Understanding negligence in a traffic accident involving a pedestrian

We've all done it at some point. The bank is right across the street-there is a marked crosswalk a block away-but it is simply easy and quicker to just cross the street right there. We look both ways just like our mother told us and make the dash and then the car comes seemingly out of nowhere. It happened to a 72-year-old man who was not lucky enough to make it across the street.

The pedestrian was crossing a one-way, four-lane street in downtown Roanoke on a summer afternoon. He testified that he looked both ways before stepping onto Campbell Avenue at a point approximately 125 feet from a crosswalk at the nearest intersection. At some point, as the pedestrian crossed Campbell Avenue, a bus exited the adjacent bus terminal and struck him. The pedestrian suffered a fractured hip and related injuries from the accident.

Generally, Virginia law provides that, when crossing highways, pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles. They must cross, wherever possible, only at intersections or marked crosswalks. The jury found in favor of the pedestrian and awarded him $50,000 in damages, but the circuit court set the jury verdict aside on the ground that the plaintiff's decedent was guilty of contributory negligence, and entered judgment in favor of the defendants.

The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, holding that when a defendant relies upon contributory negligence as a defense, that defendant must prove by the greater weight of the evidence not only that the plaintiff was negligent, but also that his or her negligence was a direct contributing cause of the accident. Thus, while the violation of a statute regulating traffic constitutes negligence, it does not necessarily follow that such negligence will prevent recovery by the plaintiff. There must be a causal connection between the violation of the statute and the injury, otherwise the violation is immaterial; unless it is shown that the violation was a direct cause of the accident which contributed directly to the injury, there is no bar to recovery. The Virginia Supreme Court thus reinstated the jury verdict, since the jury weighed the evidence at trial, and found that, despite the fact that the 72-year-old man was crossing the street outside a crosswalk, the bus was the proximate cause of the man's injury, not his jaywalking.

Anyone who has been injured in an accident involving a vehicle, while crossing the street, or as a driver, or a passenger, should seek the advice of an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney to adequately evaluate the circumstances of their case.