What If My Car Accident Involved a Pedestrian?

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

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

In major cities and other densely-populated areas of the country, traffic accidents involving pedestrians happen all too frequently. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 76,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic accidents in 2019 alone. If you've been involved in a car accident with a pedestrian, here's what you need to know:

  • You can help an injured pedestrian and yourself immediately after a vehicle-pedestrian accident by following proper post-accident protocol.
  • 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 an insurance adjuster's final decision about liability.
  • If you've got car insurance, chances are your policy will cover injuries suffered by a pedestrian in an accident you caused.

What to Do Immediately After Hitting a Pedestrian

The most important thing you can do if you hit a pedestrian is to 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 continuing to make a bad situation worse, you might want to talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your situation—hit and run driving is a crime in every state.)

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 your state's department of motor vehicles. You'll also need to report the crash to your car insurance company.

Driver Fault Isn't Automatic In a Pedestrian-Car 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 a driver hits a pedestrian who is crossing an intersection in a designated crosswalk at the time of the accident. The driver is almost certainly at fault for the accident in that situation.

But the liability picture is more complicated when other factors are at play. What if the pedestrian was jaywalking or walking in an area where foot traffic is prohibited at the time of the accident? In these situations, 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—will come into play.

Learn more about fault determinations in a car-pedestrian accident.

Will My Car Insurance Cover a Pedestrian-Car Accident?

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 a pedestrian's injuries and other losses when you are at fault for a car-pedestrian accident.

In nearly all states, vehicle owners are required to carry a minimum amount of liability car insurance. Liability insurance kicks in when you cause a car accident and someone else suffers injury or property damage. So your liability insurance will cover a 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.

What Damages Can Pedestrians Collect?

Anyone injured in an auto accident—pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, passengers—can potentially collect two types of damages: economic and non-economic.

Economic damages (also called "special" damages) are an injured person's out-of-pocket expenses. Common categories of economic damages include:

  • the cost to repair and replace damaged property
  • lost wages (past and future), and
  • medical expenses (past and future).

Non-economic (also called "general" damages) tend to be harder to calculate than economic damages. They are meant to compensate an injured person for all of the negative effects of the accident. For a car-pedestrian accident, non-economic damages might include:

What Is the Average Settlement for a Pedestrian Hit by a Car?

No two car-pedestrian accidents are exactly the same, so it's hard to predict exactly how much a pedestrian's claim might be worth in your case. The factors that have the biggest impact on settlement value in these types of cases include:

  • the seriousness of the pedestrian's injuries
  • fault for the accident, and
  • the amount of available insurance coverage.

The Pedestrian's Injuries

The nature and extent of the pedestrian's injuries will largely determine the size of an accident settlement or court award. The more serious the injuries, the higher the value of the pedestrian's claim.

Adjusters and lawyers look at many factors to figure out the seriousness of the pedestrian's injuries, including:

  • the length and scope of medical treatment
  • the total amount of past and future medical expenses
  • whether the pedestrian's injuries will cause long-term or permanent effects, and
  • whether the pedestrian's injuries have limited their daily activities and work.

The Fault Picture

When a car collides with a pedestrian, the pedestrian often ends up with more serious injuries than the driver of the car. For that reason, and because we've all heard that "pedestrians have the right away," some people assume that drivers are always at fault for car-pedestrian accidents. But that isn't always the case.

Determining who is at fault for the accident is important because the person who is at fault—the driver or pedestrian—typically has to pay for accident-related losses.

Proving liability means proving someone was negligent (careless). All people on the road have a legal duty to follow traffic laws and use common sense. Drivers and pedestrians who don't follow the rules of the road can be found partially or entirely liable for car-pedestrian accidents.

Adjusters and lawyers typically look at police reports, photos, surveillance footage, and witness statements to figure out who caused an accident. The value of a pedestrian's claim will likely be reduced if the pedestrian shares blame for the accident or if the fault picture is unclear.

Insurance Coverage

Nearly all states require drivers and car owners to carry some minimum amount of liability insurance to pay for injuries and property damage they cause on the road. But car insurance policies only pay up to policy limits.

If you carry the minimum amount of insurance, your policy might not be enough to compensate a pedestrian who is seriously injured or killed. In that situation, the pedestrian can file a civil lawsuit against you and come after your cash and assets.

Learn more about steps in a personal injury lawsuit.

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. You may have heard the term "defensive driving" in your Driver's Education class in high school. 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 better goal. Here are a few tips for drivers, from the NHTSA:

  • use extra caution when driving at night or in bad weather
  • slow down and be prepared to stop when entering any crosswalk
  • when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, stop well before the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to 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 you're involved in a car-pedestrian accident, you're probably worried about the pedestrian and yourself. You may or may not be at fault. Either way, you'll need to report the accident to your car insurance company and get an initial sense of how your coverage will protect you.

You might be able to handle the insurance claim process on your own. But if you are feeling stressed or if the pedestrian's injuries are serious, you should talk to a car accident lawyer. A lawyer can answer your questions, negotiate with adjusters, and defend you in court if necessary.

Learn more about when to hire a lawyer after a car accident. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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