Legal Liability and Pedestrians with Disabilities


Preventable accidents strike in Sacramento and throughout California daily. Fortunately, the civil justice system allows those harmed by the negligence of others to receive compensation for their losses to help in their recovery.

One of the most important aspects of any legal case related to negligence and injury involves the “duty of care” that one party owed to another. For example, drivers are obligated to use reasonable care to avoid collisions and prevent pedestrian injuries when traveling. Therefore, potential liability will often hinge on comparing what a party actually did and what a “reasonable person” would have done in the circumstances after an accident occurs. As you might imagine, there is often significant disagreement about whether a party acted reasonably—and that is where strong advocacy comes in.

Unique Circumstances - Disabilities

Importantly, not all residents are treated identically when examining their conduct. For example, certain residents may have unique vulnerabilities, which will factor into the analysis of liability. Consider a resident who has a disability like blindness.

Blind pedestrians (and any other pedestrian who suffers from an impaired physical condition of some kind) are held to the degree of care that would reasonably be expected from a person of ordinary prudence having such a physical condition. This is an important principle under the law because individuals are assessed on a more subjective basis, ultimately ensuring that those hurt in accidents can recover from their losses in a fair manner. 

Driver’s Duty of Care

Individuals with certain disabilities may be at increased risk of being hurt in an accident, and fellow travelers need to carefully avoid causing harm. Consider a resident with hearing impairments. The sound of a running engine or coming traffic acts as a critical signal for pedestrians to get out of the road and avoid an accident. However, those with hearing impairments are not able to use that sound as a warning. This is a reminder of why drivers have an obligation to act prudently at all times, scanning the road for pedestrians who may be in harm’s way.

Drivers also owe an enhanced duty of care to physically impaired pedestrians. That is particularly true when it is clear to the driver that the pedestrian is physically impaired.  For example, pedestrians carrying a white cane or walking with a guide dog clearly have some disability and must be taken into account by drivers. Travelers who encounter such pedestrians and fail to yield or take necessary precautions to avoid injuring the pedestrian can be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.

Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 6.24.21]

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

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