Recently, Inga Saffron at Philly.com published a piece entitled, “If You Want to Kill Someone and Not Get Punished, Use a Car.” It recounts a few tragic pedestrian accidents that have happened during the past year in Philadelphia, in which innocent pedestrians were killed by hit-and-run drivers.
As the article rightfully points out, striking a pedestrian while operating a car and then fleeing the scene (and not getting caught) leaves the driver free of any criminal charges. On the other hand, the injured pedestrian (and the family) is left to deal with the physical injuries and financial difficulties following an accident. However, accidentally hitting someone while operating a car is not automatically a crime. It depends largely on the circumstances (but, to be clear, fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime).
What Constitutes Murder?
The point that Saffron doesn’t quite make clear in her article is that death resulting from being struck by a vehicle is not always a crime. In Pennsylvania, and in other states, in order to be guilty of first-degree murder the driver of the vehicle would have had to intentionally strike the pedestrian with the vehicle. This means that there is reasonable evidence to show that the driver planned for the pedestrian to die – that the driver took premeditated, purposeful steps to cause the pedestrian’s death.
Unfortunately there are common scenarios in which a person causes someone else’s death without intent. So, for instance operating a vehicle irresponsibly, or negligently, may result in a pedestrian’s death. Just because a death or serious injury occurs in any given situation does not automatically make it a crime. It may nevertheless result in criminal charges being brought against the driver of the vehicle, for instance for vehicular manslaughter.
Drunk driving and fleeing the scene will result in criminal charges if a pedestrian is killed or injured, if the driver is caught.
How Can We Protect Against Pedestrian Accidents?
The problem becomes one of financial compensation. If a pedestrian is struck by a car, and the driver was operating the car negligently, for instance, speeding, and no criminal charges are brought, the injured party and/or the family of the person who has been injured still maintains a right to bring a civil case for money damages.
The best way to protect yourself and your family financially from a pedestrian accident is by purchasing the maximum amount of Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM and UIM) on your auto insurance policy.
The same principles apply as when you are in a vehicle, in other words, not a pedestrian. If someone hits you and then flees the scene, this type of coverage would help you pay your medical bills, and enables you to get compensated for your injuries.Your insurance company steps into the shoes of the other driver, as if they actually insured the other driver. Additionally you can make a claim for uninsured motorist benefits up to the amount of coverage that you purchased.
Another important note is that under the Pennsylvania vehicle code, bicyclists are considered pedestrians. And any coverage under your auto insurance applies to you as a bicyclist, the same way it would if you were a pedestrian struck by a car. So UM and UIM coverage as well as medical coverage on your auto policy would benefit you in the event you are on a bicycle hit by a car. You can therefore tap into that coverage in that scenario.
For more information about purchasing the right kind of insurance to safeguard yourself and family against pedestrian accidents, check out my books: