There is a common misconception in pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents that the pedestrian is always right. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Drivers owe a duty of care to pedestrians, but pedestrians also have a duty to protect their own safety and the safety of others. In these types of accidents there is a complex mix of statute and common law that makes determining who is at fault a confusing and often unclear process. Often, personal injury lawyers need to be involved.
In Alberta, the Traffic Safety Act governs who is responsible in pedestrian motor-vehicle accidents. This Act states that it is the responsibility of the driver to prove that they were not at fault for the accident. In legal terms, the Act places a reverse onus on the driver of the vehicle to prove that they were not liable. It is the driver’s responsibility to show that in the specific circumstances of the accident, a reasonable driver could not have prevented the accident from happening.
In some cases, this rule is applied and the driver is found to be 100% responsible. For example, in Willier v. Lajeunesse, 2001, a case run by Robinson LLP personal injury lawyers in Edmonton, the pedestrian was struck from behind while walking down the shoulder of a highway. The Court found that the defendant driver was completely responsible for the collision. Robinson LLP was able to make this case despite the RCMP finding fault on behalf of the pedestrian and actually offering congratulations to the driver for his efforts to avoid the collision. Instead, we were able to show the driver knew that pedestrians sometimes walked down that highway and took his eyes off the road for a few seconds. The Court found that these actions were not reasonable in the circumstances and found the drive at fault.
However, the reverse onus in the Traffic Safety Act does not mean that the driver will always be at fault. If the driver can prove that the actions of the pedestrian caused or contributed to the accident, the Courts have not hesitated to find that the pedestrian was partially or completely at fault for the collision.
For example, in Bouchard Estate v. Chalifoux, 2004 ABQB a pedestrian was hit and killed while running across a road. The Court found that the driver was not liable because they did not have enough time to stop and the driver acted reasonably by slowing their vehicle down before the collision occurred. The pedestrian’s entire claim was dismissed because he had run in front of the vehicle with no warning.
Similarly, in Cooper v. Crockford, 2007 ABQB an intoxicated pedestrian was jaywalking and was hit by an ambulance. The pedestrian claimed that the ambulance was driving too fast and should have foreseen the risk of a pedestrian crossing the street. The driver of the ambulance argued that there was nothing he could have done to avoid the collision in the circumstances. The Court found that while the driver could have avoided the accident, the pedestrian was the primary cause of the accident and his actions were far below the standard of care expected of a reasonable pedestrian. The Court held the pedestrian 2/3 liable for his role the accident.
H.C. (Dependent Adult) v. Loo, 2006 ABCA, another case brought by Robinson LLP personal injury lawyers in Edmonton, is the best example of how difficult liability can be to prove in a pedestrian motor vehicle collision. In this case, the pedestrian was crossing in an unmarked crosswalk when she was struck by a vehicle. Most of the witnesses testified she had been running across the road. In that case, the pedestrian was found to be 50% liable. The Court decided that stepping out into an unmarked crosswalk without warning was not reasonable in the circumstances. The driver and the pedestrian were found equally liable for the collision.
In short, just because you are a pedestrian does not mean you will automatically win your claim against the driver of a vehicle. The Court will look at all of the circumstances including whether you acted reasonably, where you crossed the street, and whether you were taking reasonable care for your own safety. If the driver can show that you were not acting reasonably you may loose all or part of your claim. This is why it is important to immediately contact a personal injury lawyer in Edmonton if you have been in a pedestrian-motor vehicle collision. The personal injury lawyers at Robinson LLP can help you advance your claim and ensure that you do not get caught in one of the many liability pitfalls of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions.