Accidents in Marked Crosswalks

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Accidents in Marked Crosswalks

My name is Ed Smith, and I am a personal injury lawyer based in Sacramento, serving Sacramento and the greater California area. If you or someone you love has been the victim of a pedestrian accident at a marked crosswalk in California, please contact me, and I will help guide you through the avenues and solutions that are available to you.

Caltrans and Liability for Personal Injuries Caused by Pedestrian Accidents

Recently, a California court ruled in favor of holding Caltrans accountable for a pedestrian accident that occurred at a designated pedestrian zoned crosswalk. Emily Liu received in excess of twelve million dollars in damages for an accident at a marked crosswalk, due largely to a gross oversight on the part of Caltrans. Although it seems extremely counterintuitive, the surprising results of studies conducted to test the safety of marked pedestrian crosswalks show that they are two times more likely to induce higher incidents of pedestrian accidents than not having them there at all. Caltrans has been aware of this simple fact for a very long time, 1972, in fact, and that is why the San Mateo jury who tried Ms. Liou’s case found Caltrans liable for fifty percent of her damages. Sadly, Liou’s life will be shortened as a direct result of this tragedy, and she requires constant care. But the outcome of her civil case is a victory for the people of California because it will ensure that Caltrans must change its policy on marked pedestrian zones. Moving forward, Caltrans must also base its policies to protect the people it serves on proper data that will ensure safer transportation systems for everyone.

Marked Pedestrian Crosswalks Does Not Heighten Drivers’ Awareness of Pedestrians

Most of the time, the problem appears to be that pedestrians feel protected by the signs and crosswalks, and neglect to take proper safety precautions to stop, look and listen before they cross the street. The signs tend to foster a false sense of safety in pedestrians, and don’t generate enough of a warning to drivers to ensure pedestrian immunity from harm. The scandal haunting the outcome of the verdict of Liou’s case is that Caltrans has known that pedestrians are twice as likely to get hit by cars at marked crosswalks than at unmarked crosswalks since 1972, and they haven’t done anything to address the problem properly until now.

Federal Studies Confirm Caltrans Culpability

As recently as 2002 a federal study specifically discovered that roadways that are used by over 15,000 cars per day, have raised medians and more than four lanes are not pedestrian safe for marked crosswalks. Caltrans responded to the federal study by making what appears to have been a superficial gesture in response to the federal study by calling out for pedestrian safety but making no actual steps to implement changes that would fix the problem. That is why Ms. Liou’s case called for such a large settlement from Caltrans: she was crossing at a six-lane roadway when the accident occurred in 2006, and the intersection where the accident occurred – Milbrae at the intersection of State route 82 and El Camino Real – is traveled by an average of over 26,000 motorized vehicles per day. The marked crosswalk where Ms. Liou’s accident occurred was an area that should not have been zoned for a marked crosswalk if Caltrans had honored their word in response to the results from the 2002 federal study.

Studies Confirm, No Cookie-cutter Solutions

Every intersection has its own kind of “microclimate” for what puts them at high risk for pedestrian accidents with motorized vehicles. That is why it is up to Caltrans to make sure that it conducts the proper surveys before it makes sweeping decisions that may or may not ultimately manifest results promoting the common safety and welfare of everyone.

Caltrans Ruling Holds Establishment Accountable

Our tax dollars pay for our road infrastructure, and it is Caltrans’ duty to ensure the safety of drivers on the road, and protect pedestrians navigating those systems of transportation as well. Essentially, factoring pedestrians into evaluating the safety of the massive transportation infrastructure it oversees is a game changer for Caltrans moving forward. A huge part of the problem is the way Caltrans was conducting their own surveys on traffic safety at marked crosswalks. Their system simply gaged the number of cars driving on average through an intersection instead of factoring in statistics on average pedestrian usage of an intersection and the ratio of accidents to the number of people crossing the intersection on average by foot.

If Caltrans had gathered statistics from ratios analysis based on pedestrian traffic and the number of accidents generated at the intersection where Ms. Liou’s accident occurred at Ludeman Lane, it would have discovered that the intersection had significant record for pedestrian accidents. Caltrans overlooked what should have been the first thing they tended to, in determining how to ensure pedestrian safety: statistics based on pedestrians and personal injuries at cross walks, instead of simply the average number of cars passing through the intersection in a day. Due to Caltrans’ negligence, the intersection where Ms. Lious was hit turned out to be twenty times more dangerous than the federal report’s rubric to determine the “acceptable” limit.

Verdict Paints A Picture of Exactly How Complicated Things Are

A young woman wearing dark clothing on a dark night crossed at a pedestrian marked crosswalk and assumed she was “safe” because of the sign. Simultaneously, a driver cautiously traveling slightly under the speed limit due to road conditions hit the young women at the crest of the hill.

Sadly, because the pedestrian assumed she was safe, she did not take proper precautions necessary to be aware of the approaching car in time to get out of the way before it hit her. The driver assumed that a pedestrian would still take proper precautions that a reasonable person would presume when crossing the street, especially under potentially dangerous circumstances. A perfect storm for a private moment of personal horror.

The Court Found Caltrans 50% Liable for the Accident

Caltrans based its decision to maintain a system that appeared to be failing because it based its policy on statistics that proved to be only partially relevant at best. They took the lion’s share of the accountability in the court’s ruling. Ms. Liou was charged with 20 % liability for wearing dark clothes and not paying attention while crossing the street. The driver was charged with 30% of the damages, in spite of the fact that the intersection was hard to see, the crosswalk was poorly marked, and Ms. Liou was not paying attention and wearing dark clothing at night.

Accidents in Marked Crosswalks – Why This Ruling Matters

There exists a special relationship between entities such as Caltrans and Californians. Social responsibility weighs heavily on the heads of those who run enormous enterprises designed to intersect with private and commercial sectors.

Shared Liability Shows How Complicated the “Situation” Can Be

This accident was a debacle of misplaced assumptions and responsibilities. The pedestrian assumed the sign protected her, so she abandoned proper caution for a reasonably foreseeable situation. The driver assumed that they were driving slowly enough to see someone in time and did not anticipate the foreseeability of a pedestrian in dark clothing not paying attention to the road. Finally, Caltrans assumed that statistics on how many cars went through intersections would ubiquitously decrease accidents by telling them where to place pedestrian marked cross walks. A comedy of errors ending in tragedy for everyone.

It Is Important to Learn from Our Mistakes

The results of this case are important for everyone. We are all accountable for what we do and say. It is just as essential to hold private citizens accountable for their liability in all walks of life as it is for us to hold the private and governmental agencies that shape our nation accountable as well. It is especially important to hold giants like Caltrans to the standard of their own mission statement, even simply as a bare minimum of ethical standards for safety. Transportation safety is for everyone. It is a civil right. Everyone wins when roads are safe and safety is defined in inclusive terms. People and “giants” like Caltrans can coexist when everybody takes responsibility for their own duty of care.

Sacramento Pedestrian Injury Lawyers

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Pedestrian Accident Lawyer. If you or someone you know has been hurt in an accident, please call me promptly at (916) 921-6400 for free, friendly advice. Or, call me toll free at (800) 404-5400.

I am a proud member of Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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Source of Accidents in Marked Crosswalks – autoaccident.com.

Image Attribution: Wikimedia Commons

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