Jury finds Maryland liable for failing to include a sidewalk
A Prince George's County jury found the state of Maryland liable for the death of a pedestrian because they didn't install a sidewalk.
A driver hit and killed Kelay Smith on Pennsylvania Avenue in District Heights in August 2008. There is a 200-foot gap in the sidewalk, forcing people to walk along the road with fast-moving traffic.
According to the Post, one of the officers investigating the crash said, "There shouldn't be any pedestrians walking alongside the road," but residents say they have no choice since nearby apartment complex have fences that prohibit walking anywhere else.
This is an all-too-common scene. In a suburban area with low rates of walking, state and local governments design roads for the maximum throughput and speed of motor vehicles with virtually no consideration to pedestrians (or bicyclists). Prince George's County even has an "adequate public facilities" law that requires developers to pay to widen intersections and roads around new developments, but makes no provision for safe pedestrian (or bicycle) facilities.
When someone gets hit crossing a street to reach stores, neighborhoods, or one of these bus stops, police simply dismiss the issue, saying the pedestrian was not in a crosswalk and is therefore at fault, case closed.
Maryland's road safety chief, Vernon Betkey, Jr., was the one who blamed distracted pedestrians and public policy encouraging outdoor activity for rising road deaths. Maybe this lawsuit will push Betkey and other state leaders to take the design of the state's major roads more seriously.
It's not ideal for public policy to be made through tort law, but if that's what it takes to make states pay attention to pedestrian safety, so be it. It's simply not acceptable to design areas that are massively hostile to pedestrians, provide no alternatives, and then just shrug when pedestrians die because of the poor design.
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