need help finding an attorney to handle your pedestrian accident claim? Find one near you by visiting our free lawyer directory.