Color My World: Traffic Lights and Pedestrian Accidents

by | Sep 2, 2022 | Car Accidents, Injuries

Most of us know what traffic lights mean. If you need a refresher course, we highly recommend this interactive video. Stop, go, and slow may be somewhat straightforward. But the effect the color of a light has on a pedestrian accident is much more uncertain.

Pedestrian injuries are often catastrophic or fatal in these cases. When they’re involved in wrecks, steel cages and multiple restraint layers often protect vehicle occupants. Pedestrians, on the other hand, are completely exposed to danger.

Fortunately for these victims, no matter what color the light was, a Lexington personal injury attorney can usually obtain substantial compensation in court. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.

Green Light

We mentioned that no crosswalk pedestrian accident claim is open and shut. While that’s certainly true, if the victim was crossing the street on green and in the crosswalk, the case is pretty close to open and shut.

Victims clearly have the right of way in these situations. So, the negligence per se shortcut theoretically applies. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are responsible for damages as a matter of law if they violate safety laws and cause crashes. However, this legal doctrine only applies if an emergency responder cites a tortfeasor. That often doesn’t happen.

The ordinary negligence doctrine is still available. Drivers have a duty to yield the right of way in these cases. Pedestrians also have a duty of care. They must look both ways before they cross the street, even if the light is green. So, if the victim stepped into the street, or even worse ran into the street, without looking, the court might reduce the victim’s compensation.

Yellow Light

Many people have a hard time crossing the street before the light turns against them. That’s especially true if the Walk/Don’t Walk sign doesn’t have a countdown timer, so victims cannot time their crossings.

Statistically, most pedestrian victims are young children or older adults. People in both age groups often have limited mobility. Therefore, yellow light pedestrian wrecks are very common in Kentucky crosswalks. 

The comparative fault defense, which was mentioned above, is more of a factor in yellow light pedestrian accidents. Victims who walk into the street without looking, especially if the light isn’t green, are arguably responsible, at least in part, for their own injuries.

That’s especially true if the victim was in a virtual crosswalk and didn’t look before crossing. The flashing yellow lights legally command motorists to stop and yield the right of way. But many drivers only slow down or, even worse, keep driving at the same speed.

The sudden emergency defense could also apply in yellow light pedestrian accidents. Tortfeasors are immune from liability lawsuits if they reasonably reacted to a sudden emergency. Insurance company lawyers often argue that a jaywalking pedestrian, especially one who runs into the street, is a sudden emergency.

Red Light

Admittedly, if the pedestrian stepped into traffic when the light was red, the case is difficult to win. However, compensation is still available in these cases.

First, let’s talk about comparative fault. If a victim stepped directly in front of an oncoming car, and the car had the green light, the victim may be legally responsible for the wreck. But if the nearest vehicle was several car lengths away, that’s different, especially if the driver could have safely slammed on the brakes or otherwise avoided the wreck.

The second scenario is different because Kentucky, unlike most other jurisdictions, is a pure comparative fault state. In most other states, victims are entitled to compensation if they were no more than 50 percent responsible for an injury. But in the Bluegrass State, compensation is available even if the victim was 99 percent responsible for the incident.

Now, let’s talk about sudden emergency. Under Kentucky law, this label usually applies to completely unexpected situations, like sudden lightning strikes. Jaywalking pedestrians, like large potholes and stopped-short vehicles, are everyday hazards. The duty of care requires motorists to be prepared for such hazards. This same analysis applies if the insurance company tries to use the sudden emergency defense in a yellow light pedestrian accident.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.