In 2020, an estimated 104,000 people visited emergency rooms to receive treatment after being involved in pedestrian accidents. Over the same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 7,000 deaths due to pedestrian accidents.
Pedestrian accidents can cause serious injuries with long-lasting and sometimes even fatal consequences. It is important to understand the legal options available to a pedestrian hit by a car, especially if your injuries are extensive or require a more thorough investigation.
This preliminary guide explains your legal options as a pedestrian in an auto accident, so you can make the best decision going forward.
What To Do at the Scene of the Accident
After you’ve been hit by a car, you likely have a thousand thoughts and feelings. In these moments, staying calm and moving out of traffic is important to maintain your safety while waiting for the police. Being hit by a car as a pedestrian follows many of the same procedures as a typical auto accident, so focus on gathering as much documentation as possible, and ask the driver to stay at the accident scene.
Move out of the street
If you’re conscious after the accident, take a deep breath and don’t take out your frustration on the driver. Appearing angry is a good way to diminish sympathies and potentially put your safety even more at risk. Follow the same procedure that you would if you were in an auto accident and move out of the street to wait safely for the police to arrive. By staying calm, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively and free up traffic so that the police can get to you more quickly. Ask the driver to please stay while you wait for the police to arrive and any witnesses that begin to gather.
If the accident is a hit-and-run, try to take a photo of the driver’s license plate, or at least make a mental note of the car’s make and color to provide to the police.
Document the scene
After you’ve moved out of traffic’s way, start documenting the scene. Report any injuries and pain to medical staff (paramedics) as soon as they arrive. Collect the driver’s insurance information and keep the driver there until the police arrive. Take lots of photos of your injuries and the surrounding scene. Video is helpful, too, especially if there are any potential contributing factors to the accident, such as changes in traffic patterns or severe weather. Make a list of any relevant events that led up to the accident and gather any witnesses’ information.
Don’t discuss fault
Anything said on the scene or to the motorist’s insurance company will be used against you, if possible, especially if fault is contested. Regardless of the facts that emerge after the accident that place the blame on the motorist or yourself, don’t say anything about the accident to anyone other than the police. Never discuss the accident at length with the motorist’s insurance company, as they don’t have your best interests in mind. Only provide the contact information for yourself, your attorney, and the insurance company to the motorist’s insurance company. If they ask for more information, request the company’s name, address, phone number, and claim number from the company, and refer them to your attorney.
Call the police & wait for them
Many insurance companies recommend calling the police at the accident scene, so that law enforcement can issue an accident report. Once you leave the scene, you can’t request a report, so it’s important to understand how a police report plays into the claims process. An accident report can help protect your legal rights, both personally and with insurance companies, who aren't likely to cover damages without a report. If you don’t require immediate attention, call your city’s non-emergency line to request police. It may take a bit longer in major cities for law enforcement to arrive, but you won’t clog up 911 and it can give you time to prepare to speak with the police.
An accident report can be an important form of documentation of the accident, but make sure you don’t rely on it. In some instances, police officers have shown up to accidents only to dismiss everyone without issuing a report. Take your own photos of the accident, including nearby intersections, the motorist’s car, traffic lights, street signs, etc., to support your case in a potential lawsuit.
Dealing with the police can be a stressful situation, even as a victim. If you have concerns about your safety, call a friend and video the exchange with the police. Check with local laws to ensure you’ve followed the correct process to legally record the police. In some states like Oregon, you must notify the officers that you are audio recording them, but not when filming.
When the officers arrive, issue a statement. Don’t be shy about making your voice and version of events heard. Detailing each step and specific details before the accident occurred is extremely important. The bottom line is that you’re the only one with your best interests in mind, so protect your rights. It is within your rights to politely ask to review the accident report & check for errors. If you find errors in the accident report, contact an attorney to help in revising the report.
