The number of victims in fatal pedestrian-vehicle crashes increased 7.2 percent last year, and if preliminary 2016 figures hold up, they may increase even more this year. Bicyclist fatalities increased as well (12.2 percent).
There are more than one million more walkers and bicycle riders on the roads today than there were ten years ago, but that increase only partially explains the fatality numbers. Whereas the cities with the highest number of non-vehicle commuters — like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — have the lowest number of such fatalities, the areas where there are proportionally fewer non-motorists — such as SoCal — are substantially higher.
Part of the problem, according to the U.S. government, is that many streets and highways were designed “to move motor vehicles… as expeditiously as possible.” That means wide vehicle lanes, narrow sidewalks, and bike lanes to make room for the wide lanes, and no sharp curves to slow traffic. Bikelash, or prejudice against pedestrians and cyclists, is also quite high in many areas.
This November, Los Angeles County voters will decide on Measure M, which would increase sales taxes to fund $2 billion in improvements over the next forty years. Even if it passes, the money may not last, because safe bike lanes cost $5 million a mile and wide sidewalks cost $8 million a mile. Bikelash may exist in government as well, at least to some extent, because the County’s new Shared Mobility Action Plan has only one paragraph about pedestrian safety in its fifty-three pages.
Injuries Sustained in Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents
Even though California has a limited bicycle helmet law that applies to riders under 18, most riders in the Golden State do not wear helmets, and pedestrians almost never wear helmets. Since so many walkers and cyclists are completely exposed to danger when they collide with vehicles, the injuries they sustain tend to be very serious. Some common ones include:
- Broken Bones: These injuries are especially common in the extremities, either because the victims’ legs are caught between a speeding car and another fixed object or because victims extend their arms to brace themselves as they fall. That second condition, which is also called “biker’s arm,” also often leads to permanent nerve damage in the under-arm brachial plexus area.
- Neck and Spine Injuries: Helmets do nothing to protect these areas of the body when the victims fall or are hit by oncoming vehicles.
- Property Damage: Bicycles may have minimal economic resale value but tremendous emotional value, and victims are entitled to compensation for both the tangible and intangible losses.
- Internal Injuries: While many first responders and emergency room physicians are focused on external trauma injuries, internal bleeding may go undiagnosed for several hours or even longer.
In addition to economic losses, like property damage, medical bills, physical therapy expenses, and lost wages, victims are also entitled to noneconomic damages to compensate them for their pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.
Excessive velocity is a significant factor in pedestrian accidents, because speed increases stopping distance (reaction time plus braking time) and multiplies the force. In fact, if the vehicles are traveling less than 40mph, the pedestrians nearly always survive, but if the vehicles are traveling 50mph or faster, the pedestrians are almost always killed. Statistically, most pedestrian crashes occur outside crosswalks on major high-speed roads, and many bicycle crashes happen on major arteries where there is no designated bicycle lane.
Even if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was not technically breaking the speed limit, velocity may still breach the duty of reasonable care and thus create liability for damages. For example, drivers should slow down when visibility is limited or traction is poor, but many people do not significantly alter their speeds because of darkness or rain.
Alcohol is a major factor as well, and as little as one drink is enough to make drivers legally impaired in civil court. Victims can establish alcohol impairment by circumstantial evidence, such as a previous stop at a bar or alcohol-serving party, or direct evidence, which in most cases is failing a BAC breath test.
Legal Issues in Bicycle and Pedestrian Accident Cases
In both pedestrian and bicycle cases, insurance companies often try to shift blame to the victims; for example, in pedestrian-auto crashes, insurance companies like to argue that the pedestrian “darted out” into traffic.
Some victims believe that they are not entitled to compensation if they were partially at fault, but that is not true, especially in the Golden State. That’s because California is one of only nine pure comparative fault states that apportion damages based solely on the percentage of fault. Assume Cindy Cyclist made an illegal turn, Tommy Tortfeasor was speeding, Tommy struck Cindy, and Cindy’s damages were $100,000. If the jury splits fault 50-50, Cindy would recover $50,000. But if the same crash occurred in Nevada and the jury reached the same result, Cindy would recover nothing, because there is a 51 percent fault threshold in the Silver State.
Los Angeles-area roads are not safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact Citywide Law Group. Home and hospital visits are available.