Here at Wiener and Lambka, PS, we have extensive experience in handling pedestrian claims. We’ve handled claims for persons struck in and out of crosswalks, on bicycles, and in parking lots.
Most people don’t stop to consider how complicated pedestrian law is in Washington State until they are in a situation when they need to. The biggest blind spot is the understanding that pedestrians rarely have absolute legal right to a place on the roadway. In most situations there are duties for both driver and pedestrian. I will discuss the various duties of pedestrians and drivers by reviewing the jury instructions that have been crafted over the years by reference to the Washington statutes and the cases that interpret them.
WPI 70.01 General Duty—Driver or Pedestrian
It is the duty of every person using a public street or highway [whether a pedestrian or a driver of a vehicle] to exercise ordinary care to avoid placing [himself or herself or] others in danger and to exercise ordinary care to avoid a collision.
The main duty of drivers is very simple: continuous observation.
WPI 70.03.01 Driver Approaching a Crosswalk—Duty to Observe
The driver of a vehicle approaching a crosswalk has a duty of continuous observation.
Pedestrians also have duties that some people do not realize. The idea of “zone safety” that exists for any pedestrian before they enter the street is discussed in cases.
WPI 70.03.03 Duty of a Pedestrian Before Entering a Crosswalk
Before entering a crosswalk, a pedestrian has a duty to look for approaching vehicles. A statute provides that no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk, run, or otherwise move into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.
There have been examples of someone colliding into the side of a vehicle while running or bicycling. In such an event, there is no fault to the driver because no pedestrian can leave the “zone of safety” without having first made sure that it is clear to do so. Even if a drive struck someone who had taken several steps into the street, they would not likely be at fault if the person had suddenly placed themselves in front of a vehicle. In order for the driver to have been negligent in causing the collision, they must have a reasonable reaction time and opportunity to stop for the pedestrian.
Once safety is ascertained and the pedestrian leaves the “zone of safety,” they no longer need to look for approaching vehicles. While this may be the law, we wouldn’t suggest that you follow it verbatim. Counting on someone else to act in a certain way, just because it is outlined in the law, is not a prudent course of action. Regardless, Washington law states that once safety is established and a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, they have the complete right of way.
WPI 70.03 Right of Way of a Pedestrian Within a Crosswalk
A pedestrian within a crosswalk has the right to assume that all drivers of approaching vehicles will yield the right of way to the pedestrian. This right continues until the pedestrian knows otherwise or until surrounding circumstances should have alerted the pedestrian to the fact that an approaching vehicle is not going to yield the right of way to the pedestrian. Absent such circumstances, a pedestrian within a crosswalk has no duty to look for approaching vehicles.
WPI 70.03.02 Driver Approaching a Crosswalk—Duty to Stop
A statute provides that the driver of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is [upon the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning] [either upon, or within one lane of, the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning].
Seattle pedestrians tend to act as though they have the right of way despite where they are legally allowed to cross. This is untrue. A pedestrian has been struck because they attempted to cross in the middle of a block, absent some other negligence on the driver’s part, is at fault. Again, it is prudent to avoid any sort of collision. While being in the right can lead to a financial claim to cover injuries, it cannot compensate for catastrophic injuries that can result from such collisions.
WPI 70.03.04 Pedestrian Crossing a Roadway Outside of a Crosswalk
A statute provides that a pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a crosswalk shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
One must also understand the duty of the driver when a pedestrian is within the crosswalk. The duties are defined as follows by RCW 46.61.235:
(1) The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For purposes of this section “half of the roadway” means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel, and includes the entire width of a one-way roadway.
(2) No pedestrian or bicycle shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk, run, or otherwise move into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.
(3) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply under the conditions stated in RCW 46.61.240(2).
(3) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.
(5)(a) If a person is found to have committed an infraction under this section within a school, playground, or crosswalk speed zone created under RCW 46.61.440, the person must be assessed a monetary penalty equal to twice the penalty assessed under RCW 46.63.110. The penalty may not be waived, reduced, or suspended.
(b) Fifty percent of the moneys collected under this subsection must be deposited into the school zone safety account.
Finally, Washington law does actually define what a crosswalk is. Again, we will use the pattern jury instruction to help with the definition:
WPI 70.03.05 Crosswalk—Definition[A marked crosswalk means any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface of the roadway.] [A crosswalk exists at every intersection of roadways, regardless of whether the roadway is marked with crosswalk lines. The crosswalk is an extension of the existing curbing and sidewalks. The width of the crosswalk is from the curbing to the farthest edge of the sidewalk. The crosswalk extends across the roadway to the opposite side curbing and sidewalk.] [A crosswalk exists at every intersection of roadways, regardless of whether the roadway is marked with crosswalk lines. An intersection is defined as the area where roadways meet and vehicles traveling upon the different roadways may collide. The crosswalk extends across the roadway at the same angle as the roadways meet. The crosswalk is 10 feet wide. It begins at the edge of the intersection and extends 10 feet back from the intersection. [Existing curbing defines the edge of the intersection.]]
