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What are my legal options if I’m hit by a car while walking or running?
Walking can improve your mental and physical health, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the health of the planet.
Many Washingtonians enjoy walking and running outside. Roughly 25% list “walking” as their main mode of transportation and most Washingtonians walk on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, accidents involving pedestrians are on the rise in Washington State. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the laws that impact pedestrians, and we’ll explain when pedestrians can recover damages after a pedestrian accident.
Pedestrian accident statistics
In the United States, 6,283 pedestrians were killed in 2018 (the most recent year for which data are available). Pedestrian deaths accounted for 17% of all traffic fatalities.
Washington falls roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to pedestrian deaths. In Washington, pedestrian deaths accounted for 18.7% of all traffic fatalities in 2018. The pedestrian fatality rate in Washington per 100,000 was 1.35, slightly below the national average of 1.92.
Unfortunately, pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in Washington, as this table shows:
|Washington pedestrian fatalities|
Washington laws that impact pedestrians
Most of the laws that impact pedestrians can be found in Chapter 46.61 of the Revised Code of Washington.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Traffic signals. Pedestrians must obey traffic signals and traffic control devices unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer.
- Crosswalks. Drivers and bicyclists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
- Intersections. Drivers must stop at intersections to allow pedestrians to cross the road within an unmarked or marked crosswalk.
- Crossing outside intersections. Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection must yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway.
- Sidewalks. Pedestrians must use sidewalks when they’re available. If sidewalks are not available, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the roadway or the road shoulder facing traffic.
- Moving into traffic. No pedestrian should suddenly leave a curb and move into traffic so that the driver cannot stop.
- Drivers exercise due care. Every driver of a vehicle must exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian and should give a warning by sounding the horn when necessary.
- Hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is illegal in most situations in Washington.
- Alcohol and drugs. A law enforcement officer may transport a pedestrian who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a safe place.
Determining fault in a pedestrian accident
To recover damages following a pedestrian accident, the injured pedestrian must prove that someone else was at fault for the accident. Parties that might be at fault for a pedestrian accident include:
- Motor vehicle drivers. Motor vehicle drivers have a duty to obey all traffic laws and exercise reasonable care when navigating Washington’s roads. A motor vehicle driver might be at fault for a pedestrian accident if they violate a traffic law or fail to exercise reasonable care by, for example, running a red light and hitting a pedestrian.
- Bicyclists. Bicyclists also have a duty to obey all traffic laws and exercise reasonable care when navigating Washington’s roads. A bicyclist might be at fault for a pedestrian accident if they violate a traffic law or fail to exercise reasonable care by, for example, failing to stop at a crosswalk and hitting a pedestrian.
- Property owners. Under Washington’s premises liability laws, property owners typically have a duty to keep their properties in a safe condition. A property owner (often a local municipality) might be at fault for a pedestrian accident if they fail to keep their property in a safe condition by, for example, failing to clean up road debris and an accident results.
In most pedestrian accident cases, proving fault means proving that the defendant was negligent. In Washington, negligence is proved by establishing the following 3 elements:
- The defendant owed the pedestrian a duty to exercise reasonable care,
- The defendant breached the duty to exercise reasonable care, and
- The defendant’s breach caused the pedestrian’s injury.
What happens if the pedestrian is partially responsible for the accident?
Washington is a pure comparative fault state. This means that the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example:
Lauren is driving east on Union Street. She’s texting her girlfriend and doesn’t see Jason. Lauren hits Jason with her car.
Jason suffers a serious back injury and sues Lauren for $100,000.
The court finds that Lauren was 90% at fault for texting and driving. The court also finds that Jason was 10% at fault for failing to walk on the sidewalk.
Under Washington’s pure comparative fault rule, Jason would be able to recover $90,000.
Types of damages in a Washington pedestrian accident
Washington allows pedestrian accident victims to recover the following damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
Steps to take following a pedestrian accident
The hours, days, and weeks after a pedestrian accident may be overwhelming. There are, however, some steps you can take that may improve your chances of recovering the damages you deserve.
- Step 1: Get medical treatment. If you’re involved in a pedestrian accident, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention immediately. Some symptoms don’t appear for days or even weeks later, so it’s a good idea to get checked out even if you don’t think you suffered a serious injury. What’s more, insurance adjusters and juries are generally skeptical of accident claims where the plaintiff did not seek immediate medical attention.
