In 2018, 12% of road traffic accidents in the UK involved pedestrians; and while it is often believed, that the driver is always responsible, in reality pedestrians can also be found fully or partly at fault.
While accidents can occur for a multitude of reasons, it is evident that pedestrians’ reckless or careless behaviour can be extremely dangerous. 8% of the total number of accidents are caused by failure to look properly when crossing the road when inexperienced drivers cause only 4%.
What is Contributory Negligence?
Contributory negligence is a concept often used as a defence against the claimant. Essentially, it means that the claimant is partially to blame for the accident. A good example to understand this notion can be found in the case of Froom v Butcher (1976), where 20% of the claimant’s damages were deducted because he was not wearing a seat belt. According to the appellate court, while the accident was the defendant’s fault, the majority of the claimant’s injuries were caused by his failure to wear a seatbelt and would have been otherwise prevented.
Similarly, in accidents involving pedestrians, contributory negligence bears an important role in determining the outcome of a claim.
A case where contributory negligence played a very significant part is Jackson v Murray. In this case, a 13 year old girl exited the bus and started running intending to cross the road. A driver who was coming from the opposite direction, failed to stop in time and hit her, causing severe injuries.
The trial judge found that her reckless behaviour must be taken into account and decided that the claimant has contributed to the accident by 90%.
Even though this was later reduced, this finding clearly demonstrates that pedestrians can be found blameworthy. This can have significant repercussions, since it has a direct impact to which party will bear the expenses related to the accident.
In a similar case, a 17 year old girl hit by a driver who admitted to having consumed enough alcohol to impair his abilities, received a finding of 60% contributory negligence due to her reckless behaviour.
Can I claim against a pedestrian for vehicle damage?
Contrary to popular belief, claiming against a pedestrian for vehicle damage is in fact possible. However, it might not always be advisable; In contrast to drivers, pedestrians do not have insurance. This means that in order to pay for damages, they must possess sufficient means (such as liquid assets, property or other monetary resources). Otherwise, even if the judge’s decision favours the driver, a fair compensation will not be attainable. Consequently, a claim against a pedestrian will -more often than not- prove to be futile.
However, it might be worthwhile for a driver to claim against a pedestrian if the driver is a cyclist or a motorcyclist, as long as the pedestrian has sufficient means.
In conclusion, in an accident involving a pedestrian, the driver should not always be considered as the responsible party; every road user, from pedestrians and cyclists to motorcyclists and car drivers, has a ‘duty of care’ to all others and an obligation to make sure that their actions do not cause harm.