What should be noted here is that crosswalks exist at every intersection of roadways even when there is no marking on the road. This means that everywhere two roads intersect, especially when there are no traffic control devices, an implied crosswalk exists for the safe passage of pedestrians. While it may imprudent for every driver to always stop in this situation for any pedestrian, it would be equally imprudent not to expect drivers to stop, and pedestrians to act with this understanding.
Drivers have a duty in Washington State, not to leave the scene of an accident. If a driver fails to stay at the scene of an incident where someone has be struck, hurt, or killed, they have committed a felony. The statute that provides this is RCW 46.52.020..
Duty in case of personal injury or death or damage to attended vehicle or other property—Penalties.
(1) A driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury to or death of any person or involving striking the body of a deceased person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident or as close thereto as possible but shall then forthwith return to, and in every event remain at, the scene of such accident until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of subsection (3) of this section; every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
(2)(a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property must move the vehicle as soon as possible off the roadway or freeway main lanes, shoulders, medians, and adjacent areas to a location on an exit ramp shoulder, the frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street, or other suitable location. The driver shall remain at the suitable location until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of subsection (3) of this section. Moving the vehicle in no way affects fault for an accident.
(b) A law enforcement officer or representative of the department of transportation may cause a motor vehicle, cargo, or debris to be moved from the roadway; and neither the department of transportation representative, nor anyone acting under the direction of the officer or the department of transportation representative is liable for damage to the motor vehicle, cargo, or debris caused by reasonable efforts of removal.
(3) Unless otherwise provided in subsection (7) of this section the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person, or involving striking the body of a deceased person, or resulting in damage to any vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property shall give his or her name, address, insurance company, insurance policy number, and vehicle license number and shall exhibit his or her vehicle driver’s license to any person struck or injured or the driver or any occupant of, or any person attending, any such vehicle collided with and shall render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying or the making of arrangements for the carrying of such person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or if such carrying is requested by the injured person or on his or her behalf. Under no circumstances shall the rendering of assistance or other compliance with the provisions of this subsection be evidence of the liability of any driver for such accident.
(4)(a) Any driver covered by the provisions of subsection (1) of this section failing to stop or comply with any of the requirements of subsection (3) of this section in the case of an accident resulting in death is guilty of a class B felony and, upon conviction, is punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.
(b) Any driver covered by the provisions of subsection (1) of this section failing to stop or comply with any of the requirements of subsection (3) of this section in the case of an accident resulting in injury is guilty of a class C felony and, upon conviction, is punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.
(c) Any driver covered by the provisions of subsection (1) of this section failing to stop or comply with any of the requirements of subsection (3) of this section in the case of an accident involving striking the body of a deceased person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
(d) This subsection shall not apply to any person injured or incapacitated by such accident to the extent of being physically incapable of complying with this section.
(5) Any driver covered by the provisions of subsection (2) of this section failing to stop or to comply with any of the requirements of subsection (3) of this section under said circumstances shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor: PROVIDED, That this provision shall not apply to any person injured or incapacitated by such accident to the extent of being physically incapable of complying herewith.
(6) The license or permit to drive or any nonresident privilege to drive of any person convicted under this section or any local ordinance consisting of substantially the same language as this section of failure to stop and give information or render aid following an accident with any vehicle driven or attended by any person shall be revoked by the department.
(7) If none of the persons specified are in condition to receive the information to which they otherwise would be entitled under subsection (3) of this section, and no police officer is present, the driver of any vehicle involved in such accident after fulfilling all other requirements of subsections (1) and (3) of this section insofar as possible on his or her part to be performed, shall forthwith report such accident to the nearest office of the duly authorized police authority and submit thereto the information specified in subsection (3) of this section.
Wiener and Lambka, PS, has handled many pedestrian claims. We have helped clients who have suffered injuries from being run over, knocked down, fallen out of a moving vehicle, and struck as a bicyclist by a moving vehicle. Working with insurance companies in cases like these can be complicated. If the victim is a pedestrian, they usually have first-party insurance and are also considered a third-party to the driver’s automobile insurance policy. There are a limited set of circumstances where the driver’s PIP policy may pay for the pedestrian’s medical bills as they are incurred, and this is one of them.
Pedestrian industry cases are complicated in every way: factually, legally, and insurance-wise. Each case has to be properly analyzed and reviewed. Our consultations are free and we encourage anyone involved in a pedestrian – vehicle incident to contact us to learn about the important aspects of their unique case.
Cases like this typically fall under the three year statute of limitations for negligence. This means that you must either properly serve and file your case within three years or resolve it through a settlement. While this time frame is fairly long, there is no good reason to wait to enforce your rights. Also, there are other things that can have shorter deadlines, such as submission of medical bills to insurance companies, that motivate one to move more quickly.
First and foremost, if you are medically able, stay at the scene and cooperate with the police investigating the incident. Always call the police when involved in an incident like this. Take photos of the scene and the vehicle involved as well as any other detail that might matter later, should the driver attempt to change their story of what occurred. Collect any witness statements as well.
Second, seek out appropriate medical care as necessary. If you are in doubt, see a doctor.
Finally, have an experienced attorney review your case. These matters are complicated and legal representation is always a good idea. Having a consultation with Wiener and Lambka is free, so there’s nothing holding you back from making that call.
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