Pedestrian Accidents and Comparative Negligence

A pedestrian has limited protection against a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds. When a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle, however, the driver of that vehicle may attempt to minimize his or her liability and use the defense known as “comparative negligence.”

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence can be used to reduce the defendant’s liability. The old rule and one that is seldom followed in most states was that a party did not have a right to recover if he or she contributed at all to the injuries that he or she sustained. Comparative negligence is a common method used in many states. This reduces the plaintiff’s ability to recover the amount he or she is responsible for. If the plaintiff is found 20 percent responsible for causing a car accident, and the damages exceed $100,000, the plaintiff could be eligible to recover $80,000. Some states use a modified comparative negligence system which allows the plaintiff to pursue the claim so long as he or she was less than 50 percent responsible for the accident.

Statistical Data

In recent years, pedestrian deaths have increased. Industry experts attribute this increase to distracted walking. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the three largest cities in America with the highest number of pedestrian deaths due to motor vehicle collisions. They account for 51 percent, 42 percent, and 30 percent respectively.

The Department of Transportation data shows that approximately 75 percent of pedestrian crashes occur in urban areas, with about two-thirds of them occurring at intersections. Most of these accidents occur at night. Of the 1.2 million individuals who are killed in traffic accidents around the world, approximately one-third of these deaths are to pedestrians.

Distracted Walking

While using a cell phone has long been linked to an increased risk of being involved in a car accident, industry experts also believe that the use of cell phones has contributed to the increased number of pedestrian fatalities. However, the danger of using a cellphone has been known for some time. Talking on the phone or texting while walking may cause pedestrians to lose their ability to be more attentive and thus increase the chance of an accident. Listening to music while walking can cause pedestrians to miss important sounds like crossing detections, car horns, and other road sounds. These indications may not be visible to them. One study found that approximately 30% of pedestrians engage in distracted activities while crossing the street. This includes texting and listening to music, as well as using their handheld phones.


The danger of distracted walking was so serious that the Department of Transportation granted safety grants to 22 American cities that had more pedestrian deaths than the national average. This initiative was created to educate, enforce and provide other resources to help reduce distracted walking. Distracted walking causes pedestrians to take 18% longer to cross an intersection than if they were not distracted. A distracted walker is four times as likely to engage in riskier crossing behaviors than an undistracted one.

Distracted Walking and Comparative Negligence

If a motorist is involved in an accident with a pedestrian, he or she may claim that the pedestrian contributed to the accident by walking while in a distracted state. He or she cannot usually pass off all negligence, though, since motorists have the duty to keep a proper lookout while operating a motor vehicle. This tactic may reduce the amount of compensation that a pedestrian may receive for serious damages.

Legal Assistance

A personal injury lawyer is available to help pedestrians injured in an accident caused by negligent drivers. Even if the pedestrian was distracted from the accident, the motorist is often partially or primarily responsible and can be held liable for civil damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer can assist with the claims and communications with the defendant’s legal counsel. The lawyer can explain to the victim what his rights are and how comparative negligence might impact the claim.

Updated on 12/13/2021