Pedestrian Knockdown

When I was driving, a person stepped out onto the roadway and I struck him. I never saw the pedestrian because he unexpectedly began walking from the sidewalk onto the road. What should I do?

I assume you already spoke to police at the accident scene. The first thing you should do is contact your insurance company immediately. The insurance premiums you pay provide that your insurance carrier will defend and indemnify you for accidents. That means that your insurance company will hire attorneys to represent you in any negligence case that is brought. Your insurance company will also be responsible to pay for damages up to the amount of your insurance policy limits. If you have a separate umbrella policy, you should notify that carrier as well of the accident. As long as you notify your insurance company about an accident in a timely fashion you should be protected.

Since you were vague about your description of the accident, there are a few issues about which you should probably be aware. These legal points all are centered on the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Some of these laws may seem contradictory, but once you can get a clear picture of the facts, there will be no contradictions.

Was the pedestrian in a crosswalk at the time of the accident? Vehicle and Traffic Law § 110 defines crosswalk. Not only are painted lines across the road considered a crosswalk, but there are “unmarked” crosswalks. At the end of a block, there are “imaginary” lines that connect the “lateral lines” of sidewalks on each side of a roadway. Those “imaginary” lines are a cross walk and the pedestrian has the right of way.

If your accident occurred where there were no traffic signals, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1151(a) apply. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks (marked or unmarked). But pedestrians must yield the right of way to cars if they are crossing in an area that has no crosswalk, under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1152.

There are also “common law” duties, meaning that there is no statute defining this duty, but judicial decisions over the course of decades have imposed duties on motorists. One common law duty is to “see what there is to be seen.” So even if a pedestrian is in the road, not at a crosswalk and in an area without traffic controls, the driver still could be liable. Thus, in the question when you mentioned “I never saw the pedestrian.” Do you mean that you never saw the pedestrian at all or you never saw the pedestrian until it was too late to avoid the accident? The last issue will probably be huge in determining accident responsibility.

Zone of Danger

Last year this website wrote a blog that touched on the issue of negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals recently wrote an opinion clarifying an issue surronding these claims: Green v Esplanade Venture Partnership, 2021 NY Slip Op 01092.

This sad story occurred May 17, 2015 when two year old Devere Green was a pedestrian killed by debris that fell from the front of a building owned by defendant. Devere Greene was in the company of her grandmother, Susan Frierson, at the time of this accident. Frierson wanted to make her own claim for damages against the defendant for emotional distress. The Court had previously held that Frierson could make such a claim if she was in the “zone of danger” and she was in the “immediate family” of the injured party.

There was no issue that Frierson was in the “zone of danger” since she was right next to her grandaughter when the debris struck. But prior cases limited recovery to a parent as part of the “immediate family.” This Court in Greene, found that a grandparent could be part of the injured party’s “immediate family.” However, the Court also mentioned there was an “emotional bond” between Frierson and Greene. Frierson was activerly involved in the child’s life with frequent visits and sleepovers at Frierson’s home.

So now this opens additional questions regarding negligent infliction of emotional distress (or “zone of danger”) cases. If an injured party is accompanied by an aunt, or a cousin, or close friend at the time of an accident, could that uninjured person that witnessed the accident make a claim for emotional distress if they have an “emotional bond” with the injured party?

Excess Insurance

“My son was seriously injured in a bicycle accident, but I was disappointed with the recovery he received because my lawyer told me there was a problem with insurance coverage. What can I do to help my son?”

All cars are required by law to carry minimun liability coverage for all accidents. Excess insurance is a term used to describe additional insurance coverage for motor vehicle accidents. If the owner/operator of a car purchased an “umbrella” policy, then the “umbrella” policy would afford additional coverage for a motor vehicle accident. If the owner of a vehicle is different than the operator, then the operator may have his or her own insurance coverage in addition to the policy covering the vehicle. If a tractor/trailor was involved in the accident, then sometimes trailors have their own policies different than the tractor which could provide additional coverage for your accident.

If your son’s case is settled, then there is nothing anybody can do.

But if your son’s case is not settled, your attorney must look for all of the available insurance covering an accident to maximize your son’s recovery. Many defendants simply do not have assets worth attaching to collect a judgment. If your son did obtain a large monetary judgment against the driver that struck him, bankruptcy laws will allow the defendant to discharge that debt through bankruptcy. Your son may be in better position if he had settled his case for the available insurance coverage. But your attorney must look for all available insurance coverage.