Who is at fault? Pedestrian vs. Auto

You might think this case study is a no-brainer, but, as always, the correct answer is “it depends.” In California pedestrians have a lot of leeway, but they don’t have an unequivocal right-of-way. California Vehicle Code section 21954(a) states that a pedestrian that is not in a crosswalk shall yield the right of way to any vehicle that is near enough that it constitutes a hazard. This law makes it seem like it is not illegal to jaywalk at all as long as crossing is safe, but that is not the case.

California Vehicle Code section 21955 says that no pedestrian may cross the roadway at any place other than the crosswalk between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control signal devices. Most people agree this means that you can’t cross a street outside of a crosswalk if you have stoplights at both ends of the street. Some officers believe that even stop signs count and that you can’t cross if you are bordered by any controlled intersection.

The intent of these laws are to get people to cross at crosswalks and prevent pedestrians from hindering the flow of traffic. In Sacramento California there are many uncontrolled intersections where CVC 21955 doesn’t apply. That is when you would think 21954(a) takes over, but the City of Sacramento has its own rules that pedestrians need to be aware of.

Sacramento City Code section 10.20.020 states that “No pedestrian shall cross a through street within three hundred feet of a crosswalk other than within such crosswalk…” This means that you only have to be 300 feet away from a crosswalk and you are allowed to jaywalk if it is safe. You still can’t take control of the roadway if a car is close enough to pose a hazard. The Sacramento City Code also says that you can’t cross a through street at an intersection with an alley except when there is a marked crosswalk there. That seems like a strange rule at first, but then you think about people coming out of and going in to the alleys around town and I can understand the kind of danger posed by jaywalking there.

So let’s look at a fact pattern. Jenna is crossing the street in the middle of the street, not at an intersection. She looks both ways, sees a car coming, but thinks she can make it across in time. She darts out, makes it about half-way and gets clipped by the car. When it comes to liability Jenna is going to have to take a portion of the fault, but not all of the fault. Even when she darted out, the vehicle has a responsibility to watch for hazards and be aware that it’s possible for pedestrians to jump out at them and what Jenna did wasn’t technically illegal. A jury will have to decide how much fault to assign each participant.

Now, let’s change some facts. Jenna is crossing at an intersection with an alley. She doesn’t see any cars, but there is one exiting the alley behind her. The car sees a break in the traffic and turns onto the road from the alley only to be shocked to see Jenna and hits her. Jenna is violating a city code by crossing there and if the driver is injured can sue Jenna for negligence and will be liable as a matter of law. The driver doesn’t have to prove duty or breach of duty because Jenna was breaking the law. If the driver doesn’t sue, Jenna will still definitely have some comparative fault. Jenna’s portion of liability will increase if she was crossing within 300 feet of a crosswalk as well. 300 feet really isn’t a long distance to walk in order to practically guarantee your safety.

We represent pedestrians and bicyclists who aren’t always following traffic laws one hundred percent because at the end of the day, the person in the two ton steel vehicle has a responsibility to everyone around them to pay attention and drive with care. Pedestrians and bicyclists are foreseeable hazards, especially in a city like Sacramento. At Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law we routinely successfully litigate cases with comparative fault.

Need advice? Feel you have a potential personal injury case? Contact Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law in Sacramento California today.