Who Is Responsible When a Pedestrian Is Hit By a Car?

If you are hit by a car and suffer serious injuries, it logically follows you may wish to sue the driver of the vehicle. But what other parties may be responsible? The Appellate Division, Third Department, recently considered such a case. A pedestrian struck by a car argued a second driver and even the city which designed the road was responsible for her injuries. The court disagreed.

Bowman v. Kennedy

The plaintiff in this case was hit by a car while crossing a busy street in Elmira, New York. The plaintiff was leaving a local restaurant and had to cross the street, which had no crosswalk, in order to reach a parking lot. A driver traveling the road saw the plaintiff and slowed her vehicle, gesturing the plaintiff to continue crossing. But at the same time, a second vehicle that was behind the first vehicle veered into the shoulder and struck the plaintiff, causing her serious injuries.

The plaintiff eventually sued the drivers of both cars, as well as the City of Elmira and related parties responsible for the design of the road. The first driver—the one who stopped and gestured the plaintiff to cross—together with the City and the other road construction defendants all moved to dismiss the case. Chemung County Supreme Court granted the motions, and on appeal, the Third Department affirmed.

With respect to the first driver, the Third Department agreed with the Supreme Court the defendant could not be held liable for the acts of the second driver. The plaintiff argued the first driver was negligent because she stopped her vehicle and gestured the plaintiff to cross, which the plaintiff characterized as “reckless driving.” Even if that was the case, the Third Department said, the reckless driving did not cause the accident. The second driver's subsequent decision to drive around the first driver onto the shoulder was the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff's injuries. As there was no way the first driver could have foreseen or prevented the second driver's reckless act, she cannot be held liable for the plaintiff's injuries.

As for the City of Elmira, municipal governments enjoy “qualified immunity” under New York law for negligence in the design of a road. The plaintiff argued the road was negligently designed because there was no crosswalk leading from the restaurant to the parking lot. But in order to overcome the city's immunity, she had to show the “negligent design of the roadway was a proximate cause of the accident.” As with the first driver, the plaintiff could not demonstrate this to the court's satisfaction. Similarly, the Third Department said the Supreme Court was right to dismiss the other defendants who were responsible for the design of the road. The court said the plaintiff presented no credible evidence the road did not meet or exceed existing safety standards, and any claims of defective or negligent design were “speculative assertions.”

Are Multiple Parties Responsible for Your Accident?

A case like this illustrates the potential pitfalls of a “sue everybody” approach. But that does not mean multiple parties cannot be held responsible for a given motor vehicle accident. If you have been in such an accident and require advice from an experienced New York accident attorney on how to proceed, contact our office right away.