- Step 2: Call the police. The police can conduct a brief investigation and draft a police report that may help support your legal claim. What’s more, the police can help limit the all-too-common “road rage” incidents that occur between drivers and pedestrians.
- Step 3: Collect contact information. Collect the contact information for anyone involved in the accident. If a driver was involved in the accident, be sure to get their insurance information.
- Step 4: Gather evidence. Collect the contact information for any witnesses at the scene. It’s also a good idea to take photographs or videos of the accident scene, your injuries, and any property damage.
- Step 5: Avoid social media. Avoid posting any information about the accident on your social media platforms. Posting about an accident on social media can hurt your legal claim.
- Step 6: Talk to an attorney. Even if you don’t think you have a valuable case, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney. Most initial consultations are free and the attorney will be able to tell you honestly whether your case is worth pursuing.
Safety tips for pedestrians and motorists
The best way to avoid a pedestrian accident is to always be aware of your surroundings. Just because the law says vehicles must yield for pedestrians at crosswalks, doesn’t mean you should step into a crosswalk without first looking both ways.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has published the following safety tips for pedestrians and drivers:
8 safety tips for pedestrians
- Walk on sidewalks. If sidewalks are not available, walk on the edge of the road or on the left shoulder of the road, facing the traffic flow. Use pedestrian bridges when they are available.
- Take care when crossing. Pedestrians are most often hit by drivers while crossing the road. Use marked crosswalks and signalized intersections when available. Every intersection is a legal crosswalk under Washington law unless it is marked as closed or where it’s located between 2 signalized intersections you could cross at. In addition to intersections, driveways are another place where you can expect to encounter drivers or bicyclists exiting or entering. Take an extra moment to confirm that you can cross safely.
- Look left, right, and left for traffic. Stop at the curb and look left, right, and left again for traffic. Stopping at the curb signals drivers that you intend to cross. Always obey traffic signals.
- Walk where you can be most visible. Drivers need to see you in order to avoid you.
- Carry a flashlight. Carrying a flashlight when walking in the dark will help you see and avoid irregularities in the sidewalk or shoulder as well as help drivers spot you. Wearing bright clothing when walking or running is another step you can take to be seen.
- Watch your children. Small children should not cross streets by themselves or be allowed to play or walk near traffic. They cannot accurately judge vehicle distances and speeds and may make movements a driver can't predict.
- Don’t drink and walk. Alcohol can impair the judgment and motor skills of pedestrians just as it does for drivers. Don't take alcohol risks with walking, just as you would not with driving. Take the bus, take a cab, or have a friend drive you home. Beware of the effects and interactions of prescription and nonprescription medications and drugs, too.
- Obey traffic signals. At intersections where traffic is controlled by signals or a traffic officer, pedestrians must obey the signal and not cross against the stop signal unless specifically directed to go by a traffic officer.
6 safety tips for drivers to save pedestrian lives
- Stop for people in crosswalks — every intersection is a crosswalk. It’s the law. Drivers must stop for pedestrians at intersections, whether it’s an unmarked or marked crosswalk, and bicyclists in crosswalks are considered pedestrians. Also, it is illegal to pass another vehicle stopped for someone at a crosswalk. In Washington, the most common action by motorists that causes pedestrian accidents is a failure to yield.
- Put the phone down. Hand-held cell phone use is prohibited for all Washington drivers.
- Don’t drive impaired or drowsy. Lack of sleep, as well as the use of alcohol and other substances, reduces your ability to see, decide, and react in time.
- Look and then look again before turning. The majority of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers in Washington state are struck as they’re crossing the road.
- Pass at a safe distance. Darkness and poor visibility due to weather conditions may affect a driver’s ability to gauge distance. Leaving an extra safety buffer when passing people gives you more time to see and react, and it’s also the law. Be aware that a bicyclist needs to be positioned in the lane a safe distance away from opening car doors, grates, and other hazards not visible to a driver. Drivers should move into the other lane when possible or leave at least three feet while passing.
- Drive the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions make visibility difficult. If a driver hits a pedestrian or bicyclist at 20 mph or less, there is an estimated 95% survival rate; at 30 mph, a pedestrian has only a 5% chance of walking away without injury and the death rate jumps to 45%. The driver trying to save a few seconds by speeding could end up taking someone’s life.
Ready to talk to an experienced Washington personal injury attorney about your pedestrian accident claim? Find one near you using our free lawyer directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.