Pedestrian Accident Lawyer in Athens, Georgia
WATCH OUT FOR PEDESTRIANS IN THE ROADWAY – EVEN IF NOT IN A CROSSWALK
Athens is a vibrant, bustling college town – pedestrian friendly with a walkable downtown adjacent to the sprawling University of Georgia campus. Even in slow seasons or off weekends, pedestrians, bicyclists, runners, and foot traffic are ever present on campus, in downtown Athens, and everywhere in between. Admittedly, Summer in Athens – like in most classic college towns – slows to a relaxed pace with less traffic and far fewer cars on the road. Pedestrians, walkers, tourists, and runners enjoy the calmer, quieter Athens. But every Fall brings back cooler temperatures, students, and fun events. Add to this, the fact that Athens is striving to emerge from the COVID pandemic as an even more pedestrian-friendly town than it was before. Many restaurants now offer sidewalk or alley “café-style” seating, and the City of Athens has at long last designated sections of downtown for only pedestrian foot traffic: where no cars or vehicles are allowed. Downtown will be even more pedestrian-friendly and this trend will likely continue in other parts of Athens. All this means more foot, bicycle, and vehicle traffic. Drivers can expect more pedestrians and cyclists in and around the roadways as we share the roads.
Almost everyone learns at an early age to look both ways before crossing a road and to cross in a crosswalk where available. Because of this, if a walker is crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, drivers and pedestrians alike might reflexively think the collision and injuries are automatically a pedestrian’s fault. That is simply a wrong and dangerous belief. Georgia law does not adopt such a black-and-white approach to pedestrian-vehicle safety: there is no rule that allows a careless driver to strike a pedestrian just because the pedestrian is not in the crosswalk. Certainly pedestrians have to use due care for their safety, which often means yielding to vehicles, crossing in a crosswalk, and obeying pedestrian- and traffic-control signals. In fact, there is an entire section of Georgia statutory law for pedestrians. OCGA §§ 40-6-90 through 40-6-100. But the case law says that even if the pedestrian is not in a crosswalk (or might have done something else wrong), the car driver does not automatically escape his responsibility to use due care.
Drivers must always exercise “due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway.” OCGA § 40-6-93. This law is premised on the fact that there will be, and one can expect, pedestrians in the roadway. In fact, even OCGA § 40-6-92, which provides that “Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway” comes with the caveat “unless he has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.” In short, the law reflects that pedestrians will at times be in the roadway, and drivers cannot operate as if pedestrians will never be in the roadway or that the driver will be exonerated if a pedestrian is not in a crosswalk. This aspect of Georgia law makes common sense. Though pedestrians should obey the rules of the road, the risk of serious injury to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle is far greater than to a vehicle that collides with a pedestrian. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle often suffers catastrophic life-changing injuries, whereas a vehicle driver that collides with a pedestrian is far less likely to suffer any injury at all.
A 2019 case provides some insight in this area. In Nash v. Reed, 349 Ga. App. 381 (2019), Nash was jogging in the roadway running in the same direction as traffic and wearing headphones. Reed was driving behind Nash in the same direction near an intersection with a traffic light, knew Nash did not see Reed’s vehicle behind him, and did not know which direction Reed was going at the intersection. Although Nash slowed his vehicle slightly, he did not honk to alert Reed of his presence or stop and wait to see which direction Reed was going. Instead Nash crossed the double yellow line into the oncoming lane of traffic to pass Reed. As Nash was reentering the lane while passing Reed, Nash’s vehicle struck Reed and broke his leg. It was for the jury to determine whether Nash drove negligently and, importantly, whether Nash even acted in bad faith in not taking any precautions with Reed’s safety in mind. The law was designed to protect Nash, as a pedestrian, regardless of whether Nash acted negligently in the lead up to the crash. Another case is a little more stark. In Mayo v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 302 Ga. App. 19 (2009), a tractor-trailer struck and killed a naked pedestrian standing in the roadway with his hands up. Because the car in front of the tractor-trailer saw and safely swerved to avoid the pedestrian, the tractor-trailer should have been able to do so as well and was possibly following too closely to safely swerve. Clearly the man was not in the crosswalk! Any idea that “the road belongs only to vehicles” creates more dangerous roads and is simply not an accurate view of the law. While a driver will be protected from a claim when a pedestrian darts out into the roadway with no warning, as in Johnson v. Ellis, 179 Ga. App. 343 (1986), and Tucker v. Love, 200 Ga. App. 408 (1991), merely being outside a crosswalk is not an automatic defense.
Because pedestrians are often around areas of town where it is conducive to pedestrian travel, vehicle drivers must be on the lookout for them whether or not they are in a crosswalk. Just consider UGA campus on weekdays in-between classes, downtown Athens on football game days or during the Twilight Criterion, the Five Points district and its restaurants, and large apartment complexes, restaurant areas, and the like: pedestrians sometimes cross the street outside of crosswalks. This can apply to pedestrians in and around the road because of car trouble, or cyclists on the roadway as well. And Georgia courts have historically applied Section 40-6-93 to bicyclists. Howard v. Hall, 112 Ga. App. 247, 250 (1965). The rule in Georgia is clear that due care by drivers care is always due. The law recognizes that we do, in fact, share the road.
The takeaway for drivers is this: due care and precaution for pedestrians and bicyclists is required, even if they are not in a crosswalk or are otherwise in the roadway. If a pedestrian or bicyclist is struck by a vehicle, it is important to immediately call 911 and report the incident, seek medical attention, and identify witnesses who may have seen the incident. If there is possible insurance, notify your carrier quickly and contact a pedestrian accident lawyer Athens, GA to discuss the claim. The attorneys at Norris Law are here to help and offer our expertise if you need us.