Determining Legal Liability When a Motorist Hits a Pedestrian
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 130,000 people will make a trip to the emergency room this year after being hit by a motor vehicle. About 16 of those pedestrian accidents will be fatal every day. When you’ve suffered injury as a pedestrian in a collision with an automobile, you may have the right to seek damages for your losses, from wages and income to loss of enjoyment of life, from pain and suffering to medical expenses. You right to recover compensation, however, is determined by who “caused” the accident.
Under New Jersey law, fault in pedestrian accidents is based on the legal concept of negligence. The long-established principle of negligence holds that every person, in all their actions, must adhere to a standard of “reasonable care.” When a person operates a motor vehicle or crosses the street, he or she must behave reasonably. Typically, that means obeying all traffic laws, signs and signals, but also paying reasonable attention to the circumstances at the time. Accordingly, motorists may be required to use a higher degree of care if weather, roadway or other conditions make it more difficult to observe pedestrians.
The determination of whether a person’s conduct met the standard of reasonable care is not set forth in New Jersey law, but is determined by the jury on a case-by-case basis. In a lawsuit, then, the jury will typically look at the behavior of all parties to determine whether it was reasonable. Fairly often, a jury will conclude that both parties “contributed” in some manner to causing the accident. When both parties have been deemed to be somewhat responsible, the jury will apply the legal principle of “comparative negligence” to determine how much compensation (if any) the injured party will receive. See our earlier blog to learn more about comparative negligence in New Jersey.
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