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Distracted Walking – A New Personal Injury Hazard?

The dangers of distracted driving have attracted significant attention over the past several years. Most people know that texting while driving or talking on the phone while driving is dangerous and can lead to serious accidents. A recent article by the Washington Post brings attention to a new, but related hazard – distracted walking.

The Washington Post article provided two examples of the dangers of distracted walking. In the first example, a 14-year-old boy was injured while talking on his phone when he walked off a six foot high bridge into a ditch. In the second, a 23-year-old man was hit by a car while walking down the middle of the road while talking on his phone.

What is Distracted Walking?

Distracted walking is defined as walking while not paying attention to your immediate surroundings. In many cases, distracted walking occurs because the walker is overly fixated on his or her phone. However, eating, using a cosmetic mirror, holding a conversation, or another event, such as a street performance, could also distract a person.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of all adult cellphone owners have been on either the giving or receiving end of a distracted walking encounter. Among younger age groups, it is even more prevalent. Seventy percent of persons aged 18 to 24 responded that they were bumped into by a distracted walker.

How Dangerous is Distracted Walking?

Much of the data about distracted walking is anecdotal (there are several viral videos of people who tripped or fell while fixated on their phones). However, Ohio State University studied the relationship between distracted walking and emergency room visits. The study found that 1,506 pedestrians went to the emergency room in 2010 for injuries related to walking while distracted with a cell phone. This is an increase from 256 injuries just five years before. Some jurisdictions even attempted to pass laws making it a crime to type or text while crossing a road.

While automobile-related fatalities declined in recent years, pedestrian deaths are on the rise. The U.S. Department of Transportation attributed this increase, in part, to an increase in distracted walking.

Legal Implications of Distracted Walking

Like distracted driving, distracted walking involves the law of negligence. In many cases, it is negligent to walk while not paying attention to your surroundings. For persons injured by a distracted walker who runs into them or otherwise causes an accident, this could potentially support a personal injury lawsuit.

On the flip side, it is possible in many cases to defend against a personal injury lawsuit that arises due to similar circumstances. Maryland follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which means that, if an injured person’s negligence is at all responsible for their own injuries, they cannot recover any personal injury damages. For distracted walkers who walk into the road and are hit by a vehicle, or who trip on a construction barrier that they fail to see, this could prevent them from recovering personal injury damages.

Justin Katz is a personal injury lawyer who represents injury victims in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC
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