Lieberman, Ryan & Forrest, L.L.C.
Somerset County
Hunterdon County

What is New Jersey's view of contributory negligence in a crash?

If a New Jersey motorist collides with a pedestrian who is crossing at a location other than a crosswalk, is any personal injury claim subject to a contributory negligence attack?

Under New Jersey law, such a claim could be defeated only if the pedestrian's contributory negligence was greater than the motorist's negligent driving behavior. However, the pedestrian's damages might be reduced by the percentage of negligence attributed to him or her. 

As a law firm that focuses on pedestrian and other personal injury accidents, we view this example to be an important illustration of the role that a jury plays in a personal injury lawsuit. Whether the accident involved a pedestrian or another motorist, the applicable standard is how a reasonable person should have acted. Actions contrary to the reasonable person standard could be deemed as negligent in the eyes of a jury.

Admittedly, a pedestrian struck by a motorist will likely garner a great deal of sympathy from jurors. However, to avoid a reduction in damages, certain safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should be heeded. Ideally, these safety tips will prevent a pedestrian accident in the first place. If that is not possible, then at least a pedestrian's legal rights might be preserved.

First, pedestrians should take a proactive approach to their own safety by never assuming that motorists have seen them. Even if a pedestrian has a right-of-way, as in a crosswalk or with a walk signal, he or she should make an effort to make eye contact with motorists to avoid a potential accident. Walking on sidewalks or other designated areas should also help minimize the risk of accidents.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Pedestrians," copyright 2015, U.S. Department of Transportation

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