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Right of Way and Liability in Pedestrian Accidents

When a car hits a pedestrian, the driver is not automatically at fault. Walkers are expected to obey traffic laws just like everyone else. Just because they are more vulnerable than a driver, they are not shielded from liability. In fact, a driver could even sue a badly injured pedestrian.

Understanding the right of way is a big part of protecting yourself against liability, whether you are a driver or a walker. In this article, we will explore the issue of pedestrian right of way in New York, and we will discuss how right of way affects liability.

Pedestrians Must Use Crosswalks

Pedestrians have the right of way at designated crosswalks. There are two kinds of crosswalks: marked and unmarked.

Marked crosswalks are those with signals. They can say “WALK” or “DO NOT WALK.” More often, you see either a graphic of a person walking or one of a hand, indicating when to go or stop. Pedestrians have the right of way at a “WALK” signal. This is relevant to drivers making turns at these signals. They must stop for pedestrians.

You cannot cross at a “DO NOT WALK” signal, or you could be ticketed for jaywalking. Moreover, you are risking your safety. Cars have the right of way at “DO NOT WALK” signals.

Unmarked crosswalks are most often seen in residential neighborhoods. Usually, the sidewalk dips down into the road with changes in its texture. These changes both indicate that you can cross here and help secure your footing, so you don’t slip on the incline. There may be some white lines crossing the street, indicating foot traffic, but this area still counts as “unmarked.”

Pedestrians have the right of way at all unmarked crosswalks. Even if the crosswalk is in front of a green traffic light, cars are expected to allow pedestrians to cross.

In New York, pedestrians must use designated crosswalks to cross the street. There are no special protections for pedestrians who cross anywhere other than a crosswalk. Drivers have the right of way everywhere else.

Reasonable Responsibility of Safety

Regardless of who has the right of way, both drivers and pedestrians must use reasonable judgement. Pedestrians cannot jump out in front of moving traffic, even if they have priority at a crosswalk. Similarly, drivers must always be on the lookout for pedestrians at a crosswalk, even when they clearly have the legal right to keep moving.

Determining Liability in a Pedestrian Accident

Right of way is not always a clear, cut-and-dry situation. Sometimes, there is blame to go around in an accident. Both the driver and the walker can be somewhat responsible for an accident.

The law recognizes this, and it created “comparative negligence” in response. Comparative negligence gives a percentage of blame to everyone involved in an accident. Someone could be completely at fault, or 100% liable. They could also be partially responsible, resulting in a smaller percentage.

New York civil courts use the comparative negligence system. The plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) can receive damages only in proportion to the defendant’s level of fault. For instance, if the defendant is held 75% responsible for your injuries, then you can receive only 75% of the overall compensation.

Right of way is only part of the court’s consideration. It also looks at each party’s behavior, determining whether either person made the situation more dangerous. The court can also consider outside, mitigating factors. Maybe a crossing signal was blocked from view or out of order. Perhaps the pedestrian was wearing dark clothes at night, and the driver didn’t see them.

New York is one of only 13 states that still practices “pure” comparative negligence. If the plaintiff is 99% responsible for their injuries, they can still receive 1% of the overall damages. Plaintiffs who are are 100% responsible for an accident get nothing.

If you’ve been in a pedestrian accident and have questions about liability, contact our firm for help. We can give you a free consultation and offer you guidance. Our number is (607) 228-8404, and you can reach us online.

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