When Martin Scorsese directed the film “Mean Streets” back in 1973, the Academy Award winning filmmaker described the movie as the tale of a small-time hood who struggles to succeed on the mean streets of New York. But unlike Scorsese, when David Perecman, the New York City pedestrian accident lawyer describes the city’s “mean streets,” he’s talking about some of the meanest places in the country for those on foot. “Rich and poor alike, New Yorkers walk everywhere,” Perecman said.
“But while it is getting much safer to stroll around town, some of the most dangerous streets, and careless drivers, on earth are still right here in the five boroughs, particularly in Manhattan.” Perecman points out that each year hundreds of pedestrians – residents and tourists alike — are seriously injured, or killed, crossing a city street. In fact, according to an analysis released last week by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy watchdog organization, Third Avenue and Broadway were each the site of 10 fatal accidents to pedestrians from 2005 to 2007. “You can’t take safety for granted,” Perecman warns.
“Just like our mothers used to tell us as children, I always tell people look both ways before crossing the street. Then before taking your first step, look both ways again. And, then again. Even if you have a green light, you should pay attention to the flow of traffic until you are safely on the other side of the street.” No one is exempt from the dangers of the roads. One unnerving example is firefighter and former competitive marathoner, Mathew Long, who finished the 2008 New York City Marathon in 7 hours, 21 minutes.
He was nearly killed three years ago after being hit by a bus while crossing the street on the East Side of Manhattan during the last New York City transit strike. “As a personal injury lawyer in New York who has handled dozens of cases involving pedestrian-vehicle accidents, I see situations like Matthew Long’s all too often,” Perecman said.
“But, the law in New York State, no matter how heroic the victim, is the same. “Pedestrians should not think that just because they were struck by a car that they can bring a law suit and win,” Perecman advises. “For the case to have merit, you first need to establish fault. Secondly, the pedestrian’s injury needs to meet a legal threshold.
In New York State, the legal threshold is what is termed a “serious injury” which includes death, dismemberment, a fractured bone, significant disfigurement, any important loss of use of some part of the body even if not permanent, or an injury that incapacitates normal daily functions for 90 out of the 180 days the follow the accident. “These rules are complex so if you are hit by a car, or by some other moving vehicle,” Perecman stresses, “consult with a lawyer.”
According to Perecman, the rules of the road are the same for all types of passenger and commercial vehicles except in cases where the accident involves an authorized vehicle responding to an emergency, like a fire truck. In these instances, the plaintiff has to prove that the driver of the vehicle acted with reckless disregard for the person’s safety.
“Whether the vehicle,” he said, “is commercial or privately owned, the owner is responsible for the driver’s negligent acts so long as the vehicle is driven with the owner’s consent. In the case of an employee driver, it can be necessary to prove that the driver was acting within the scope of their employment. “In principle,” he added, “liability depends on negligence. In my experience, the most common form of driver negligence is inattentiveness and speeding. Keep in mind that even a jaywalker, or a child running out from in between two parked cars, could have a case if the driver could and reasonably should have seen them and stopped.
“The courts,” he further added, “have made it harder over the years for people who have been struck by a motor vehicle, and in other types of automobile accidents, to recover for their injuries. Also, rules adopted in 2002 have shortened the period of time to file a claim for no fault benefits from 90 to 30 days. I think it’s too short and too easy for a person to miss the filing date.”