Television and movies would have you believe that everyone in Los Angeles drives either a brand new convertible or an old-school low rider. These same programs will show you that we're willing to sit in traffic at all times of day and never walk anywhere. Blame the industry, if you'd like, because the truth is: lots of people walk, pedal, and skate in L.A. At times, people taking different modes of transportation have their conflicts. Whether you're a pedestrian on Wilshire or "cruising down the street in [your] 64," you should learn the laws of pedestrian injuries and crosswalk liability.
Most auto-pedestrian incidents are negligence cases. An injured party, or plaintiff, in a negligence case must show that: (1) the defendant failed to act with enough care; and (2) that failure caused the injury. A plaintiff will have an easier time proving his/her case if the defendant violated a law or regulation.
Negligence Per Se
The law presumes that a person fails to exercise due care if:
If a driver violates a section of the California Vehicle Code or Chapter VIII of the Los Angeles Municipal Code (Traffic), it's probably a safe bet that the law was designed to protect the public generally from bodily injury. So, if a driver violates one of these laws, both the driver and the pedestrian may want to talk to a lawyer about a potential lawsuit.
If the injured person was acting negligently, he may have his award reduced or eliminated. California has what is called a "pure comparative negligence" system. When a negligence case goes to court, a jury assigns a percentage of the blame for an incident to each party involved. If the plaintiff was blameworthy under the law, the jury will reduce the damages award by plaintiff's own percentage of the blame. This means that pedestrians and drivers both must act responsibly and obey the traffic rules or face civil liability.
Applicable Traffic Laws
1. Right-of-Way in a Crosswalk
The law generally gives pedestrians the right-of-way within marked and unmarked crosswalks, with some exceptions. According to California's jury instructions, this means that drivers generally let pedestrians go first when the pedestrian is in a crosswalk. In all cases, pedestrians must still exercise due care for their own safety. The vehicle code explains that a pedestrian may not step out into traffic if the oncoming cars are so near and quickly approaching that the pedestrian would cause a hazard.
Pedestrians have to yield to oncoming traffic, however, if crossing outside of the crosswalk, or if there is a nearby pedestrian tunnel or overhead crossing serving as the preferred pedestrian crosswalk. In these cases, pedestrians must give right-of-way to the automobiles on the road.
2. Right-of-Way Outside of a Crosswalk, and Jaywalking
Outside of a crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to vehicles if crossing would cause an immediate hazard. Don't misunderstand the statute: you're still not allowed to jaywalk. It's unlawful to cross the street in the middle of the block when there are traffic control devices less than a block away. If a pedestrian violates the jaywalking statute, and a driver gets into a crash to avoid killing the jaywalker, the jaywalker can be held responsible.
3. Pedestrians in Traffic Lanes
The Los Angeles Municipal Code gives pedestrians "all of the rights and ... duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle" when the pedestrian is pushing or pulling a hand cart or hand truck. In some parts of L.A., it's fairly common to see street vendors pushing and pulling carts in the roadway. They have the right to be there, so they are not violating the traffic rules by walking in the street. If a driver does not respect their right to occupy the lane, or follows too closely, the driver may be acting negligently.
In addition to civil liability to pedestrians, drivers may find themselves fined by the state. When a driver fails to give pedestrians in the crosswalk the right of way and causes an injury, the driver is guilty of an infraction. As a result, the offending driver will receive a fine of at least $220.
Government Liability for Crosswalks
Sometimes an accident might appear to be caused by either a pedestrian's or driver's negligence, while instead, a poorly designed crosswalk itself contributed to the accident. These cases sometimes involve crosswalks placed on busy intersections at, or near, freeway exits. Or perhaps a crosswalk was installed in the middle of a busy street, away from any intersections and in a place where drivers did not expect to have to stop. In such circumstances, the municipality, school district, or other governmental unit responsible for the installation may have liability, especially where there exists a track record of danger or prior incidents.
Regardless of the circumstances, injury lawsuits are not always straightforward. It may be best to speak to an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney to learn more about your options.
Contact a qualified attorney.