A recent tragedy (June of 2019), a 12-year-old child was killed in an accident with an SUV in White Haven, Pennsylvania. According to police, the boy ran a stop sign out into the path of the SUV. Police also said that he wasn’t wearing his helmet.
The story is heart-breaking and underscores the danger cyclists face riding in traffic. However, it also brings up an important issue of liability. While it’s of little importance to those who are grieving to think about liability, for some it can be significant as a source of getting justice or avoiding the financial devastation that a death can bring upon a family.
Liability and Traffic Laws
Most of us just figure that if we break a traffic law and get into an accident, it’s our fault. Most of the time this turns out to be true. If you run a red light and plow into another car, then you will most likely get a traffic ticket and will be considered at fault for any civil lawsuit.
So, while this scenario happens all the time, there is no law that says that if you violated the traffic code and caused an accident, then you are automatically liable in a civil case or that you can’t be compensated if you are the one who’s injured.
In fact, Pennsylvania law says just the opposite. It states that a conviction of a traffic violation can’t be considered as fault in a civil suit. Of course, if you did violate a traffic law and it caused an accident, the civil court can still find you at fault, but it just can’t say you are automatically at fault because of a ticket.
Why? Because the criminal and civil sides of the court system are separate, and to be found financially responsible in a civil case, there must be a separate trial in a civil court.
Negligence and the Age of a Child
To make a case for liability in a personal injury suit, the alleged at-fault driver must be found negligent in his or her actions that caused the injuries. The law looks at the circumstances of the incident and takes all sorts of things in consideration. The standard is what would a reasonable person have done under similar circumstances?
To apply this to a child victim, the law asks what consideration would a reasonable driver give while driving when a child is present? Are there were usually kids in area where it happened? Are their schools or parks nearby? Crosswalks? Is it a neighborhood or an industrial area? In the crash mentioned above, the crash occurred on Buffalo Street which has signs along it asking drivers to be alert for children similar to this one:
Basically, is there anything in the circumstances that would have put the driver on notice that there might be children around, and if so, were they operating their vehicle with that in mind?
Now this doesn’t mean that the jury will automatically consider the driver at fault if they thought the driver needed to be looking out for children. In some cases, no amount of notice is going to make a difference.
But this is for a civil court jury to decide, not a traffic court.
Talk to a Bicycle Accident Attorney Today
If you have an injured child or have lost a child in a tragic accident, consider talking to Edith Pearce, founder of The Pearce Law Firm, P.C. She is known in the community for her understanding and sensitivity in dealing with cases where children have been injured.
She has years of experience dealing with traffic law, bicycle laws, personal injury law and is experienced in dealing with insurance companies. Call her today for a free consultation so you can understand your rights under the law.