Proving Liability in Distracted Driving Car Crashes

Distracted driving is any activity that causes a driver to stray from focusing on operating the motor vehicle, even for a brief period.  Examples are searching for a radio station, grooming, talking to passengers, eating and reading a map or other document. The most prevalent example of distracted driving and that has garnered the most attention towards awareness and prevention is texting and driving.

Texting While DriviingA texting and driving car crash often results in devastating consequences. Texting can include typing a text message, sending it, reading a text or email on the smartphone, watching a Youtube video or googling for information. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other safety organizations, texting will take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At 60 miles per hour, a car will travel nearly 150 yards, more than enough distance and time to cause a catastrophic accident.

You are also 23 times more likely to be involved in a car accident if driving while distracted according to the NHTSA.  In 2014, 18% of injury crashes and 16% of all traffic accidents were linked to distracted driving or about 1.6 million crashes.  Compared to drunk driving, drivers texting or looking at texts are 6 times more likely to cause an accident.

Texting and driving is a violation in Massachusetts, regardless of age.

Texting and Proving Liability

Car accidents that result in severe injuries and death occur daily across the US.  Injured parties and their families in a death case are entitled to compensation from the responsible party if that party was negligent. Negligence in a car crash can include speeding, making an unsafe lane change, running a red light or stop sign or reckless driving as well as texting while driving.

The injured party seeking compensation has the burden of proving liability.  We have to prove that the other driver was negligent.  In a texting and driving car crash, we have to demonstrate that the defendant’s actions caused the negligence; lead him or her to loose control of the vehicle or failed to notice a hazard that led to the accident.

In a recent fatal accident in San Antonio, Texas, a man repairing his trailer on the side of the road was killed when a driver evidently lost control of her vehicle and pinned the man against the trailer.  Apparently the police intimated that texting was involved.

There are a number of ways that you can prove that a driver was texting or otherwise distracted and that this act was a substantial cause of an accident:

  • The driver admits to texting to the police or another credible witness. If the driver just blurted out that she was sorry and was texting at the time, it is likely admissible under the “excited utterance” rule of Massachusetts evidence.
  • A passenger might state that the driver was observed to be texting or another motorist or pedestrian who saw the accident unfold could also verify that the driver was texting.
  • Surveillance videos. Many accidents occur at intersections where there are traffic signals and cameras looking for cars that enter the intersection on a red traffic signal. These are clear enough to catch a driver looking at a cell phone as the car enters the intersection.
  • Text message records from the cell phone. If texting or other cell phone use is suspected, the police at the scene can confiscate the phone. Your Massachusetts personal injury lawyer can also subpoena the driver’s cell phone records and match a call or text message with the time of the accident to show that the driver was engaged in texting at the moment the accident occurred.

The very act of texting can be presumed to be why the San Antonio driver suddenly veered off the road and into the path of the victim who was tending to his disabled vehicle while on the shoulder.  If needed, an expert can testify that the act of texting while driving greatly increases the risk of an accident and can cite studies supporting his opinion.

Employer Negligence in Texting and Driving Case

One other aspect of the cited San Antonio fatal car accident was that the family included the victim’s employer as a defendant.  They have alleged that the employer failed to maintain the vehicle that the victim was operating and that the employer had a history of safety violations involving the trailers it supplied to its employees.  A vehicle that regularly breaks down places the employee at risk of being in an accident, especially if it occurs on the roadway.

It is entirely foreseeable that that an accident can occur if a vehicle becomes disabled while on the roadway or even if the driver is able to pull over to the side of the road since the motorist is more readily exposed and vulnerable to drunk, inexperienced or distracted drivers. By providing vehicles that regularly break down, the employer increases the chances its employees’ will be in an accident.

Damages in a Texting and Driving Car Crash

Motorists, passengers and pedestrians are entitled to damages if they were injured by the negligence of another driver or other party. Damages may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future wage losses
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Permanent disfigurement or disability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

In a death case in Massachusetts, the administrator of the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the decedent’s immediate family members. Damages may include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses for final treatment
  • Loss of financial support
  • Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, comfort, guidance and support
  • Punitive damages if the defendant exhibited willful indifference to the safety of others or was grossly negligent

While drunk driving may qualify as gross negligence to allow an award of punitive damages, especially if the driver blood alcohol was far above the legal limit or was road racing on a freeway at 100 miles per hour, it is not clear whether texting and driving arises to the same degree of willful indifference. Your injury attorney should discuss this issue with you.

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