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Hergott: A pedestrian’s legal obligation

Lawyer Paul Hergott questions the moral obligation of pedestrians and motorists

It’s downtown Vancouver.

Eastbound lanes of traffic are at a complete stop for a red light. The driver of an eastbound pick-up truck illegally veers into the westbound lanes to skip ahead to a left turn lane.

His license is suspected. He has three previous convictions for driving while prohibited. He had no business being on the road in the first place, let alone his illegal maneuver.

Pedestrians commonly cross mid-block on that street. Twenty-two year old Veronica Howell is doing just that. She walks through the stopped eastbound lanes.

When Veronica gets to the centre line, she slows or stops and looks to her right for westbound traffic. Traffic is clear so she starts across the westbound lanes.

Clear except for the pick-up truck coming from the wrong direction, driven by the prohibited driver.

Veronica is thrown up onto the hood before landing on the ground unconscious and bleeding. She has life-threatening injuries including a fractured skull.

The prohibited driver doesn’t stop.

For a play by play of the incredible police work performed by the Vancouver Police Department to identify the hit and run driver, read the court decision of Madam Justice MacNaughton (Howell v. Machi, 2017 BCSC 1806).

Who do you think is at fault in this horrible hit and run collision?

Just like motorists have a legal obligation to keep a lookout for drunk pedestrians wandering around a highway on a dark night, pedestrians have a legal obligation to look out for prohibited and illegal drivers.

RELATED: Hergott: Motorists vs. pedestrian

Veronica had a few strikes against her:

  1. She was not crossing in a crosswalk, or at an intersection, in busy rush hour traffic;
  2. She was wearing a burgundy jacket and grey toque making her less visible;
  3. She did not recall hearing the pickup truck coming, even though a witness had heard it from further away across the street;
  4. Despite not being a driver herself, she should have been aware of the possibility that a driver might illegally pull around to access the left turn lane ahead; and
  5. She didn’t look to her left.

Madam Justice MacNaughton concluded that Veronica was 25 percent at fault.

Veronica, who was left with permanent, disabling injuries, will recovery only 75 pre cent of the value of her lifetime of income losses, pain and suffering, future care and other harms and losses that were assessed by the court.

The law imposes an obligation on all road users to take reasonable care for our own safety, as well as the safety of those around us. That obligation is maintained regardless of how illegal, careless or outrageous the conduct of other road users.

Who has the higher moral obligation to be cautious, though, as between motorists and pedestrians?

Instead of being angry with jaywalking pedestrians who you come close to mowing down, how about being angry with yourself for not driving with a level of care that would have you calmly anticipating and prepared to react to such conduct.

Pedestrians, you cannot count on drivers to follow the law any more than they can count on you. Please keep this case in mind as you make your way on our roadways.

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