Legal Options for Pedestrians Hit By a Car

If you're a pedestrian who has been hit by a car, understand your rights and your options.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

In 2020, more than 6,500 pedestrians were killed and nearly 55,000 more were injured in crashes, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Pedestrian fatalities climbed to record levels even though people drove fewer miles because of the coronavirus pandemic.

If you're one of the growing numbers of pedestrians injured in a car accident, you should know:

  • What you do immediately after the accident can help you get full compensation for your accident-related losses.
  • The driver of the car who hit you is probably liable (legally responsible) for the accident. You can file an insurance claim with that driver's insurance company and potentially a pedestrian-car accident lawsuit.
  • Pedestrians can share fault for an accident, which typically reduces the amount of compensation a pedestrian receives.

What Should I Do Right After Being Hit By a Car?

Being involved in a pedestrian-car accident can be a scary experience, but being prepared can help you feel more calm and confident and give you the best chance of receiving full compensation for your losses (damages).

Right after the accident, assess the situation. If anyone involved in the accident is injured, call for an ambulance. Don't try to move if you're seriously injured.

If your injures aren't serious, you can help your claim by gathering information and evidence at the scene:

  • Exchange contact and insurance information with the driver who hit you. If the driver of the car doesn't own the car, get the owner's information too.
  • Don't talk about what caused the accident or apologize for anything you did.
  • Get the names and phone numbers of all witnesses to the accident.
  • Take pictures of the scene (including crosswalks and traffic signals), your injuries, the car that hit you, and anything else that might help you prove the driver was at fault for the accident.
  • When you are safe and calm, call your insurance company, if you have car insurance. You might be entitled to benefits from your own insurer to cover medical bills and other losses.
  • Get a copy of the police report when it's available.

Who Will Pay For My Medical Bills After an Accident?

If you've been hit by a car, you might be facing a long road of medical treatment to recovery. The seriousness of pedestrian injuries typically depends on factors like the speed of the car, the size and design of the car, the angle of impact, and the pedestrian's age at the time of the collision. Pedestrians who are hit by cars commonly suffer trauma to the head, brain, legs, pelvis, and knees.

So, who is responsible for paying your medical bills after you've been by a car? The bottom line is that the person who is liable for the accident will ultimately be on the financial hook for your medical bills and other losses, but they're not going to pay them right away. In the meantime, you're generally responsible for making sure your medical bills are paid on time.

You can always turn to your own health or car insurance to pay for treatment of your accident injuries. If you have "personal injury protection" (PIP) or "medical payments" (MedPay) car insurance, you'll typically need to turn to that insurance first for accident-related medical bills. Once you've reached the policy limits of that coverage, you can turn to your health insurance to cover the rest.

If the driver who hit you is underinsured or uninsured, you may also turn to your uninsured motorist insurance (UIM) coverage to pay medical bills, if you have it.

Your insurers can then seek reimbursement from the at-fault party (likely the driver who hit you), and might have a medical provider claim on any settlement or court award you receive.

Learn more about paying for medical bills after an accident and using health insurance for a car accident injury.

What Are My Legal Options After a Pedestrian-Car Accident?

If you are injured because of someone else's negligence (carelessness), you typically have a right to compensation for your accident-related injuries. This compensation usually comes out of an insurance settlement with the at-fault party's insurance company, or less commonly, through a car accident lawsuit in civil court.

Pedestrians who are struck by cars typically file insurance claims and lawsuits against the driver who hit them. They might also have claims against the city or state government responsible for the road where the accident happened, the employer of the driver if the driver was on company business at the time of the accident, and anyone else involved in the accident (like a car manufacturer if the car's brakes failed because of a design defect, a bar owner who overserved alcohol to the driver who hit you, and so on).

How Do I Make a Claim Against the Driver Who Hit Me?

Juries and insurance adjusters nearly always find drivers who hit pedestrians to be at fault for the accident. All drivers have a duty to follow traffic laws and do what's necessary to avoid a collision with a pedestrian.

Nearly all states require drivers and car owners to carry a minimum amount of insurance in order to lawfully drive and register vehicles. If a driver hits you, you can file a claim with the driver's insurance company (and the car owner's if the owner is different from the driver).

The driver's adjuster might make you a settlement offer right away or you might need to negotiate. If you can't reach a settlement (or the driver is uninsured), you can file a personal injury lawsuit.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit After an Accident?

If insurance negotiations break down or the driver's insurance isn't enough to fully compensate you, don't delay in filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Each state sets a limit on how long you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after a car accident (called the "statute of limitations"). Most states give people two to three years to file a car accident claim, but you might have as little as one year from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in some states.

Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about the statute of limitations. If you miss the deadline, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear your case and you won't be able to get compensation for your injuries.

How Much Is My Pedestrian-Car Accident Claim Worth?

No two pedestrian accidents are the same, so it isn't that useful to talk about average settlements. But you can get a ballpark estimate for your claim if you know what factors insurance adjusters and juries typically consider. Your compensation will typically depend on:

  • the seriousness of your injuries
  • your prognosis for a full recovery
  • the clarity of the fault picture (how easy it will be for you to show the driver was at fault for the accident)
  • whether you share blame for the accident (and how much)
  • your past and future medical bills
  • lost income (past and future), and
  • pain and suffering (physical and mental).

Learn more about how much you might get from an injury claim and how a pedestrian is compensated after getting hit by a car.

Can a Pedestrian Be at Fault for an Accident?

Pedestrians usually suffer the most serious injuries when they collide with a car, but that doesn't mean drivers are always at fault. Pedestrians can be entirely at fault for a pedestrian-car accident. Or, more often, pedestrians can share the blame for an accident.

Pedestrians, like drivers, owe a duty of care to follow traffic laws. Pedestrians who don't follow the rules might bear some or all of the blame for an accident, including pedestrians who:

  • jaywalk
  • walk where pedestrians are prohibited, and
  • enter a crosswalk when the traffic signal says "Do Not Walk."

Pedestrians who are entirely at fault for an accident, not only have to foot their own accident-related bills, but might also have to pay to fix the driver's car and for other damages. In most states, pedestrians who share fault for an accident can still recover some damages, but their recovery is reduced in line with their degree of fault. Learn more about contributory and comparative negligence.

Talk to a Pedestrian Accident Lawyer

If you've been hit by a car, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand your legal options and help you decide on the best path forward. Hiring a car accident lawyer can help you minimize the hassle of your car accident claim and maximize your compensation. Learn more about when to hire a lawyer after a car accident. You can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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