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Walk This Way?


Walk This Way?

It’s a familiar sight.  You’re walking down the street and someone is walking towards you, staring at their phone and not paying the slightest attention to where they (or you) are walking.

A Canadian study published this week has concluded that pedestrians who meander about with their eyes glued on their smartphones are statistically more likely to be involved in accidents or near misses.  So much so that the research, based on extrapolated US data, concluded that between the years 2004-2010 incidents such as walking into lampposts increased by over 800%.

The authors write: “Given the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, apps, digital video and streaming music, which has infiltrated most aspects of daily life, distracted walking and street cross will be a road safety issue for the foreseeable future.”  The study conducted found that safety was compromised more when pedestrians were messaging, as opposed to listening to music, or talking on their phones. 

Solutions proposed by the study to combat pedestrian distraction include e-walking lanes, traffic tickets and enforcement, wrapping poles with padding, having mobile phones alarm when at crossings, the authors summarise.  Frankly, all of these measures seem a bit over the top.  Presumably the cost of wrapping lampposts for instance would fall to be borne by the local authority and in turn the taxpayer.  As for having mobile phones going off at crossings, if the GPS is as reliable as it is on my phone, there’s a fair chance you’d be three streets away before the thing starts ringing.  All of this does beg the question though, from a personal injury context, in the absence of any of these far-fetched measures, where does this leave someone who has sustained an injury on the street, by say, tripping over an exposed slab, whilst engaged on their phone?

The concept which applies here is “contributory negligence”.  Not all personal injury claims are open and shut cases where one party is clearly responsible for the incident and resulting injury.  Contributory negligence will apply in any case where it is determined that the injured person may in some way have contributed to their accident..  In cases involving trips on exposed paving edges, the degree of “contributory negligence” is fluid, depending on how much attention the individual was paying, or to the same extent, how distracted they were, whether it was dark, and so on.  All of these factors are relevant to the assessment.

Historically, courts have tended to find “trippers” anywhere between 20-40% responsible.  In real terms this means a corresponding 20-40% deduction from damages.  Whilst there is still very little caselaw on the direct issue of mobile phone use with regards to pavement tripping, a recent English decision for a pedestrian who walked out in front of a car whilst on her phone found the injured party to be 40% responsible.

If trends continue, it is therefore highly likely that we will see an increase in pedestrian personal injury cases where mobile phones will play a factor, and findings of contributory negligence in the order of 40% (or more) may well become the norm.  So unless you want to wind up as another lamppost statistic (or give up 40% of your compensation), maybe that text message can wait?

Richard Poole is an Associate in our specialist Personal Injury team. If you have had an accident, contact Richard on 01382 346795 or rpoole@thorntons-law.co.uk. Alternatively, contact any of our specialist Personal Injury Team on 0800 731 8434.

Posted by Richard Poole

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