Western Massachusetts Accident Leaves One Pedestrian Dead

Pedestrian crosswalks are designed to offer protection to persons crossing the street. At many crosswalks there are traffic signals at the intersection. If there is no traffic signal, motorists are required to stop when the pedestrian enters the crosswalk or when the person is at least 10 feet from the midpoint of the crosswalk.

At the intersection of College Street and the entrance onto Route 116 in South Hadley, pedestrians can activate a flashing yellow light to alert motorists that they are about to enter the crosswalk or that someone already crossing. On the morning of August 29, 2018, a Westfield woman struck and killed an elderly male pedestrian at this intersection, despite evidence that the man was crossing while the flashing lights were activated. Video of the intersection showed that the man was about halfway across the street when struck and that the car never slowed before the accident.

The motorist in the car that struck the man alleged that she had her cell phone on her lap that was giving her audio GPS instructions but was otherwise not using the phone. However, a witness in a vehicle behind hers reported that he observed the woman looking down as she entered the intersection. Thus, there is clear evidence of distracted driving.

After an investigation, the woman was charged with vehicular homicide by negligent operation, operating a motor vehicle while sending or reading an electronic message, and a crosswalk violation.

Locals reported that they have seen vehicles on prior occasions fly through this intersection even when the lights were flashing warning motorists of the presence of a pedestrian in crosswalk. Because the location is near Mt. Holyoke College, it is a pedestrian-heavy area. One person from the college noted that the flashing lights can give a pedestrian a false sense of security in that a person will assume that traffic will stop. We warn clients all the time – a green light means PERMISSION TO PROCEED only.  You must still look, both ways, and look again.

The town administrator said that he had met with transportation officials regarding increased safety measures at this location. A photo of the intersection does show a sign preceding the intersection that warns motorists of the approaching crosswalk that was obviously ignored or overlooked by the motorist in the tragedy. Additional safety measures that were discussed included decreasing the speed limit, adding more cameras, and perhaps raising the crosswalk.

Unfortunately, and as the town administrator admitted, you can have as many safety measures in place, but none will prevent future accidents so long as people are driving distracted.

Distracted Driving Risks

For decades, drunk driving has been the scourge of our roadways, causing thousands of injuries and fatalities each year. Increased awareness and strict penalties have reduced the incidence, though impaired driving remains a major factor in accident injuries and deaths. But since the advent of cell phones with its myriad functions including texting and the ability to review emails, to view videos or play music among others, it has resulted in a new epidemic of careless or impaired driving that rivals drunk driving

Although it took a few years, many states and cities now outlaw the use of hand-held devices while driving, or prohibit you from texting, though no state bans adult motorists from all uses of cell phones while driving. For a number of states, you can still call and talk from your phone while driving so long as it has a blue tooth function that renders it hands-free. However, many people still use their phones to text, view email, download music, play games, or view videos while driving despite increasingly heavy fines.

Studies have repeatedly confirmed that the average time a motorist looks at his/her phone while driving is 5 seconds. While this be a short time, consider that a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour on a suburban street will travel 58.67 feet per second or 293 feet. This is nearly the length of a football field. If the motorist who struck the man on College Street in South Hadley was looking at her phone 5 seconds before the accident, she would not have seen the sign alerting her to the crosswalk ahead of her, let alone noticed the flashing yellow lights.

In a Utah study involving both hand-held and hand-free phones that was contrasted with drivers not using a phone, researchers found that motorists using the phones were 9% slower to hit the brakes and were 19% slower to resume normal speed after braking and more likely to crash. Other research has shown that taking your eyes off the road for as little as 2 seconds increases your risk of an accident by 24 times. Further, cell phone use accounts for 1.6 million crashes each year in the US, resulting in 390,000 injuries and around 5,000 fatalities.

Under Massachusetts law, no motorist is permitted to text, write, or read text messages while driving, even if stopped in traffic. Motorists who are 18 and over may use a cell phone to talk so long as one hand is on the steering wheel, which is still a questionable and dangerous practice.

If you were injured by a distracted driver, call a distracted driving lawyer from Burns and Jain to handle your claim.

Damages in Distracted Driving Accidents

Damages in a distracted driving accident vary and depend on the nature and extent of your injuries. Typically, damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Expenses for vocational rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

If a fatality occurred, the administrator for the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the immediate family members. Damages in a wrongful death claim may include:

  • Burial and funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses incurred for final treatment or care
  • Lost earnings over the decedent’s working lifetime
  • Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before death
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, guidance, and counsel
  • Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or exhibited willful and wanton conduct

In the South Hadley tragedy, a wrongful death claim could include a claim for punitive damages, although whether use of a cell phone while driving as constituting gross negligence is not settled law. The car accident lawyer for the decedent’s administrator could argue that the motorist should have known that her use of her cell phone in the manner in which she was using it was illegal and highly likely to lead to an accident. As to whether her failure to see the crosswalk or the pedestrian amounted to “willful and wanton conduct,” which is an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others, is a question for the trier-of-fact.

Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain

Distracted driving accidents can cause serious injuries and have a lasting impact on your life that may be permanent. Always retain an experienced car accident lawyer to handle your car accident injury case to ensure you receive the most compensation your injury claim deserves.

Call Burns and Jain today at (617) 227-7423 to schedule a free consultation about your injury claim.