Drunk While Walking: When Motor Vehicles Strike Intoxicated Pedestrians, Who's At Fault?

Fortunately, drunk driving accidents have been on the decline in the U.S. as penalties get more severe, drivers are better educated and law enforcement officers identify offenders more quickly.

But there's one type of accident where alcohol plays a major role, and it's not due to the condition of the driver. Motor vehicles hitting drunk pedestrians is an issue as more people choose to walk home after hitting the bars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, 35 percent of the pedestrians killed in accidents in 2011 were intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher.

Why Does the Pedestrian's Drinking Matter?

No human is going to come out on top when hit by a car. But people who have been drinking are more likely to be killed or have severe injuries. They may make poor choices about their own safety, such as:

  • Being in areas restricted to pedestrians.
  • Crossing at the wrong place.
  • Stepping out into traffic.
  • Walking too close to the roadway and/or not obeying safety rules.

And since anti-drunk driving campaigns have been aggressively educating the public about the dangers of getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, many people think they're doing the right thing by walking home. In fact, between 2009 and 2011, pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents increased by 8 percent.

Who is to Blame?

In many states, blame for an accident is assigned. One party might be 40 percent responsible and the other 60 percent responsible, for example. This responsibility is determined by insurance adjusters -- or, if it is a criminal case, by jurors -- based on the participant's testimonies, law enforcement reports and witness information.

Generally, the injured party can collect damages based on the percentage of responsibility the other person is assigned, as long as he or she is less than 50 percent to blame.

The driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident with a pedestrian must prove the following if he or she is not to take on any blame:

  • The driver wasn't drinking.
  • The driver wasn't speeding or breaking any traffic laws.
  • The driver wasn't engaged in distracted driving.
  • The pedestrian was in the roadway.
  • The pedestrian wasn't crossing at a designated crosswalk.
  • The pedestrian was in an area restricted to pedestrian access, like a bridge.

If you are involved in an accident, consulting a lawyer should be one of your first steps. If you have questions about your responsibility in a motor vehicle accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney, such as Chiacchia & Fleming LLP, to discuss.