The Massachusetts Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s judgment in a personal injury lawsuit brought by a pedestrian injured by a truck driver who struck her in the evening, while she was crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. The issue before the trial court had been the relative fault of the two parties, since eyewitness testimony indicated that the plaintiff may not have obeyed the pedestrian signal. The jury had been instructed on Massachusetts law addressing a driver’s legal responsibilities at crosswalks, which included the prohibition against an “operator” entering a marked crosswalk while a pedestrian was crossing. After the jury found the plaintiff 35% at fault, her damages award was reduced by that percentage (her total damages were $70,000, and the awarded judgment was $45,000). The city appealed, challenging the judge’s instructions to the jury on the ground that the statute did not apply to the circumstances of the case.
The facts indicated that the plaintiff was walking on Binney Street, which is a four-five-lane-wide street at its intersection with 2nd Street. Comparatively, 2nd Street is a side street, measuring 24 feet across. At the time of the accident, it was a cold, wet, dark night, with poor visibility. An eyewitness testified that the plaintiff had not looked before entering the intersection and that the walk light had changed to an upright hand (the icon indicating pedestrians not to cross) by the time she entered the crosswalk.
The driver testified that he had turned left when the green arrow indicated it was his turn, and he had not seen the plaintiff until she was in front of his vehicle. He applied the brakes but skidded on the pavement. He did testify that the accident could have been avoided had he been driving more slowly, although he had only been driving 10 miles per hour.
The issue before the appellate court was whether Massachusetts law regarding the duty of a driver to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk applies generally or in narrow circumstances. The appellate court stated that the law at issue (G. L. c. 89, § 11, as amended by St. 2004, c. 170, § 2) made clear that drivers shall not pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. Nor, the appellate court stated, should a driver enter a crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing. The plain language of the statute supported the judge’s interpretation rather than the City’s. The appellate court also stated that if the City’s interpretation of the statute were to stand, it would make the first clause of the statute superfluous.
The court also noted that the judge’s interpretation reflected generally understood rules of the road. In other words, pedestrians have the right of way, regardless of whether the driver’s light is green.
The appellate court rejected the City’s argument that the jury instruction contradicted the instruction regarding the duty a pedestrian has to obey walk lights. The trial court had made clear that there cannot be a rule stating that a pedestrian crossing signal either negates or trumps the obligation that a driver has to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
In concluding, the appellate court stated that both drivers and pedestrians owe a duty to obey the law, and the jury must determine fault in the event of an accident. Here, the verdict was affirmed because the City had not shown a valid reason to overturn the verdict.
If you or someone close to you has been hurt in a vehicle accident, an experienced Boston car accident attorney can help. At the Law Office of Michael O. Smith, we advocate for victims of accidents as they pursue personal injury claims against at-fault parties. Contact our office for a free consultation by calling (617) 263-0060.
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