Pedestrians at Risk: Humboldt’s Road Problem

Humboldt County not only has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest auto collisions rates in California, but also leads the way in pedestrian/vehicle collisions, which often lead to serious personal injuries or death to the pedestrians. The Eureka Times-Standard (“Times-Standard”) reported in 2017 that between 2009 and 2014, Eureka ranked among the top three spots for pedestrian death and injury rates for California cities of similar size (data from the California Office of Traffic Safety).  People driving in cars seem to think pedestrians have no right to walk on our near roadways traversed by automobiles.  Despite pedestrians having the right of way in marked or unmarked crosswalks, drivers regularly hit pedestrians because they are not looking in the direction of the pedestrian (e.g., turning left from a one way street onto another intersecting one way street), being distracted from texting or talking on  a cell phone, eating food or otherwise doing anything but paying attention to the roadway in front of them.  Drivers forget that they are driving machines that weigh thousands of pounds and cause catastrophic injuries when they strike a human body.  Humboldt County had the second highest rate of pedestrian deaths and injuries of all counties in the state in 2014, 2012, 2011, and 2010.  The Times-Standard report quoted Eureka Police Sgt. Gary Whitmer as stating, “No, it doesn’t look like it is improving.”

Pedestrians also have the duty to watch for approaching vehicles that may pose a hazard before crossing streets, but even those in crosswalks with the walk signal on for them to cross have been struck or killed.  One of the most dangerous settings involves 4th and 5th Streets in Eureka, one way three lane streets that intersect with many streets through town (because Highway 101 becomes 4th and 5th street as it winds through Eureka).  Motorists at cross streets creep up into the middle of the marked crosswalks, looking at the oncoming one way traffic, but never looking or checking for pedestrians coming from the other direction.  Pedestrians coming from the other direction could be children, a child in a stroller with a parent, a dog crossing, or any number of other people walking, running or riding a bicycle.  The Janssen Malloy LLP law firm has handled pedestrian injury or death cases involving all those scenarios. 

Janssen Malloy LLP partner Michael Crowley is handling just such a case right now.  Our client’s father was legally walking alongside a road in McKinleyville, walking against the direction of traffic (which a pedestrian is supposed to do), when he was struck and killed by a driver who had looked down to adjust the radio and was distracted.  The CHP Traffic Collision Report found that the father was walking alongside the roadway edge because there is no shoulder in that location, and the drop off from the road edge was 1½ feet below the roadway itself. In other words, the father was not in or on the roadway. The driver called 911 after the fatal impact stating, “I never even saw him.”

Janssen Malloy LLP has experienced trial counsel who can navigate a wrongful case of this type through the court system. For people who do not have the resources to own a car, walking is often their only option for getting from point A to point B.  The recent efforts to complete the walking trails between Eureka and Arcata, and the Hammond Trail are important improvements to public safety for both pedestrians and vehicles. However, Humboldt County, as beautiful as it is, is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly place. If you or a loved one suffers the consequence of distracted driving, the attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP stand ready to assist.