What If My Car Accident Involved a Pedestrian?

When a driver hits a pedestrian, key liability and insurance coverage questions need to be answered.

In major cities and other densely-populated areas of the country, traffic accidents involving pedestrians occur all too frequently. According to the most recent numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian fatalities caused by car accidents are on the rise, and NHTSA data shows that 75,000 pedestrians were injured in vehicle accidents in 2018 alone. If you've been in a car accident in which a pedestrian was injured or killed, here's what you need to know:

  • The steps you take after a vehicle-pedestrian accident can be crucial.
  • Fault for a car-versus-pedestrian accident isn't always as clear as you might think, and state comparative negligence rules will likely play a big part in any final liability (and damages) determination.
  • If you've got car insurance, chances are your policy will cover injuries suffered by a pedestrian in an accident you caused.

Read on for the details.

What to Do Immediately After Hitting a Pedestrian

Perhaps the most critical thing to do after a vehicle accident involving a pedestrian is also one of the first: stop your vehicle and follow proper post-accident protocol. That means getting medical attention for anyone who needs it, and exchanging contact and insurance information with anyone involved in the crash. It's also a good idea to take pictures of the car accident scene, preserve evidence, and reach out to any witnesses who saw what happened.

(Note: If you hit a pedestrian and didn't stop at the scene, rather than continue making a bad situation worse, it might be time to discuss your situation--and your best path forward--with a criminal defense lawyer.)

If the pedestrian or anyone else involved in the accident is injured, even slightly, you probably need to report the accident to local law enforcement and/or your state's department of motor vehicles. And of course, you'll need to report the crash to your car insurance company.

Driver Fault Isn't Automatic In a Car-Versus-Pedestrian Accident

While it's true that driver negligence (which is legal shorthand for run-of-the-mill carelessness or inattention behind the wheel) is typically behind most car accidents involving pedestrians, the driver's liability isn't always so absolute.

It's one thing if the pedestrian is crossing an intersection in a designated crosswalk at the time of the accident. Fault in that situation usually rests squarely on the driver if the pedestrian gets hit. But the car accident fault picture can get complicated if other factors are at play. What if the pedestrian was crossing the street in the middle of a block? What if the pedestrian was on a highway or other area where foot traffic is prohibited? In these kinds of situations (and others) the pedestrian will almost certainly end up bearing some share of legal responsibility for the accident. At that point, the state's shared fault rules ("contributory" and "comparative" negligence in the language of the law) will come into play. Get the details on how contributory and comparative negligence work in a personal injury case, and learn more about the fault determination in a car-pedestrian accident.

Does My Car Insurance Cover a Pedestrian's Injuries?

If you've got car insurance that meets or exceeds your state's minimum coverage requirements, it's a safe bet that your policy will cover any injuries and certain other losses suffered by a pedestrian in an accident caused by you.

In most states, vehicle owners are required to carry liability car insurance at certain dollar amount minimums. This kind of insurance kicks in when you cause a car accident and someone else (i.e. a pedestrian) suffers injury or property damage. So your liability coverage will be available to compensate the pedestrian's medical bills, lost income, "pain and suffering", and other economic and non-economic losses ("damages") stemming from the accident. But keep in mind that if the pedestrian's injuries are significant, those damages might exceed the dollar limits of your liability coverage, and you (not your insurance company) could be on the financial hook for the difference.

If you live in one of the dozen or so states that follow some variation of a no-fault car insurance scheme, chances are there will be available insurance to cover at least part of the pedestrian's damages, but the issue tends to be a bit more complicated. In some no-fault states, the insured driver's own policy protections will transfer to any pedestrian injured in an accident involving that driver. Elsewhere, if the pedestrian has their own no-fault car insurance and/or health insurance, that coverage might apply (at least initially). If you live in a no-fault state and are in an accident involving a pedestrian, talk to your insurance company to understand the coverage possibilities.

Avoiding Car-Pedestrian Accidents

At one point or another, everyone is a pedestrian (as the U.S. Department of Transportation reminds us), and drivers would do well to keep this perspective when behind the wheel. "Defensive driving" is something of an overused expression. When it comes to the kind of constant awareness that's required of drivers—who need to be on the lookout for kids, adults, bicyclists, skateboarders, and anyone else who might be on the streets and sidewalks—"vigilant driving" might be a goal. Here are a few tips for drivers, from the NHTSA:

  • use extra caution when driving at night or in bad weather
  • low down and be prepared to stop when entering any crosswalk
  • when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, stop well back and give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they can stop too
  • never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be people crossing that you can't see
  • follow lower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where children are present, and
  • be extra cautious when backing up, since pedestrians can move into your path.

Next Steps

If a pedestrian was injured as part of your car accident, your best next step will be reporting the incident to your car insurance company, and getting an initial sense of how your coverage will protect you if it turns out you're at fault (even partially) for the accident. You'll need to cooperate with your insurance company's investigation of the crash, and at some point it might make sense to discuss your options with an attorney, especially if the pedestrian's damages are significant and it looks like your car insurance might not cover everything.

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