Are Drivers Liable if They Hit a Protester Blocking the Streets?
Automobile Pedestrian Accident Attorneys Protecting the Rights of Injured Protesters in Tampa
Since long before the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, protesting has been an effective way for individuals and groups with causes that challenge the prevailing standards to have their voices heard. The right to peaceably protest is engrained in our Constitutional society; irrespective of how popular or unpopular an opinion might be, freedom of speech provides us all with the privilege and the right (within Constitutional limits) to say what we have to say.
Of course, this is not to say that protesters should not expect to face certain challenges. Protesting is a unique form of expression, and there are laws – established and affirmed by some of the most famous cases ever decided by the U.S. Supreme Court – that impose guidelines for lawful protests. Then, there are the practical issues inherent in taking to the streets. These include the very real risk of being injured in a vehicle-pedestrian accident.
Florida’s Law Governing Vehicle-Pedestrian Accidents
To understand your rights as a protester who was injured in an accident involving a car, truck, or SUV, let’s start with the general rule: Under Florida law, drivers who cause pedestrian accidents are liable for the victims’ losses – including both monetary and non-monetary damages. This is based on the legal principle of “negligence.”
In Florida (and in all other 49 states around the country), drivers on public roads owe a legal duty to exercise reasonable care. If they breach this duty and cause an accident – whether with another vehicle or a pedestrian – they become financially liable for the consequences of their actions. In a typical case, this means that a negligent driver will be liable for the victim’s:
- Medical bills (current and future)
- Loss of income
- Lost future earning capacity
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of companionship, support, and enjoyment of life
Assuming the driver is insured, his or her auto insurance policy will typically apply, and the victim will usually be able to recover his or her losses through the driver’s insurance company. This usually means negotiating a settlement, but in some circumstances it will be necessary for the victim to take his or her case to trial. In either scenario, getting an at-fault driver’s insurance company to pay just compensation is not easy, and pedestrian accident victims will benefit greatly from hiring an experienced personal injury attorney.
Are Protesters to Blame in Pedestrian Accidents? Understanding “Contributory Fault”
Another legal concept that is relevant to all accident cases, but which often takes on particular importance in accidents involving protesters and other pedestrians, is the concept of “contributory fault.” Under Section 768.81(2) and (6) of the Florida Statutes:
“In a negligence action, contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as economic and noneconomic damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery subject to subsection (6).“
“In a negligence action to which this section applies, any party found to be greater than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm may not recover any damages.”
In other words, if you are partially at fault in an accident, your financial recovery can be reduced based upon your percentage of fault. If you are protesting in the street, could you be considered partially at fault if you get hit by a car? While there are certain things that can make a finding of fault more likely, there is no easy answer, and understanding your legal rights will require a careful assessment of the unique facts and circumstances involved. If, however, you are found to be over 50% at fault, you will be barred from any recovery.
Proving Your Claim for Compensation After a Pedestrian Accident
In order to prove that the driver who hit you was at fault (and that you were not), you will need as much evidence as possible. While the process of investigating the accident should be left to your Tampa accident attorney – who may request traffic camera footage, subpoena phone records, and hire accident reconstructionists and other experts to determine what happened – there are certain steps that injured protesters and other pedestrians can take to help with their cases. For example, after an accident, it is generally a good idea to:
- Collect Information from Witnesses – In the case of a protest, talk to your fellow protesters. What did they see? Did they take pictures or video? Will they testify on your behalf, if necessary, at trial?
- Take Photos with Your Phone – Try to take as many photos as possible. If you are physically able, take photos before you leave the scene of the accident. Try to capture images of the protest, the car that hit you, any traffic signs or signals in the area, the weather conditions, the damage to your clothes and personal items, and your physical injuries.
- Call 911 – Report the accident to the police and seek medical attention right away. If there are police officers on the scene monitoring the protest, you can report the accident to them as well. For purposes of your personal injury claim, seeking prompt medical attention is critical. You want your medical records to reflect that you received treatment for injuries consistent with a vehicle-pedestrian collision as soon as possible after the accident occurred.
- Protect Your Story – If someone from the driver’s insurance company contacts you, tell them that they will need to speak with your injury attorney. The insurance company is not on your side, and insurance adjusters are trained to solicit information that can be used to minimize accident victims’ claims for compensation. At this point, it will also generally be a good idea to stay off of social media. While you might think that what you are posting is harmless, there is a good chance that the insurance adjusters and defense lawyers involved in your case will find a way to use it against you.
Remember, these are just examples, and they should not be taken as a substitute for legal advice. To learn more about your rights, contact Abrahamson & Uiterwyk today for a free consultation.
Pedestrian Accident Lawyers Serving the Greater Tampa Bay Area
With decades of legal experience, the injury lawyers at Abrahamson & Uiterwyk are committed advocates for pedestrian accident victims in the greater Tampa Bay area. To find out if you are entitled to compensation, call us at (800) 538-4878, start a Live Chat, or tell us about your case online today.