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Are motorists automatically at fault if they strike a pedestrian?

On Behalf of | May 5, 2023 | Car Accidents, Personal Injury, Vehicle Accidents

Some people in Rhode Island are under the impression that pedestrians always have the right of way when they want to cross the street. This is untrue and is a broad misstatement of Rhode Island law. While sometimes a motorist is at fault for causing the pedestrian crash, sometimes the pedestrian is partially at fault as well.

Fault at crosswalks

Rhode Island statutes state that pedestrians have the right of way within crosswalks, but only if the traffic lights are out or there are no traffic control signals. Otherwise, pedestrians are expected to follow traffic signals and signs when crossing at the crosswalk.

Pedestrians cannot suddenly jump out into traffic to the point that a motorist would be physically unable to yield to them. If there is a marked crosswalk, and the traffic lights are working, pedestrians must cross the street there.

If a pedestrian wants to cross the street somewhere other than a crosswalk or intersection, they can do so but they do not have the right of way. They must yield to motorists.

Due care

Many people already know that motorists must drive with due care. This is especially true if they are sharing the road with pedestrians. Motorists must take care to notice children or pedestrians who are intoxicated, as these individuals may not exercise sound judgment. If so, the motorist should honk at the pedestrian if necessary to avoid hitting them.

But pedestrians also must exercise due care. If they are drunk or not paying attention to their surroundings, or if they ignore traffic lights or are jaywalking, they might be deemed partially at-fault if they are hit by a car.

Are pedestrians out of luck?

Just because a pedestrian is partially at fault for a collision does not mean the motorist gets off scot-free. Rhode Island follows the laws of pure comparative negligence. This means that the plaintiff in an auto-pedestrian crash case can recover damages minus the percentage of their fault.

For example, if a pedestrian were found to be 30% at fault for the crash, they might recover 70% of damages awarded. Even if a pedestrian was 95% at fault for the crash, they might recover 5% of damages awarded.

So, pedestrians can be partially at fault for car crashes in which they are involved. But this does not mean any damages are automatically barred. A plaintiff’s damages will simply be reduced by the percentage they are at fault.