Since 2006, the number of car crash fatalities has decreased significantly. But the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased by about the same rate. What’s responsible for that discrepancy?
In a nutshell, more people walk now than they did ten years ago. Some people want to get healthy, some want to reduce their carbon footprint, and some want to enjoy the outdoors. Pedestrian activity is especially common in places like Marietta – a semi-urban area where the weather is fairly mild in the winter.
Most pedestrian fatalities involve either motor vehicle crashes or falls due to uneven walkways. In both these instances, the victim may be entitled to significant compensation. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may also be available, in some extreme cases.
Pedestrian Fatality Causes in Cobb County
Newton’s Second Law of Motion says that speed multiples the force in a collision between two objects. In a vehicle wreck context, the faster two vehicles are travelling, the more serious the collision. So, a low speed “fender-bender” is a high-speed serious injury or fatal collision.
This factor is even more pronounced in vehicle-on-pedestrian crashes. If the vehicle is moving less than 20mph, the pedestrian fatality rate is less than 10 percent. But if the vehicle speed is above 40mph, the pedestrian fatality rate skyrockets to 90 percent.
The reason is simple. Multiple restraint systems, not to mention steel cages, protect vehicle occupants in collisions. But pedestrians literally have nothing bit the clothes on their backs. They do not have helmets, seat belts, or anything else.
As outlined below, speed-related crashes usually involve negligence per se, even if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was not travelling above the posted speed limit.
In terms of uneven sidewalk falls, the nearest property owner may be legally responsible for damages. Under most municipal laws in Georgia, private property owners must maintain both their own walkways and the portion of the sidewalk which abuts their property.
If the sidewalk is uneven or cracked, many people can see the hazard and avoid it. Or, if they lose their balance, they can regain it quickly. But older people have problems in this area. Due to AMD (Age-related macular degeneration), many of these people cannot see well when looking straight ahead. Additionally, when some older people lose their balance, they cannot quickly regain it. That’s especially true if the walkway hazard is very subtle, like a cracked sidewalk.
Poorly-maintained walkways almost always indicate a lack of ordinary care. That lack of care sets the stage for a successful recovery.
Your Claim for Damages
Speed-related vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions often involve negligence per se. The tortfeasor is liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- Violates a Safety Law: Under Section 40-6-180 of the Georgia Code, it is illegal to travel at a velocity “greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing.” In plain English, if there are pedestrians on the sidewalk, drivers must slow down below the posted speed limit.
- Substantially Causes Injury: As outlined above, there is a direct relationship between speed and pedestrian fatalities. Typically, an attorney uses safety statistics to drive this point home with the jury.
In some situations, negligence per se is only a presumption of negligence as opposed to absolute proof of liability.
Property owner liability usually depends on the victim’s status. Georgia still uses a classification system based on common law. Essentially, if the property owner and victim have a close relationship, the duty of care is high. The more distant that relationship becomes, the more the duty of care diminishes.
- Invitee: Most victims responded to the owner’s direct or implied invitation and their presence conveys an economic or noneconomic benefit on the owner. In these cases, the owner has a duty of reasonable care. This duty includes a responsibility to inspect the premises frequently.
- Licensee: A guest of a hotel guest is usually a licensee. This individual has indirect permission to be on the land. But this presence does not benefit the landowner. So, most landowners must only warn licensees about latent (hidden) defects, like a loose handrail.
- Trespasser: If the victim did not have permission and conveyed no benefit, the owner usually has no duty. Those stories about injured burglars who sue homeowners are mostly urban legends.
Most sidewalk injury victims are invitees. These individuals are usually either shoppers or social guests. Shoppers and similar individuals are always invitees, even if they do not buy anything. Moreover, most people benefit from having social guests. Sometimes, an attorney will ask a question like “Did you look forward to X’s visit?” or “Were you having fun before X fell?”
Some Insurance Company Defenses to Pedestrian Injury Claims
In their initial pedestrian vehicular accident court documents, insurance company lawyers often argue that the victim “darted out into traffic” and therefore the tortfeasor could not avoid the crash. This language sets up the sudden emergency defense. This doctrine excuses negligent conduct if the tortfeasor:
- Reasonably reacted to
- A sudden emergency.
Most people reasonably react to collisions or potential collisions. They pull over to the right, stop, and wait for emergency responders to arrive.
But the second prong of the sudden emergency defense is much harder for insurance company lawyers to prove. In this context, a “sudden emergency” is a hood fly-up, tire blow-out, or another completely unexpected situation. A jaywalking pedestrian, which unusual, is certainly not entirely unexpected.
So, the sudden emergency defense usually does not apply in these cases.
In slip-and-fall instances, insurance company lawyers often use the lack of knowledge defense. This defense comes from Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company. In this case, the victim slipped on a banana peel. Significantly, witnesses said that the peel was “black, flattened out and gritty.” The court held that since the peel was black, it had probably been on the floor for some time. Therefore, the property owner had constructive knowledge (should have known) of the hazard. That’s as good as actual knowledge.
In Georgia, this doctrine is known as the time-notice rule. So, if the sidewalk is hazardous for several days and the owner does nothing about it, constructive knowledge probably attaches.
Reach Out to an Assertive Lawyer
Pedestrian fatalities usually involve some kind of negligence. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. After-hours visits are available.