In 2016, deaths of pedestrians caused by motor vehicle accidents increased by 11% to nearly 6,000, representing approximately 15% of all motor vehicle-related deaths. Although vehicle safety is increasing, the number and proportion of pedestrian (as well as cyclist) injuries and deaths continues to increase, possible due to an increase in distracted driving and pedestrians who are distracted. In Georgia, pedestrians injured by negligent drivers may be able to recover for their injuries. Unfortunately, pedestrian injuries sometimes lead to the pedestrian's death, and the pedestrian's family may have a claim in these cases against the negligent driver.
The Law Governing Pedestrians
Just as the Uniform Rules of the Road provide a set of laws that govern the actions of automobile drivers, Georgia law provides certain rules regarding pedestrians as well. These rules include laws applicable to both pedestrians and drivers in the area of pedestrians.
Highways, Streets, and Roads with Crosswalks
Particularly in metropolitan areas, crosswalks may be marked along city streets. Official Code of Georgia, Annotated (OCGA) § 40-6-91(a) states that
The driver of a vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching and is within one lane of the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For the purposes of this subsection, “half of the roadway” means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel.
In other words, a driver may not enter a crosswalk if a pedestrian is in the crosswalk and on the half of the roadway that the vehicle is traveling. This is true regardless of the color of a traffic light. Thus, a driver cannot rely upon a "green light" and enter a crosswalk with a pedestrian close by - the driver has a duty to exercise care around pedestrians.
On the other hand, pedestrians have duties to care for their own safety as well. OCGA § 40-6-91(b) states that
No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.
Additionally, OCGA § 40-6-90 requires pedestrians to obey traffic control devices (including walk/don't walk signals), except when otherwise directed by law enforcement.
In many cases, the driver and pedestrian dispute where the pedestrian was, or where the vehicle was, or whether either the driver or pedestrian was in the best position to avoid a collision. Witnesses can be an important part of proving liability for a pedestrian personal injury claim. Increasingly, surveillance cameras may provide video evidence of the collision and assist with proving that a driver is negligent. Although Georgia evidence law is complex, video evidence is likely to be admitted in court so long as it is reliable and can be identified by at least one witness.
It is important to note that while many crosswalks are marked with striped paint or other identifying characteristics, this is not true of all crosswalks. Georgia law recognizes unmarked crosswalks, and the duties stated above in OCGA § 40-6-91 apply to both marked and unmarked crosswalks. A crosswalk is defined in OCGA § 40-6-91(10) as
(A) That part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway measured from the curbs or in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the traversable roadway; or
(B) Any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.
Pedestrian Injuries Not in Crosswalks
Although contrary to the belief of many, pedestrians who are struck on roadways outside of crosswalks may be able to make a personal injury claim under Georgia law. Although making such claims can be difficult, Georgia's negligence and traffic laws nevertheless require all drivers to exercise ordinary care when driving a vehicle, and this includes the duty to look out for pedestrians crossing the road in areas other than crosswalks. OCGA § 40-6-92(a) states that pedestrians crossing anywhere other than at a crosswalk (marked or unmarked) "shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless he has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway."
Therefore, a pedestrian may generally cross a roadway (at least if there are no other laws or ordinances prohibiting it) if he or she is able to do so safely. An exception is provided by OCGA § 40-6-92(c), which states that "Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk."
A driver may face liability for hitting the pedestrian if the driver is negligent or otherwise operates a vehicle unsafely resulting in injury to the pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is not in a crosswalk. Where a driver is speeding, or unsafely changes lanes putting it in the path of a pedestrian, the driver may be liable for the pedestrian's injuries under Georgia law. Additionally, a driver turning onto a roadway where the pedestrian is otherwise safely crossing has a duty to look out of both other cars and pedestrians on the road. Ultimately, OCGA § 40-6-93 requires automobile drivers to exercise due care with respect to any pedestrian, stating that
every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway, shall give warning by sounding his horn when necessary, and shall exercise proper precautions upon observing any child or any obviously confused, incapacitated, or intoxicated person.
Although every case is different and not all claims involving pedestrian injuries that occur outside of crosswalks are viable, most cases with serious injuries may be worth evaluating. The Georgia Supreme Court has even found that a driver may be liable for colliding with a person lying, intoxicated, in the middle of the roadway. Fountain v. Thompson, 252 Ga. 256, 312 S.E.2d 788 (1984).
