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Who is at fault when a car strikes a pedestrian crossing outside a crosswalk?
Duty to Exercise Due Care
When an accident occurs involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, the determination of who is at fault will normally require careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the accident. Generally, both pedestrians and drivers have a duty to obey traffic laws, signs, and signals. Drivers must remain within the posted speed limit, drive on the proper side of the road and within the proper lanes, and must pay attention to the road and avoid distractions such as cell phone calls and text messages. In addition, pedestrians must exercise ordinary care to avoid injury. They must look for on-coming traffic before stepping into the street, and make reasonable efforts to avoid an accident. Both drivers and pedestrians have a right to presume that the other people they encounter on the road will perform their duties and obey the law.
A driver who notices a pedestrian approaching the path of his vehicle has a right to assume that the pedestrian will remain at the side of the road in a place of safety as his vehicle passes and will not jump into the path of his vehicle. If the pedestrian does jump into the path of a moving vehicle, his actions could be negligent, and the driver might not be at fault for the resulting accident.
Use of crosswalk is not definitive in determining negligence
The fact that an accident occurred while a pedestrian was outside of the boundaries of a crosswalk would be one among many relevant factors to consider when determining who was at fault. In most cases, this fact alone would not determine fault.
Pedestrians who cross the street at a crosswalk enjoy the right-of-way and motorists are required to yield to them and exercise due care. Similarly, pedestrians who cross just outside the boundaries of a crosswalk also enjoy the right-of-way. On the other hand, a pedestrian who chooses to cross the street well outside the boundaries of a crosswalk has a duty to yield to on-coming traffic. However, this duty is not absolute and the relevant issue for the jury will be whether the pedestrian exercised reasonable care under the circumstances to avoid injury while crossing the street.
If, for example, the pedestrian waited for several minutes by the side of the road and watched carefully for a break in the traffic before crossing, but was nevertheless struck by a car because the driver was speeding and abruptly changed lanes in front of the pedestrian, then the jury could reasonably conclude that the pedestrian was not negligent. Under these circumstances, a jury could reasonably conclude that the driver was at fault, despite the pedestrian’s failure to use a crosswalk.