Driver Not at Fault for Pedestrian Who "Darted" Into Traffic

All drivers have a legal obligation to respect traffic signals and crosswalks. One must always be careful to avoid hitting pedestrians crossing the street. But, that does not excuse pedestrians from exercising equal care, as a recent decision by a New York appeals court illustrates.

Wallace v. Barody

This case involves a man struck and killed by a vehicle as he crossed a street in the Town of Queensbury in upstate New York. The victim's estate sued the driver of the vehicle for negligence. Saratoga County Supreme Court granted summary judgment to the driver, however, and in a decision issued on January 29th of this year, the Appellate Division, Third Department affirmed.

The defendant had been driving on the outer lane of a two-lane road. A second vehicle was traveling in the adjacent inbound lane. The two vehicles passed through a green-light intersection. But, as the second vehicle approached the pedestrian crosswalk, it abruptly stopped, as the driver saw the victim entering the crosswalk. The defendant did not see the victim, however, and proceeded to hit him.

Before the Supreme Court, the driver in the adjacent lane testified his van was blocking the defendant's view at the point of the accident. There was no way, he said, the defendant could have seen the victim, who by his account “passed in front of his van and, without looking to his right to check for traffic, stepped directly into the path of defendant's vehicle.” The defendant testified she never even saw the victim until his “face appeared on her windshield” after the impact.

Both the Supreme Court and the Third Department agreed the defendant could not be held liable under this set of facts. Although a driver has a duty under New York law to “avoid colliding” with a pedestrian, and “to see what there was to be seen through the proper use of [one's] senses,” the undisputed evidence here established the defendant could not possibly have seen the victim until it was too late. Additional witnesses at the scene confirmed the defendant was driving well within the speed limit and had a green light to pass through the intersection. The victim simply “darted” out into traffic, the Third Department concluded, and he unfortunately paid the price.

Gathering Your Evidence

A case like this highlights the importance of eyewitness testimony. The defendant prevailed at summary judgment because several witnesses confirmed her account of the accident. The victim's estate had no case to prosecute, the courts concluded, because there was not a single piece of evidence suggesting the defendant's negligence.

Not all personal injury cases are so cut-and-dry. Many times it can be difficult to locate witnesses, and sometimes there may be contradictory accounts from people at the scene. That is why, if you plan to bring any type of lawsuit as the result of serious injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident, it is important you work with an experienced New York personal injury attorney who can help you gather all of the relevant evidence before you hear into court. Contact our office today if you would like to speak with someone right away.