Hitting a pedestrian while driving doesn’t always result in a criminal charge. But that doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear of all penalties.
There’s no doubt that hitting a pedestrian while driving is a traumatic experience (more so for the pedestrian, but still). Chaos and panic naturally ensues which can make it difficult to think about the legal consequences of this accident. This is why it’s important to learn what you can expect after such an event before it even occurs.
Most people don’t think that this kind of accident will happen to them. But it’s more common that you’d think. According to the CDC, there were 5,977 pedestrians who died in traffic crashes in 2017 which is about one death every 88 minutes. In 2019, around 6,205 pedestrians died in traffic crashes that happened on public roads based on the data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Obviously, the number of pedestrian deaths seem to be increasing year by year. And it pays to be aware of the different possibilities that can occur after the fact.
If the accident is the fault of the driver, there are a number of criminal penalties that the driver might get, depending on the circumstances.
Hit and Run
It’s pretty obvious what this means. The driver struck a pedestrian and fled the scene before properly following through his/her legal obligations. What does this mean? In most states, there are laws that require an individual involved in a car accident to follow a number of important steps before leaving. These include:
- Stopping the vehicle and moving it to a safe location
- Inspecting the damage to everyone involved including material properties
- Exchanging proper contact information
- Requesting medical assistance if someone is injured
- Calling the police, if needed
If you leave the scene prior to fulfilling these obligations, you’ll be likely given a traffic ticket for failing to stay at the scene. But that’s the least of your worries. If someone was injured at the scene of the accident and you fled the scene, you can incur felony charges which can result in significant jail time. You can also be required to pay a fine of up to $20,000.
If you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then you most likely will be arrested and convicted of DUI. The fact that you hit a pedestrian and injured him/her while intoxicated will be considered an “aggravating circumstance.” This means that the penalties for your actions will be even more severe – possibly longer jail time and higher fines. You may even face a longer suspension of your driver’s license.
Vehicular Manslaughter (or Involuntary Manslaughter)
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian fatalities due to traffic crashes are on the rise. If the death occurs due to the driver’s fault, he or she may be facing criminal charges. If the driver was driving extremely recklessly immediately before the accident – driving while under the influence, speeding in a school zone, etc. – then the death of a pedestrian may result in a criminal charge of involuntary manslaughter. Take note that in order for the driver to be criminally charged, he or she must have been driving so recklessly that he or she was clearly disregarding the substantial risk of his/her actions causing harm to others.
Hitting a pedestrian while driving doesn’t always result in a criminal charge. But that doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear of all penalties. There are still civil penalties to consider.
Personal Injury Lawsuit or Insurance Claim
Your car insurance isn’t just for show. It’s to help you cover expenses in the event of an accident or theft. Now, most of us are already clear on the fact that if you have insurance, the company will be able to cover car collision repair expenses. But it can also be used to compensate an injured pedestrian for losses caused by the incident. These losses may include medical expenses, time missed from work, pain and suffering as a result of the accident, etc. Of course, this is assuming that you (the driver) were at fault. A personal injury lawsuit will require an investigation to determine if the accident was the fault of the driver or the pedestrian.
However, if you live in a “no-fault” state, the laws regarding this vary. Some states require the insurance company to pay for the pedestrian’s medical expenses up to the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) limit even if the pedestrian was at fault.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If the pedestrian dies as a result of the accident, the driver may be faced with a wrongful death lawsuit. This is when the surviving family brings a civil lawsuit against the person responsible for the death of their loved one. Take note that this kind of claim will require proof that the driver is guilty of negligence and the accident was the result of his/her actions. The family can use this claim to ask for compensation for their loss which includes funeral and burial expenses, loss of the deceased person’s expected income, loss of love and companionship, etc.