Are Drivers Always Liable for a Pedestrian Crash in California?

young woman looking down at her phone while walking near a busy streetTraffic accidents involving pedestrians can cause catastrophic injuries and are almost always caused by driver negligence, such as speeding or running a red light. Despite this fact, however, are drivers always liable for pedestrian crashes?

Both drivers and pedestrians owe a legal duty of care. This means if a crash occurs, liability cannot be presumed. It still needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. While it is rare, there are circumstances where a driver may not be liable, or at least not fully liable, for a crash involving a pedestrian.

Were you injured in a crash due to another party’s negligent or reckless behavior? If so, our auto accident lawyers in Sacramento may be able to help you recover compensation for your medical costs, pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages. We have extensive experience managing collision claims and a history of proven results.

Call: (916) 777-7777 to request a FREE case review today.

Why Drivers Are Usually the At-Fault Party in a Pedestrian Crash

By law, drivers owe a duty of care to all road users, including pedestrians. This duty of care means drivers are responsible for things like following traffic laws, maintaining their vehicles and paying attention to the road.

Common ways drivers put pedestrians at risk include:

  • Rushing to turn at an intersection when a pedestrian has started crossing on a “walk” signal.
  • Becoming distracted by cellphones, children in the car, eating, grooming and other things
  • Driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or other substances
  • Engaging in reckless or boisterous behavior with passengers in the car
  • Failing to slow down and exercise more caution when visibility or weather is poor
  • Getting behind the wheel to drive when overly tired

Drivers also owe a higher duty of care given that pedestrians and other vulnerable road users can be injured far more easily given the size and weight of even a small passenger car.

Can Pedestrians Ever Be Liable for a Crash in California?

There are a few situations where a pedestrian could be held at least partially liable for a car crash in California, such as by:

  • Darting into the street, jaywalking or not, without first checking for oncoming traffic
  • Jumping out into traffic from between cars parked on the side of the road
  • Walking into the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Stepping into the road while staring at a smartphone and expecting others to stop

Even if drivers are able to avoid hitting you in time, slamming on the brakes suddenly could cause a rear-end or other type of crash. If damages occur as a result of that collision, you could be held liable.

What if a Pedestrian Gets Hit by a Car While Jaywalking?

Pedestrians who get hit by a car while jaywalking could be held liable for damages, however, not for the reason you may be thinking of.

California used to have one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the U.S. Breaking this law meant you could get a ticket and fines. Fast forward to 2021 to a change in the law amid  increasing concerns that minorities were being targeted and ticketed for jaywalking.

The Freedom to Walk Act, AB 2147, which went into effect on January 1, 2023, now makes jaywalking legal. So whether or not you think legal jaywalking is a good idea, the option to do so is yours. All pedestrians can now cross a street without fear of being stopped by a peace officer and/or being cited and fined for breaking the law.

What the Freedom to Walk Act does not do, however, is remove a pedestrian’s duty of care. While pedestrians are free to jaywalk, they are still prohibited from doing so under specific circumstances, such as when it is reasonably certain to cause a crash, either with something being moved by human power or a motorized vehicle.

Where Do Pedestrians Have the Right of Way in California?

This question is something that both drivers and pedestrians frequently get hung up on. The fact is that pedestrians have the right of way whether they are crossing at a marked or unmarked area.

That said, having the right of way does not fully remove blame from either party if a crash occurs. For instance, even if a pedestrian has the right of way, it does not mean that individual should walk into the street without first stopping to check for traffic. Pedestrians who fail to look before crossing are not acting with reasonable care. This careless behavior puts their own safety, as well as the safety of others, at risk.

What Constitutes Crossing the Road Safely in California?

Even though jaywalking has been legalized, and even though pedestrians have the right of way, they still owe a duty of care. This means pedestrians, under the law, must not do something that a reasonable person could determine would likely cause a crash or put their own safety at risk.

Some examples of what it means to cross the street safely in California include:

  • Always stop before entering any street to check for traffic, even in marked or unmarked crossing areas.
  • Do not expect drivers to stop, even though they should and even though you may have the right of way. Too many drivers are either distracted, drowsy or impaired and may not see you in time to stop.
  • Cross at a designated crossing area whenever possible and wait for the flashing “walk” sign, then check for traffic and cross when clear.
  • Never dart or run into the street suddenly, even when jaywalking, as you put your safety and the safety of others at risk.

Checking first before crossing is not giving in to drivers who fail to slow down. It is an intelligent and reasonable decision to ensure your own safety and well-being.

Arnold Law Firm Is Prepared to Help You With Your Injury Claim

If you were injured in a pedestrian vs. motor vehicle crash, we strongly recommend seeking legal help right away. Deadlines apply in California, so if you wait to0 long to get started, you may miss your opportunity to recover any compensation.

At Arnold Law Firm, we have the staff and resources to fight for full and fair compensation on your behalf. Many people wait to call because they worry about the potential cost of hiring a lawyer. However, we only accept injury cases on contingency. For you, this means no out-of-pocket costs. For us, it means we only get paid if you do.

Call our trusted law firm today. We are experienced and have a proven history of success. (916) 777-7777