It’s a common belief that pedestrians always have the right of way, but is that true? In most places, saying that pedestrians always have the right of way implies that when they cross the street, whether legally or illegally, they’re not at fault if someone hits them with their car. With this logic, a person could purposely throw their body into oncoming traffic, causing a several-car pile-up, and it wouldn’t be their fault, right?
But do pedestrians usually get the greater benefit of the doubt? In pedestrian accidents, it’s the pedestrian who is far more likely to suffer the most damage than any vehicle owner. Does this mean that they get priority when it comes to placing blame in an accident? The pedestrian accident attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. can explain.
In Pennsylvania, a pedestrian is simply described as “a person who travels on foot.” As long as there is no vehicle of any kind, a person is considered a pedestrian. People in wheelchairs, motorized and manual, are also considered pedestrians, as wheelchairs are not considered vehicles.
This means that a pedestrian accident is anything involving a motorized vehicle colliding with a pedestrian. For example, if a pedestrian is hit by a car, truck, or motorcycle, it’s a pedestrian accident first and foremost. This also means that if a bicycle collides with a pedestrian, it would be considered a bicycle or cyclist accident since a bicycle isn’t a motorized vehicle.
In Pennsylvania, pedestrians have greater protections by law than vehicle drivers. Since they incur the most risk, they require the most protection. Since many states have similar laws, this is likely where the idea that pedestrians always have the right of way comes from.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says that pedestrians have the right of way when walking in a crosswalk. This includes when there’s incoming traffic. Cars must yield to pedestrians, even if the light is green. If they hit someone when the light is green, they can be held legally responsible, just as they would be if the light was red. The driver can fight it in court, and there is precedent for plaintiffs and defendants winning.
Drivers must cease driving the moment someone walks into the crosswalk. This can lead to cases where someone walked into the crosswalk not from the sidewalk but from the street outside the crosswalk before the accident occurred.
What’s confusing about this rule is that Pennsylvania’s DOT also tells pedestrians not to walk in the path of moving vehicles. This can seem contradictory since they’re supposed to have the right of way, yet also expect many vehicles not to stop. The law is likely attempting to explain that not every vehicle can stop in time, so pedestrians should take that into consideration. In reality, this leads to many complicated lawsuits surrounding pedestrian accidents, with vastly varying results.
There are a large number of instances where pedestrians are at fault for accidents. The obvious example is when a pedestrian is walking outside of a crosswalk when they’re hit, but that’s not the only instance.
Other instances include when an intersection has signaled for both pedestrians and vehicles. If there is a pedestrian crossing signal, the pedestrian must abide by the signal. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter if they are in the crosswalk or not. If a pedestrian accident occurs where both the pedestrian and driver ignore the signals, they share the blame. They can have a day in court to prove who holds the most blame and who should bear financial responsibility for the accident.
But there are not intersections on every corner, and people need to cross and traverse on roads that don’t have crosswalks. In those situations, vehicles have right of way, and pedestrians must yield, contrary to popular belief. There are exceptions, such as when there is no sidewalk to use. If there is no practicable sidewalk to use, pedestrians may walk on the side of the street, and vehicles must make sure they don’t hit them.
It’s not uncommon for a pedestrian and driver to both be at fault in a pedestrian accident. There are rare cases where they are at equal fault. It requires a skilled attorney to prove who is more at fault, and whoever is more at fault will have to be the damages. How much in damages they pay will also depend on the percentage of fault. For example, if the driver is more at fault, but decided to be 60% at fault, they only have to pay 60% of the pedestrian’s bills.
Whether you are the driver or the pedestrian, you first need to make sure everyone is alright and/or getting help. Then if you can, take pictures of the scene, recording as much information as you can. Once you’ve physically recovered if necessary, or with the help of a friend or loved one, contact a pedestrian accident attorney immediately.
The attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. have vast experience dealing with vehicle accidents of many kinds. If you need help defending yourself or seeking justice for your injuries, contact us immediately.
Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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