A car accident involving a pedestrian in St. Joseph might seem straightforward. However, it actually provides an excellent example of how the personal injury law in Missouri has developed to better determine who was ultimately at fault for an accident and the injuries that result.
Car Hits Pedestrian in St. Joseph
While the driver of the car was not hurt, the pedestrian suffered serious personal injuries.
The investigation is still under investigation, but it is clear that the pedestrian was not crossing the street at an intersection or at a crosswalk. However, the open roadway suggests that the driver should have been able to see the pedestrian and avoid the car accident.
Primitive Forms of Personal Injury Law: Contributory Negligence
In the early days of personal injury law, the outcome would likely have been very simple: The pedestrian should not have been in the road. Because he contributed to the accident in some way, he should not be compensated for his injuries, no matter how severe.
In fact, because the pedestrian was in the road and not on a crosswalk, he may even be made to bear the costs of the crash – including the costs of repairing whatever damage had been done to the car that hit him.
The Humanitarian Submission, or Last Clear Chance Rule
It took Missouri courts until the 1920s to realize how unfair this could be. In the case Banks v. Morris Company, the Missouri Supreme Court heard how a pedestrian tried crossing the road, but was hit by a truck. Realizing that the truck could have – and perhaps should have – avoided the crash, the court created what became the Humanitarian Submission. This legal doctrine compensates a victim if:
- The victim of a crash was in immediate danger
- The defendant should have known of the peril
- The defendant could have avoided hurting the victim without injuring anyone, but did not
In other states, this concept is called the Last Clear Chance Rule, because it holds a defendant liable for an accident if they had the last clear chance to avoid it, but failed to do so.
Under this legal idea, the pedestrian who was hit this week in St. Joseph would likely be able to recover all his damages in a lawsuit, as his open and visible presence on the road probably should have been seen by the driver.
The Final Move to Comparative Fault
The problem with the Last Clear Chance Rule was that it shifted all of the blame from one person to the other. It was not until 1983 that the Missouri Supreme Court realized that determining liability in many accidents is far more complex. In the case Gustafson v. Benda, the court threw away the ideas of contributory negligence and the Last Clear Chance Rule for the doctrine of comparative negligence, which is still used today.
Rather than trying to figure out who caused an accident – as personal injury law used to focus on – comparative negligence compares the fault of those involved in an accident. If the person who got hurt was 10% at fault, then, comparative negligence allows them to recover 90% of the compensation they deserve. If they were 85% at fault for their injuries, they can still recover compensation, but only 15% of what they would otherwise be entitled to.
Of course, putting a percentage on how responsible people were for an accident is not easy. In this week’s car accident in St. Joseph, the exact place where the pedestrian was crossing the road would make a difference. The jury could even consider the time of day and what the pedestrian was wearing, because both would impact how easily the driver could see him.
St. Joseph Car Accident Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
The fact-intensive nature of comparative negligence makes having a personal injury lawyer on your side even more important. If you have been hurt in a car accident in St. Joseph, Kansas City, or Springfield, Missouri, call the attorneys at the Smith Law Office at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online.