What Happens If You Strike A Pedestrian With Your Car?

It's every driver's worst nightmare -- having a pedestrian suddenly appear in front of you when you're going too fast to avoid a hit. Striking a pedestrian can have a variety of consequences, depending on your actions just before the collision. Fortunately, there are a few things you may be able to do to protect yourself from severe liability. Read on to learn more about the criminal, civil, and financial penalties you could face if you hit a pedestrian with your car.

What penalties will you face if you strike a pedestrian?

Your actions just before the accident may determine the severity of the penalties you'll face.

Criminal penalties

The most common types of criminal charges that result from a vehicle-pedestrian accident are driving under the influence (DUI) and reckless endangerment. If the victim passes away, you may find yourself facing charges of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.

In order for you to be found guilty of one of these crimes, a prosecutor or district attorney must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that you engaged in criminally negligent behavior that directly led to the victim's injuries or death. Factors that the prosecutor may use in support of these charges are your speed at the time of the accident, cell phone records showing that you were texting or surfing the web while driving, or toxicology records showing you had alcohol or other impairing drugs in your system.

In some situations, you may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor to avoid the expense and hassle of a trial. Entering into a plea bargain requires you to plead guilty to the crime, but generally carries a lesser penalty than the crime for which you could potentially be found guilty at trial.

Civil penalties

Even if a prosecutor declines to press criminal charges against you, the pedestrian may choose to file a personal injury lawsuit for your role in the accident. This lawsuit will seek monetary damages from you to help pay for the victim's medical care, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other physical and emotional injuries stemming from the accident.

Because the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is simply "a preponderance of the evidence" rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt," you're more likely to be found liable in the civil context than criminally guilty. This can have significant financial consequences, especially if your auto insurance coverage maxes out before the victim's medical bills are fully paid.

What can you do to protect yourself from liability after an accident?

Once you've reported the accident to your auto insurance company, there are a few steps you can take to proactively minimize the financial and personal consequences of your accident.

First, consult a car accident lawyer. Whether you're concerned about potential criminal charges or just want to assemble a defense to a personal injury lawsuit, you'll need legal advice from someone who has experience with your state's specific laws and regulations. Your attorney will also be able to estimate the cost of the pedestrian's injuries to evaluate whether your auto insurance will fully cover the costs of treatment or whether you will likely be personally sued as well.

Next, contact your insurance company to determine their evaluation of the victim's injuries and potential claims. In some cases, your insurer can assure you that they have settled with the victim for less than your liability limits -- meaning that if the victim does sue you personally, your insurance company will still be able to pay out on your behalf.

Finally, have your attorney contact the pedestrian or his or her attorney to negotiate a settlement. Often, you'll be able to reach an agreement outside of court that would require you to pay less than the victim would be awarded by a judge or jury -- and avoiding the hassle and expense of a trial can lower your legal bills as well.