Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

August 14, 2023 | Ed Bernstein
Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

In bustling cities and serene suburbs alike, pedestrians share the roads with vehicles. The careful dance between walkers and drivers works smoothly most of the time. However, accidents can happen, and they often cause severe injuries or worse for pedestrians. 

A question that often arises is, "Do pedestrians always have the right of way?" While the answer varies depending on the situation, one thing is clear: Drivers have a responsibility to maintain safety. Hence, understanding traffic laws is necessary to prevent these unfortunate incidents. And, most importantly, it is wise to contact a skilled pedestrian accident lawyer if you get into any pedestrian accident.

Understanding Traffic Laws for Drivers and Pedestrians

Experience Lawyer for pedestrian accidents near Las Vegas, NV area

Drivers often interact with pedestrians on the roads. To ensure everyone's safety, it's essential to fully comprehend the traffic laws that dictate these encounters, as drivers have a higher duty of care than pedestrians do. 

A duty of care refers to the legal responsibility to avoid causing harm to others. At 3,000 pounds or less, even the most compact car is much heavier than a person and can move at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour or more.

The vehicle has protective features to keep occupants safe during a collision, including airbags, seat belts, and an enclosed frame. Consequently, when a collision happens between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, the vehicle is far more likely to inflict harm on the pedestrian than the pedestrian is to inflict harm to the vehicle or its occupants. 

Some of these laws are universally understood, such as yielding to pedestrians at a crosswalk. However, other laws may vary from state to state or country to country. The fundamental idea of preventing harm is the basis of these laws.

Traffic laws determining who has the right of way facilitate the orderly and safe co-existence of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorized vehicles on the road. Even when a pedestrian does not have the right of way, though, the driver does not have the right to hit them. On the contrary, the driver must prevent the collision.

The Types of Driver Negligence That Lead to Accidents With Pedestrians

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, nearly 7,400 people die every year in pedestrian accidents, and many thousands more experience injuries. These accidents are most common in urban areas where there is less separation between pedestrians and fast-moving vehicles. 

Drivers of motor vehicles can exhibit many types of negligent behaviors that can cause pedestrian accidents, including:

  • Speeding: Driving faster than the speed limit or than traffic and weather permits can deprive the driver of the time they need to notice a pedestrian and the distance they need to bring their vehicle to a complete stop after slamming on the brakes. Additionally, because many states allow pedestrians to cross outside of a crosswalk when there is a sufficient gap in traffic, a vehicle traveling faster than they expect can result in a pedestrian entering the roadway because they believe they have more time to cross than they really do.
  • Distracted driving: Texting, adjusting stereo controls, and other distractions can cause drivers to miss important cues that they need to stop for pedestrians, such as a change in traffic signals or a pedestrian entering a roadway in or out of a crosswalk.
  • Attempting to pass a school bus with its stop arm extended and lights flashing: As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes, passing a school bus with an engaged stop arm and flashing lights is illegal in every state, as there are often children and caretakers near the bus, and many of them will be attempting to cross the road. Despite laws that impose fines and other penalties for those who disregard traffic safety laws for buses, there are around 113 fatalities each year in connection with school bus transportation, and 183 pedestrians died in school bus-related crashes over a 10-year period.
  • Failing to yield the right of way: While pedestrians don't always have the right of way, many intersections have signaled crosswalks that give them the right of way to cross. Passing other vehicles, failing to stop when a pedestrian enters the crosswalk, or failing to look for pedestrians in crosswalks on streets before turning onto them can lead to pedestrian accidents.
  • Poor visibility due to night driving or inclement weather: Drivers must take extra precautions in low-visibility situations, such as slowing down to give themselves the best opportunity to see and react to pedestrians.

Vigilance and adherence to traffic laws are key driver responsibilities. This includes observing speed limits, yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, and being extra cautious in areas with lots of walkers, like school zones or residential areas.

Violating these responsibilities can lead to severe consequences, including legal penalties such as fines, license suspension, or even incarceration in cases of severe injury or loss of life. More than this, drivers can suffer emotionally and morally by knowing their negligence caused harm to others.

Common Injuries Pedestrian Accidents Cause

Pedestrian accidents often result in injuries, some of which can be life-altering. These could include fractures, head trauma, spinal cord injuries, or internal bleeding. The severity and nature of these injuries affect the pedestrian's immediate medical treatment and long-term health and quality of life.

Medical treatment for any injury is becoming increasingly more expensive. According to America's Debt Help Organization, the average hospital stay costs more than $13,000, excluding additional services such as surgery, diagnostic imaging, prescription medication, and other costs. 

