In Michigan, school zones are designated areas near schools subject to special traffic rules and regulations. These rules are designed to ensure the safety of students and other pedestrians in and around the school. When a driver causes an accident in a school zone and injures a child, they may be liable for the damages caused.
Liability for Negligence
The primary legal theory that applies when a driver hits a child in a school zone is negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances of harming another person. In the context of a school zone accident, a driver may be found negligent if he or she:
- Fails to obey the posted speed limit in the school zone
- Fails to yield the right of way to a pedestrian in a crosswalk
- Fails to stop at a stop sign or red light
- Drives while distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Fails to keep a proper lookout for children
Under Michigan law, a plaintiff (in this case, the child or their parents) must prove the following elements in order to establish negligence:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached that duty by failing to exercise reasonable care
- The breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
- The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty
When is there a breach of duty?
In the case of a driver who hits a child in a school zone, the duty of care is to exercise reasonable caution and care while driving in the school zone. This includes obeying traffic signs and signals, slowing down and watching for children, and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.
If the driver breaches this duty by, for example, driving too fast or failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and, as a result, hitting a child, then the driver may be found liable for the child’s injuries. The damages that the driver may be responsible for can include medical expenses, lost wages (if the child’s parents must take time off work to care for the child), and pain and suffering.
It’s worth noting that in Michigan, the plaintiff’s own negligence may also be considered in determining liability. This is known as contributory negligence. If the plaintiff is found to have contributed to their own injuries by, for example, darting out into the street without looking, then the plaintiff’s damages may be reduced or even eliminated entirely.
In Michigan, the rule of contributory negligence is a modified one, known as “comparative negligence.” Under comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff. So, if the plaintiff is found to be 25% at fault for their injuries, then their damages will be reduced by 25%.
This means that even if the driver is found to be mostly at fault for the accident, if the child was also acting negligently (for example, by running into the street without looking), then the child’s damages may be reduced or eliminated.
In some cases, a driver who hits a child in a school zone may also face criminal charges. For example, if the driver was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or was driving recklessly, then the driver may be charged with a crime such as vehicular manslaughter or reckless driving.
Criminal charges are separate from civil liability, which is the legal responsibility for compensating the victim for their injuries. In other words, even if the driver is acquitted of criminal charges, he or she may still be found liable for the child’s injuries in a civil lawsuit
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