Texting and driving causes one out of every four car accidents in the United States per year and makes a car crash up to twenty-three times more likely 1. In California, a person cannot drive an automobile while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed to allow hands-free listening and talking and is actually used in that manner while driving 2. While violation of the California Vehicle Code, which prohibits texting while driving, only results in a twenty-dollar fine for a first offense 3, the repercussions the driver will face in a civil lawsuit brought by someone injured as a result are much more severe.
The majority of car accidents that lFead to civil lawsuits are the result of negligence by a driver that causes injury to another rather than by any intentional conduct on the driver’s part. It is clear in California that a plaintiff injured as a result of a texting driver’s negligence could warrant an award of damages that includes, past medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and/or any pain and suffering endured by the plaintiff. A car accident does not have to be fatal to warrant a substantial damages award in cases involving a texting driver. For example, in Caldwell v. Hughes, a plaintiff passenger was injured when the defendant driver, distracted by texting, collided with an embankment and then hit another vehicle 4. The injured plaintiff suffered head, neck, and back injuries and the jury awarded $679,492 in damages. This award consisted of $76,660 in past loss of earnings, $115,360 in future medical expenses, $150,000 for past medical expenses, and $200,000 for future non-economic loss (such as pain and suffering)5.
In recent civil lawsuits involving a texting driver, plaintiffs have begun seeking punitive damages 6 , which are meant to punish a defendant for their conduct, against defendant drivers who were texting at the time of the accident that resulted in their injury. To succeed in a claim for punitive damages in California, you must be able to show that the defendant acted in a conscious disregard for the safety of others or acted in a way that was willfully indifferent 7. In the texting and driving context, it can certainly be argued that a texting driver acts in a reckless disregard for the safety of other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians by purposely taking their eyes of the road to look down at their cell phone to send a text message.
Last year, a Los Angeles resident was injured in a car accident and filed a negligence lawsuit against the texting driver and asked the California appeals court for permission to seek punitive damages. While some Florida courts have already ruled that punitive damages could be sought in texting and driving cases, those cases settled prior to trial 8. Although California courts have yet to rule on the issue, courts have clearly entertained the idea of allowing punitive damages in these types of cases. It seems that it will only be a matter of time before texting drivers who injure individuals will be hit with substantial amounts of punitive damages, all due to sending a simple text message.
In today’s society, everyone knows of the dangers of texting and driving. We constantly see commercials and billboards on a daily basis advising of such dangers; thus, there is no excuse for such negligence by driver’s who are texting and cause injury to others as a result. No matter how minor or major your injuries may be, if you are injured because of a texting driver’s negligence you are rightfully entitled to compensation.
Being injured due to a texting driver’s negligence is something that no person should have to endure. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a texting driver, KHS is here to help and will fight for the compensation you deserve.
- http://classic-archived-site-111361.web10.hubspot.com/texting-and-driving-stats/ ↩
- Cal. Vehicle Code § 23123(a). ↩
- Id. § 23123(b). ↩
- Caldwell v. Hughes, 28 Nat. J.V.R.A. 11:16, 2013 WL 6692566 (Cal. 2013). ↩
- Id. ↩
- Kahn & White, Texting-and-Driving Lawsuit Could Change Law. NBC San Diego (March 14, 2014). ↩
- Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 3294. ↩
- Id. ↩