The law in relation to civil liability following pedestrian accidents with motor vehicles is very case sensitive.
This means that the particular facts of each case on its own need to be considered when establishing who is at fault in an accident.
With some key law reforms soon to be implemented, pedestrians have been granted extra status and have been recognised as “vulnerable road users“ where claims for compensation are concerned, alongside other road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders.
The common law duty of care applies to all motorists and road users in general. Reported case law guides the courts in terms of assessing where there has been a common law breach of duty of care.
The Law Reform Act (Contributory Negligence Act) 1945 will often apply in such cases however. For example, even if the motorist is found to be primarily liable for the accident, the pedestrian may also have fallen below the standard of care expected of them when crossing the road.
This means that if the court makes such a finding there will sometimes then be a percentage deduction against any damages awarded to reflect this. It is however for the defendant to prove that the pedestrian has been careless and the cases are very fact specific.
In the case of child pedestrians the law is generally more lenient, especially the younger the child is. In cases involving children the courts are less likely to find contributory negligence, but where children are 11 or above they will then impose a stricter standard.
The law on pedestrian accidents
Some examples of more recent case law and judge findings are set out below.
Eagle v Chambers.
In this case the Court Of Appeal held “It is rare indeed for a pedestrian to be found more responsible than a driver unless the pedestrian has suddenly moved into the path of an oncoming vehicle.”
Snow v Giddins 1969.
The Court Of Appeal held that a claimant who failed to use an available pedestrian crossing took on a higher standard of care when crossing the road, but was not negligent simply because they did not use the crossing and it was held a claimant is not obliged to use a crossing.
Adams v Gibson October 2016 High Court.
A finding of contributory negligence of one third was made against a brain injured pedestrian who failed to use a nearby pedestrian crossing.
The defendant had been negligent in failing to keep an eye on the claimant and to anticipate him stepping out into the road. Despite it being late at night the area was well lit and expert and other evidence determined the Defendant had seen the claimant for 5 seconds before the collision.
However the claimant should not have attempted to cross without using the pedestrian crossing and should have checked for traffic approaching from his right which he did not do crossing on a 45 degree angle. The claimant was found to have consumed alcohol prior to the collision but this was not found to be blameworthy.
Bruma v Hassan 2017.
In November 2012 the claimant was dropped off after working a night shift at 6am in Islington. It was dark but there was street lighting and it had been raining. There was a pelican crossing nearby but again the claimant did not elect to use it. There was a four lane carriageway and as she proceeded into the first lane of the opposite carriageway she was hit by a motorist.
The defendant gave evidence that he had only seen her immediately before the collision. The claimant suffered catastrophic injuries. It was held that taking into account especially the conditions, set road and relative darkness and other evidence of driving at a higher speed than was appropriate for those conditions the defendant was primarily liable.
A finding of 80% liability attached with the claimant being 20% contributory negligent. The factors here against the Claimant were electing to cross a four lane carriageway in the dark, not using the pedestrian crossing and either not noticing or misjudging the speed of the motorist.
Regarding speed the judge was very clear that the speed limits set were maximum speed limits and if conditions required it motorists should be driving much slower than that. These factors applied in this case and therefore in the circumstances of this case, despite there being no evidence that the speed limit was being exceeded, this did not assist the defendant.
Conclusions we can draw about pedestrian accident cases
It is clear that pedestrian accident claims are very case dependent, relying on a number of factors to be considered before a ruling is made.
These factors include:
- Specific road conditions at the time of the accident
- Time of day and lighting
- Presence of accessible pedestrian crossings
- Weather conditions
- The legal speed limit
But even each of these factors may not be definitive in assessing liability. In many cases pedestrians come off far worse than other road users for the obvious reason that they are the most vulnerable. Serious injuries sustained in these types of accidents will often result in bones fractures or brain injuries, it is therefore very important to seek specialist legal advice.