Thursday, February 18, 2016

Commonwealth Court Revisits Duties of a Pedestrian Crossing a Street

In its recent decision in the case of Chaudhuri v. Capital Area Transit, No. 1467 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmwlth. Jan. 7, 2016 McCullough, J.), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the entry of a defense verdict in a motor vehicle versus pedestrian accident and, in doing so, found that the trial court did not err in its jury instructions, particularly with respect to the requirement of law that a pedestrian cross streets at crosswalks. 

This matter arose out of an accident during which the Plaintiff, who was crossing the street as a pedestrian outside of a designated crosswalk, waled behind a public bus and was struck by a second bus.  At trial, the jury returned a verdict finding the Plaintiff to be 75% negligent and the Defendant bus driver 25% negligent.

In post-trial motions and on appeal, the Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred on its instructions to the jury on the legal duty of pedestrians crossing outside of a crosswalk.   The Plaintiff alleged that the trial court’s instruction effectively directed to the jury to find the Plaintiff negligent and that the Plaintiff failed to exercise due care simply because he crossed the street outside of the crosswalk.  The Plaintiff made this argument based upon the trial court’s instruction noting that there was a preference under the law for pedestrians to cross streets at crosswalks.  

The appellate court rejected this argument and found that, viewing the trial court’s instructions to the jury as a whole, the Plaintiff was not prejudiced because the trial court was found to have accurately instructed the jury.  The Commonwealth Court reaffirmed the legal duty of pedestrians crossing outside of a crosswalk to yield to oncoming traffic.  The appellate court noted that the trial court properly read from the applicable statutes,and additionally reminded the jury that they were solely responsible for determining whether or not the Plaintiff was negligent based upon the applicable standard of care.  

The appellate court also specifically found that the trial court’s instructions never informed or instructed the jury that the Plaintiff had violated any statute or that the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent simply because the Plaintiff had decided to cross the street outside of a crosswalk.  

Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court found no error in the trial court’s jury instruction in this regard and chose not to disturb the jury’s verdict on appeal.  

Anyone wishing to read this Opinion, may click HERE.

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