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“The pedestrian always has the right of way”- true or false

By Chuck Geerhart

shadows-and-lights-1560487-640x480I am handling more and more pedestrian injury cases.  There are a lot of cars, trucks, buses, bikes, and skateboards out there. Everyone is looking into his or her phone. It’s not surprising pedestrians are getting hurt all the time.  What are your rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian?

Under the law, drivers must yield to pedestrians in most, but not all, circumstances. “The

driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian” California Vehicle Code § 21950(a & c) This section refers to intersections without illuminated traffic signals.

Note the term “unmarked crosswalk.” We all know what a marked crosswalk looks like. An unmarked crosswalk runs between all streets (but not slender alleys) which meet at approximate 90 degree angles. Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing at an unmarked crosswalk.

Pedestrians do not have the right to simply charge out into an intersection. “No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard” CVC § 21950(b).

Drivers approaching a crosswalk must stop if another vehicle ahead of them has stopped, even if they can’t see why the other vehicle has stopped.  Vehicle Code § 21951 provides: “Whenever any vehicle has stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.”  By its plain language, this code section is not limited to intersections without traffic signals. I am handling a wrongful death case right now where a woman was crossing against a red light, but was in the crosswalk. One car stopped for her, but a car approaching from the rear did not. That car did not see her and killed her. The case is in litigation.

Because a car is so powerful, pedestrians have a lesser duty of care.  California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 710 (Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers) provides:

“The duty to use reasonable care does not require the same amount of caution from drivers and pedestrians. While both drivers and pedestrians must be aware that motor vehicles can cause serious injuries, drivers must use more care than pedestrians.”