Once an injured pedestrian is stable enough to leave the hospital, they often face even more expenses, including the cost of physical therapy or rehabilitation, the provision of assistive devices such as crutches or a wheelchair, and ongoing follow-up care.

Adults injured in pedestrian accidents face income loss if they have to take time off work due to their injuries or medical treatment. Permanent injuries can impair their future earning capacity, and they may even require placement in a long-term care facility in some circumstances.

Beyond the expenses of pedestrian accident injuries, sufferers often face the psychological impacts of chronic pain, loss of independence, the inconvenience of frequent medical appointments, and the inability to engage in hobbies that were important to them before the accident. 

After a pedestrian accident, the victim may be eligible for various types of compensation to cover medical expenses, loss of earnings, and emotional distress or pain and suffering. An experienced pedestrian accident lawyer can help you understand what compensation you could get, depending on the specifics of your case.

Seeking Compensation for an Injury in a Pedestrian Accident

Dealing with pedestrian-related incidents come with challenges, ranging from understanding the extent of your rights to dealing with the intricate details of the law. In situations like these, the role of a lawyer becomes crucial. They can guide you through the process, provide legal counsel specific to your case, and represent you when necessary. 

Some of the services a lawyer provides while handling your claim include:

  • Determining the source of liability and relevant insurance policies the at-fault party has (or, in some cases, your own insurance policies) that can compensate the claim: Determining who is at fault in a pedestrian-auto accident can be complex. It typically involves investigating, analyzing evidence from the accident scene, and considering witness statements. These elements play a part in piecing together what happened and, consequently, who bears the responsibility.
  • Collecting necessary evidence: Your lawyer will meticulously gather and compile all relevant evidence, including police reports, witness testimonies, surveillance footage, and medical records. This thorough evidence collection can significantly strengthen your case and improve the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
  • Establishing a value to the claim: This depends on the availability of insurance resources, the severity of the injury, any permanent injuries that will lead to a loss of earning capacity or a continued need for medical treatment, and even the level of negligence that led to the accident.
  • Managing communication with the at-fault party's insurance provider: Your lawyer will protect your claim from the tactics insurance companies commonly use to devalue personal injury claims.
  • Managing the timeline of your case: This ensures that you file your claim within the state's personal injury statute of limitations. The statute of limitations requires claimants to file legal disputes within a specific time. The statute of limitations clock begins ticking at the time of the injury for most cases, and states generally allow one to five years to file the legal complaint. While there are exceptions in some cases, allowing the statute of limitations to expire will generally result in the loss of your right to seek compensation through the civil court system. It will also release the insurance company from its obligation to resolve the claim.
  • Negotiating with the insurance company: Your lawyer will negotiate to garner a fair settlement on the claim.
  • Handling the trial preparation: If the insurance company refuses to compensate the claim through a settlement, your lawyer will prepare for trial.

Once a settlement agreement is in place or the court has rendered a decision in your favor, a pedestrian accident lawyer will make sure you receive the money that the process awarded you. 

Affording an Experienced Pedestrian Accident Attorney

After a pedestrian accident occurs, many people avoid speaking with a lawyer because they don't think they can afford to pay for one. However, this worry is needless because of the billing method most personal injury lawyers use.

Pedestrian accident lawyers commonly use a contingent fee, which means payment for their hard work on your case is contingent on their ability to obtain compensation on your behalf. If you don't receive any compensation, no payment is due. 

The contingent fee arrangement typically follows these steps:

  1. You attend a free case evaluation with an experienced pedestrian accident attorney who can discuss the details of your case, explain the claims process, and tell you about the services they can provide. If you decide to hire them, they will ask you to sign a contingent fee agreement. This agreement explains the services the lawyer can provide and designates a percentage of your settlement or award as payment to the attorney.
  2. Work begins immediately on your case without you needing to make an upfront payment. Your lawyer will not charge by the hour while your case is active, freeing you to focus on healing from your physical injuries while your attorney and their legal team deal with the legwork in the claims process.
  3. At the end of the claim, your attorney will receive your settlement or court award. They will place the proceeds in a trust. From that trust, they will remove the agreed-upon percentage for their payment and settle any liens that healthcare providers or insurers placed on it.
  4. The lawyer will meet with you to finalize the case, give you an accounting of payments to them and your providers, and release the remainder of the award to you.

Having an attorney handle these and other aspects of your claim allows you to focus on your physical recovery while they work for your financial recovery. While the answer to "Do pedestrians always have the right of way?" is not a straightforward yes, it is worth contacting a personal injury law firm about your legal options, regardless of the circumstances.

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Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.