When is a Pedestrian at Fault for a Car Accident? - Law Offices of Owen, Patterson and Owen

When is a Pedestrian at Fault for a Car Accident?

Sep 29, 2023

When is a pedestrian at fault for a car accident? Under quite a few circumstances, it turns out. 

Drivers are taught to respect everyone else on the road but to take special care when driving around pedestrians. This makes sense – when a car collides with a person, it never ends well for the person. Commanding a vehicle and following traffic laws means understanding the responsibility that comes with being behind the wheel of a fast and heavy machine.  

However, that doesn’t mean pedestrians have the automatic right of way. If something goes horribly wrong, and a driver ends up in an accident with a pedestrian, it isn’t always the driver’s fault.  

Even if drivers are held to a higher standard due to their license, pedestrians are also expected to understand and follow certain traffic rules – and breaking those rules can affect fault quite significantly in the case of a pedestrian-car accident. So, when is a pedestrian at fault for a car accident? Let’s take a look at some of the most common cases.  


When is a pedestrian at fault for a car accident? When they cross roads illegally. While pedestrians do have the right of way at marked crosswalks, for example, they are not allowed to jaywalk.  

Jaywalking refers to the act of crossing the road as a pedestrian at any point not designated for pedestrian crossings. Penalties for jaywalking usually involve a fine and differ from location to location.  

In California, the dynamics around pedestrian fault have been influenced by the “Freedom to Walk Act,” which was signed into law in 2021. This legislation amends the rules around jaywalking, making it legal for pedestrians to cross the street outside of marked crosswalks, as long as they do so safely and yield to vehicles. The act aims to decriminalize pedestrian movement and promote safer, more equitable transportation systems.

This new law changes the previous notion of “jaywalking” and offers pedestrians more legal protection. In cases where a pedestrian crosses the street a few yards away from a designated pedestrian crossing, they may not necessarily be considered “at fault” under the new California law, provided they have yielded to oncoming traffic and have made a safe crossing.

However, the Freedom to Walk Act does not absolve pedestrians from all responsibilities. Stepping suddenly in front of a car from between parked cars would still likely be considered the pedestrian’s fault, especially if it forces the driver to swerve dangerously.

So, while drivers continue to have the responsibility to be alert and avoid hitting pedestrians whenever possible, the scope of what is considered “fault” for a pedestrian in California has been notably altered by this law.

Does this mean that a driver isn’t at fault for hitting a pedestrian who decided to cross the road a few yards away from the designated pedestrian crossing? Not necessarily. Drivers still have a responsibility to pay attention, and if they see someone about to cross the road – even illegally – they need to avoid putting that person or themselves in harm’s way.  

But what if the jaywalker steps right in front of the car from between parked cars? That’s a far more clear-cut example of an accident where a driver could not reasonably stop their car from hitting a pedestrian. If the pedestrian forced the driver to swerve into parked cars or incoming traffic, that too would be the pedestrian’s fault.  


Ignoring Traffic Signals 

When is a pedestrian at fault for a car accident? Many intersections, especially in cities, are designed to control the flow of traffic and ensure that everyone gets where they need to be, be they pedaling, behind the wheel, on foot, or on a bus.  This means that when a pedestrian ignores traffic signals, they may be responsible, at least in part, if they are struck by a law-abiding driver or bicyclist. 

Traffic lights control when cars – and people! – need to stop and go. Crossing a road on red when it seems safe is still both dangerous and illegal – and if a pedestrian doesn’t see or hear an oncoming vehicle and steps out despite the red signal, they are very much at fault for their injuries.  


Walking Under the Influence 

It’s not illegal to be drunk – but it can be illegal to be publicly intoxicated, even more so when your intoxication endangers other people, including motorists. Someone stumbling along the side of the road only to trip and fall toward traffic may be at fault if they were under the influence at the time of the accident, whether they got hit or forced a driver to swerve into another car or property.  


Walking in Prohibited Areas 

There are places where pedestrians aren’t allowed, most notably on certain bridges and highways. While drivers will do their utmost to prevent an accident when a pedestrian is restricted for vehicles only, a pedestrian may be found at fault if their presence on a road or zone was prohibited to begin with. Some examples of prohibited areas include:  

  • Road construction and other construction sites. 

  • Railroad tracks.  

  • Airport runways.  

  • Certain bridges.  

  • Tunnels. 

  • Highways.  

  • Certain special access roadways.  

  • Military bases.  

  • And more.  


Partial Responsibility 

Sometimes, an investigation reveals that both motorists and pedestrians were partially responsible for the accident. In these cases, there are state-specific regulations for shared fault. The two legal concepts most states follow are comparative negligence and contributory negligence.  

In contributory negligence jurisdictions, if the injured party (whether a pedestrian or a motorist) is found to be even slightly at fault for the accident, they are generally barred from recovering any damages. In other words, contributory negligence involves an “all or nothing” principle.  

Comparative negligence, on the other hand, is a more modern and widely adopted approach. It allows for a fairer distribution of liability based on the degree of fault assigned to each party involved. Comparative negligence can be divided into two types: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence.  

In cases where pure comparative negligence is applied, each party involved is assigned a respective percentage of fault. If the involved party was injured, they can recover damages, but their final reward is reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if a pedestrian is found to share 40 percent of the fault in the accident, then they can claim up to 60 percent of the compensation awarded to them. 

Meanwhile, modified comparative negligence works nearly the same way, but with a threshold after which no compensation can be collected. If the injured party’s fault exceeds 50 percent upon an investigation, they cannot receive any compensation. If their fault is below 50 percent, they may receive compensation for their injuries, but with their percentage of fault subtracted.  

So, when is a pedestrian at fault for a car accident? Generally speaking, fault can be attributed to a pedestrian whenever they cross the road illegally or without giving oncoming drivers ample time to react, as well as whenever they cause an accident in a zone they are prohibited from entering. Not all cases of a car-pedestrian accident are clear-cut, however, fault can be attributed partially. It’s important, regardless of the circumstances of an accident, to contact a lawyer and do your own due diligence to collect information and keep up to date on your health and recovery if you are injured. If you were in a car accident, don’t share or take the blame, or admit to anything directly – including an apology. We at the Law Offices of Owen, Patterson, and Owen will fight for you and your rightful compensation in pedestrian accident cases, as well as other personal injury cases.  


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