Striking a pedestrian is a driver’s worst nightmare. Careful drivers control their speeds, come to complete stops at crosswalks and yield the right-of-way to avoid hitting pedestrians. Even the most prudent driver, however, may not be able to hit the brakes in time if a pedestrian steps off a curb without looking or darts unexpectedly into the road. In 2017, almost 6,000 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic accidents across the nation. If you strike a pedestrian in Montana, learn what to do to protect your rights.
Never continue driving if you think you struck a pedestrian. Committing the crime of hit-and-run could lead to severe penalties, including time in jail. Stop at the scene of the collision, exit your vehicle when it is safe to do so and check the pedestrian for injuries. Call 911 and request an ambulance if the pedestrian has injuries. Montana law requires immediate reporting of a car accident if it causes injuries, deaths or more than $1,000 in apparent property damages. Exchange information with the pedestrian and wait at the scene until the police say you can leave.
In the immediate aftermath of a pedestrian accident, the pedestrian, the police and insurance claims adjusters may try to convince you to admit fault. They may say you caused the crash and try to get you to agree. Do not confess fault or say you are sorry for the crash. Remain polite, but wait for the results of an investigation before assuming fault. Distracted walking has increased the rate of vehicle-pedestrian collisions in recent years. The pedestrian could be at fault for your accident if he or she stepped into the road without the right-of-way, without giving you enough time to stop, or at a place other than a crosswalk or intersection (jaywalking).
In Montana, you could be financially liable for the pedestrian’s accident-related injuries, medical bills, losses of income, pain and suffering, and other damages if you caused the accident. Montana is a fault state, meaning the at-fault driver will be liable for physical injuries and property damages. The injured pedestrian will have to prove your fault, however, to obtain compensation through your auto insurance policy.
Call your insurance company and report the pedestrian accident as soon as you can. Answer the questions asked but do not offer any extra information. Do not speculate about fault. If a claims adjuster contacts you after your crash, do not give him or her a statement. You should not talk to an adjuster until you have consulted with a personal injury lawyer.
If you caused the accident, you may have to pay increased insurance premiums to penalize you for the at-fault crash. Your insurance company may also drop you as a policyholder. If you did not cause the collision, the pedestrian’s insurance may be liable for his or her injuries instead. If you caused the accident but do not have auto insurance (or not enough insurance to cover 100% of the pedestrian’s medical costs), you may have to pay out of pocket for the remainder of a settlement or judgment award.
Facing criminal charges for accidentally hitting a pedestrian is a possibility if you broke a law leading up to the collision. If you were driving drunk, for example, prosecutors could charge you with aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) for causing bodily injuries. Hit-and-run, involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter are other criminal charges you might face after striking a pedestrian in Montana.
In general, you will not face criminal consequences for unintentionally hitting a pedestrian unless you broke a criminal law (not a traffic rule). While you may be civilly liable for causing the collision, if you did not commit a crime, prosecutors will not have a case against you. Hire a criminal defense attorney the moment you suspect you could face criminal charges for a pedestrian accident. A defense lawyer can walk you through the legal process and help you protect your rights.