A particularly embarrassing incident occurred this summer when the fire chief for the city of Norwell, Massachusetts, was cited for distracted driving after apparently causing an accident on Washington Street in Hanover. Fire Chief Reardon of Norwell was in his city owned vehicle around 9:00 a.m. when he admittedly received a text. While looking at the message, he failed to notice that traffic had stopped in front of him. His Chevrolet Tahoe rear-ended an Isuzu box truck with two occupants, which in turn rear-ended a Toyota Camry. All who were involved suffered injuries and were treated at South Shore Hospital. The extent of their injuries was not reported.
Chief Reardon was to be disciplined by the city for the accident, but his main concern was that his conduct presented a poor example to the public since his office is in the forefront of advocating for public safety. This includes not only fire prevention but safe driving since most fire departments employ EMTs to administer first aid to victims of car accidents, and to other persons needing immediate medical assistance. The incident underscores the insidious nature of smartphones in motor vehicles and the often-irresistible impulse to text and respond to calls while driving.
Dangers of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving includes any activity done while driving that re-directs the driver’s focus and concentration from the act of driving. Before the advent of smartphones, distracted driving referred to eating, drinking, reading, grooming, talking, fiddling with the radio, rubbernecking, or daydreaming while driving. But since smartphones have become such a necessary appendage, distracted driving now nearly always refers to some kind of smartphone use.
All states have some kind of legislation that bars at least teen drivers if not all motorists from texting while driving. Many states like Massachusetts ban any use of a hand-held phone or device while driving. It is estimated, however, that at any time of the day there are about 660,000 drivers on their phones while driving, many of whom are violating their state’s ban on how they are used.
Accidents from distracted driving constitute about 25% of all car accidents and around 58% of car accidents involving teenagers. Although it is unusual for anyone over the age of 12 to not have a cell phone, teens are notorious for texting, viewing videos, taking selfies, and otherwise using their phones while driving. Immaturity and inexperience in driving contribute to their chronic use. Adults, like Chief Reardon, however, are not immune to this distracting behavior.
According to Teen Safe, it only takes 3 seconds after your attention has been diverted to cause an accident. DMV.org reports that 9 people per day are killed in distracted driving accidents. Numerous more suffer serious and even catastrophic injuries.
When in your car, turn off your cell phone or put it in the glove compartment where it cannot be reached while you drive. Although blue tooth technology allows hands-free calling and talking, there remains the temptation to take your focus off driving when a text message is received. This is a simple practice that few people use in real life, though it could save your life or that of anyone else.
Liability in Distracted Driving Accidents
In the Hanover accident involving Chief Reardon, he and the city of Norwell could be defendants in a personal injury suit brought by a Massachusetts distracted driving lawyer on behalf of those injured by his actions. His conduct in looking at his cell phone instead of slowing and stopping in time for stopped traffic constituted negligence and is the basis for a personal injury claim. All motorists have a duty to exercise ordinary care when driving, which includes obeying the traffic laws and not engaging in conduct that diverts attention from the act of driving. Chief Reardon’s actions were a breach of his duty of care. It remains for the distracted driving lawyer for the injured claimants to prove that the victims’ injuries were the result of the accident and that their damages are supported by medical, employment, and other relevant and credible evidence.
Because the fire chief was in a city owned vehicle and in the course and scope of his employment, the city is on the hook for payment of any damages proved by the claimants because of vicarious liability, a legal principle that imputes the negligence of an employee to the employer.
Damages in Distracted Driving Accidents
Damages in a distracted driving accident can be substantial. They can include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Loss of earning capacity
- Emotional distress
- Diminished quality or enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Retain a Distracted Driving Lawyer from Burns and Jain
Distracted driving accidents involving cellphones are a prominent cause of serious accidents on our highways despite strong state laws barring hand-held use of smartphones. Call one of our highly experienced distracted driving lawyers from Burns and Jain at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your car accident injury claim.