If the police don’t show
If police officers do not show up to the accident, follow the same process of documentation as stated above. Police may not show up to an accident for many reasons. They may be responding to more serious criminal matters, or the station may be understaffed. No matter the reason for their absence, gather as much information and documentation as possible for your insurance claim. Additionally, consider recording witness statements and any conversations you have with the motorist. Depending on where you live, request that an officer file a police report. Some jurisdictions allow you to file a police report online but check with local law enforcement. Basically, it’s still a good idea to report the accident yourself, even if the police don’t show up.
What To Do After Leaving the Scene of the Accident
Even if you don’t think you’re badly hurt, visit a doctor immediately for a thorough assessment. Many folks are in shock after being hit by a car, and the full extent of their injuries is still unknown. Some injuries, like whiplash, can worsen over time or may not appear immediately but can still profoundly impact your health. After you’ve received medical treatment, get in touch with your insurance company and consider legal counsel.
Take a medical inventory
Depending on the severity of your injuries, seek immediate medical treatment to tend to your injuries. Make a note of all injuries and pain. You will want proof your injuries are accident-related so you can be properly compensated for them. Follow up with your regular physician to maintain a record of your injuries, and get checked out by a medical professional even if you think your injuries are minimal. Too often, pedestrians walk away from an accident thinking they’re fine, only to realize later that the extent of the injuries are far worse than initially expected. A doctor can assess your overall physical condition and conduct any necessary tests to identify all of the potential damage to your body.
Trauma isn’t isolated to the physical body, though, and your mental health can be severely impacted by an accident. It’s important to speak with your doctor about the mental aspect of your injuries, including emotional distress, as a part of your claim.
Contact your insurance company
If you currently have car insurance, contact them now and report the accident. Most car insurance policies cover pedestrian accidents. You’ll need to reach out to your insurance company to ensure you can make disability or medical claims in the future.
Start an insurance claim
Call the driver’s insurance company and open a claim. Be careful with what you say. Don’t give them more than the basic information about what happened: that you were hit by a motorist on what day/time in this city. If they pressure you to give the full story of what happened and the steps you’ve taken since then, don’t disclose any of this until you’ve consulted with a lawyer. Don’t respond to any of their requests for information without your attorney.
Document all of your related expenses, including receipts for the rideshare(s) you had to take, medical bills, lost wages, etc., to provide to your insurance company and, eventually, your attorney.
Seek legal counsel
After you file your claim, contact an attorney who lists pedestrian collisions as a specialty, and schedule a free consultation. Insurance companies look for any reason to deny a claim. Insurance companies are notorious for trying to settle claims far below their worth or putting the blame on you, which makes having an attorney in your corner crucial. Legal counsel can protect your legal rights and livelihood beyond the initial injuries. A lawyer will also know what questions to ask and the types of evidence that can help your claim to present to the insurance company. Don’t settle for less and talk to a lawyer, even if it seems unnecessary.
How To Start an Auto Accident Lawsuit
Pedestrians who are struck by a car suffer more than just financial losses. Being in an accident is traumatic, and many folks find themselves paying out of pocket for medical bills and suffering lost wages as a result of their injuries. Filing an auto accident lawsuit is often necessary for pedestrians to seek compensation for their injuries and damages. The below steps are mere guidelines for how to start an auto accident lawsuit from consultation through filing.
Decide on legal representation
As mentioned before, an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and legal options, evaluate the strength of your case, and guide you through the complex legal process. Many attorneys offer free consultations, so it’s worth contacting a few to find the right one for you.
During your initial consultation, your lawyer will likely ask you to provide a detailed account of the incident that led to your injury and any medical treatment you’ve received. Bring copies of relevant documentation, such as an accident report or medical records. Based on this information, your attorney can help you determine whether you have a viable claim for damages and what the next steps should be.
To build a compelling case, your lawyer will gather evidence to support your claim that the motorist’s actions or negligence caused your injuries. This process involves obtaining witness statements and police reports, gathering medical bills and records, and conducting an independent investigation. Your attorney may want to hire experts to analyze the evidence and provide testimony supporting your case.