Pedestrian Injuries in Other Areas
Although the statutory provisions listed above may be inapplicable for pedestrian injuries that happen on private property or in areas that are otherwise not part of a road, street, highway, or similar area, drivers still have duties under Georgia common law to exercise due care with respect to pedestrians in the area. A driver who runs over a pedestrian in a private parking lot or driveway may still be liable if the pedestrian can show that the driver failed to exercise ordinary care and was negligent. Georgia law also requires that the pedestrian exercise care for his or her own safety, and the failure to do so may mean that the claim is not viable. Because private areas are often not as well-marked as public roadways, these claims can present more difficult questions when a personal injury claim is pursued.
Finally, if drivers injury a pedestrian who is on a highway or other public area that is not intended for use of vehicles, liability is probably much easier to prove. A pedestrian on a sidewalk or similar walkway, or, for example, in a public park or plaza, certainly has no expectation or way to anticipate that a negligent driver will enter the sidewalk or other area. Therefore, the driver, absent some sort of medical emergency that can, in some cases (though not always) excuse driving a vehicle onto a vehicle-restricted area, the injured pedestrian is likely to be able to prove fault on the part of the driver.
Common Injuries to Pedestrians Injured by Automobiles
Although motor vehicle design has resulted in a decreasing number of injuries to vehicle occupants, as well as a decrease in the severity of injuries, few of these safety designs apply to pedestrians. Therefore, pedestrians who are hit by cars are far more likely to receive serious injuries in an accident. Common pedestrian injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries
- Serious contusions (bruises) and scrapes
- Spinal injuries
All of these injuries may be serious. Although some injuries are immediately apparent, particularly broken bones, others may be more difficult to identify, and may be more serious than the injuries immediately obvious. Pedestrians who are knocked to the ground and strike their head may sustain a concussion or other traumatic brain injury that causes seemingly mild symptoms, but may result in long-standing problems for the victim. Symptoms of concussions and other brain injuries can include headaches, difficulty concentrating, slurred speech, sensory loss (hearing, vision, touch, smell), and numerous other problems, which sometimes may not become apparent until well after the injury itself. In any case involving unconsciousness or a strike to the head, a victim should consult appropriate medical professionals as soon as possible to determine the extent of the injury.
All automobiles operated in Georgia are required to carry minimum limits of liability insurance in the amount of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident (many vehicles have more insurance than the state minimum requirements). This insurance covers not only collisions with other vehicles but also injuries caused to pedestrians and cyclists.
Because of the severity of pedestrian injuries, the minimum required limits may be insufficient to cover all injuries suffered by a pedestrian. Therefore, an important consideration is uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage applies to the person covered by the insurance in cases where the at-fault driver is actually uninsured as well as in cases where the driver has insurance that is insufficient to cover all damages. Under Georgia insurance law, uninsured motorist insurance becomes underinsured coverage under these circumstances. This insurance looks to what caused the injury - a negligent, uninsured or underinsured motorist, and not to whether the injured person was in a vehicle. Under Georgia law (OCGA § 33-7-11), uninsured motorist coverage provides protection to not only people in cars, but also to pedestrians and cyclists who are injured by negligent drivers.
Car insurers operating in Georgia are required to offer uninsured motorist coverage, but it can be waived by the customer (the "insured"), although the waiver must be in writing. Additionally, where a person purchases uninsured motorist coverage, it will also cover relatives of that person living in his or her household. Therefore, it is often important to determine if there is any uninsured motorist coverage available, even if the injured person has not purchased insurance him or herself. This may involve contacting insurance companies and interviewing family members. Uninsured motorist coverage also usually requires that the insurance company be notified of the accident soon after it happens or else coverage may not be available.
Pedestrian injuries are some of the most serious Georgia personal injury claims that we see, due to the size, speed, and weight differences between vehicles and pedestrians. If you have been injured as a pedestrian, The Hadden Law Firm may be able to help. We have recovered for pedestrians in these circumstances, both in cases on the road and on private property. Every case is fact-specific and therefore we will be glad to evaluate your claim.