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Are Pedestrian Accidents Always the Driver’s Fault?

The Atlanta region is widely known as one of the most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. All Georgia drivers have a legal duty to stop and yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. But pedestrians must also exercise care. Among other things, if a pedestrian crosses a road outside of a clearly marked crosswalk, he or she must yield to traffic. A pedestrian who ignores this rule assumes the risk of injury and may not be able to win a personal injury claim if hit by a car.

Politzer v. Xiaoyan

Here is an example of how Georgia courts will not show much sympathy for a pedestrian who fails to follow the rules of the road. The plaintiff in this case was out walking in her neighborhood one evening. It was already dark out and the plaintiff was wearing mostly black clothing. As she was completing her walk and returning home, the plaintiff crossed a road outside of the crosswalk, which she claimed was “unsafe” because drivers were known to speed through the intersection without stopping and yielding to pedestrians.

The defendant was driving a vehicle down the road the plaintiff was crossing. The plaintiff testified that she thought the defendant was still “far enough away” that she could finish crossing the road. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the defendant’s vehicle “struck her when she was a few steps away from the other side of the road,” according to court records.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence. She also served her own uninsured motorist carrier, which would have been liable for the balance of any judgment that the defendant could not pay. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant and the insurer. The plaintiff appealed, but a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.

As the appeals court explained, the mere fact that there was a collision between a motorist and a pedestrian does not establish that the motorist was negligent. The plaintiff must prove some wrongful act on the part of the defendant. For instance, if the defendant was speeding or driving drunk when he hit the plaintiff, that could prove negligence. But in this case, the Court of Appeals said there was no evidence that the defendant “was speeding, was violating any rules of the road, or saw [the plaintiff] before striking her.” This alone justified the trial court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit.

Even if there was evidence of the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff could still have lost at trial due to her own failure to “exercise ordinary care for her own safety.” While the Court of Appeals did not expressly address this issue, it noted that it was the plaintiff, not the defendant, who was cited by the police following the accident. In fact, the plaintiff entered a guilty plea to a charge of “darting into traffic.” And as discussed above, she was wearing all-black clothing on a dark night.