Your attorney may also conduct a site inspection to gather additional evidence, especially if there were external variables that contributed to your injuries. By analyzing all available evidence, your attorney can help establish a clear link between the motorist’s actions/negligence and your work to secure fair compensation for your damages.
Issue a demand letter
After gathering the necessary evidence, your attorney will send a demand letter to the at-fault party or their insurance company, outlining the details of your claim and the compensation you seek. The demand letter serves as a formal request for payment. It typically includes a detailed account of the incident that caused your injuries and documentation of your damages and medical expenses.
In addition to outlining the details of your claim, the demand letter may also include a deadline for response. The deadline may be negotiable, but it serves as a clear signal to the other party that you’re serious about your claim and expect a timely response. The demand letter also provides an opportunity for the parties to negotiate a settlement without the need for a lengthy court battle.
Filing the lawsuit
If a fair settlement can’t be reached through preliminary negotiations, the next step in the claims process is filing a lawsuit. The first step in filing a lawsuit involves submitting a formal complaint to the court, detailing the specifics of your claim and the compensation you seek. The complaint will usually include a detailed narrative of the incident and documentation of your damages, including medical expenses. Depending on your claim, it may also include a witness list and other evidence to support your claim.
Once the complaint is filed, the other party has a designated response time, typically around 30 days. They may file a counterclaim or motion to dismiss the case during this time. After both parties respond, the discovery phase of the suit begins. This involves both parties gathering evidence and information to build their case, which may include depositions, interrogatories, and requests for documentation.
As the case moves forward, the parties may engage in negotiations in an attempt to settle. The case will proceed to trial if a settlement cannot be reached beforehand. During the trial, both parties present their case before a judge or jury, who ultimately will decide the outcome.
Filing a lawsuit can be a complex and time-consuming process. Working with an experienced attorney is crucial to ensure your rights are protected and your claim is presented correctly. Legal counsel can guide you through each step of the process and give you a better chance of securing fair compensation for your injuries and damages.
Legal Resources for Pedestrian Victims of Car Accidents
If you're involved in a personal injury claim or lawsuit, it's essential to have access to reliable legal resources to help you navigate the process. From understanding your rights to filing paperwork, various steps are involved in pursuing a car accident case. To assist you in this process, here are some critical legal resources that can provide guidance and support throughout your case.
Legal Services Corporation
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a non-profit organization created by Congress in 1974 to fund civil legal aid organizations across the United States. The organization's mission is to ensure that low-income individuals and families can access legal services and representation in civil matters, including personal injury claims and lawsuits.
LSC provides funding to more than 130 civil legal aid organizations across the United States, including legal aid societies, pro bono programs, and other organizations that provide legal assistance to low-income individuals. These organizations offer various legal services, including advice, representation, and advocacy, to help individuals navigate the legal system and secure fair compensation for their damages.
State Bar Associations
State bar associations are professional organizations that represent lawyers licensed to practice in a particular state. These organizations can provide factual information on the legal system and how it works in their state. This can be helpful for individuals navigating the legal system for the first time, as it can be complex and confusing. Some state bar associations offer free or low-cost legal clinics where individuals can receive legal advice and guidance on their personal injury claims or lawsuits.
To locate your state bar association, you can conduct a simple online search using keywords such as “state bar association” followed by the name of their state. The American Bar Association (ABA) also maintains a directory of state and local bar associations on its website, which can be a helpful resource for individuals looking for legal assistance.
Court websites can be invaluable for individuals going through a personal injury claim. These websites offer a wealth of information and resources that can be used to navigate the legal system.
Through their court's website, individuals can learn about filing a claim or lawsuit procedures and the rules that apply to court proceedings. Forms and instructions are often available on these websites, which can save time and money. In addition, individuals can access court opinions and orders on cases that have already been decided, helping them understand how the law is applied in similar circumstances. Finally, most court websites will have a section for self-represented or pro se litigants, which can be especially helpful if you represent yourself in court.
You can search for your state's court system or local county court online to find your court's website. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) also provides links to court websites for each state and territory in the United States.
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