One of the most dangerous habits on the road is texting while driving. In 2018, distracted driving led to 2,481 deaths in car accidents. In addition to deaths, this form of distracted driving can lead to serious injuries.
Oftentimes, a person injured in a car accident will need help paying medical bills. Severe accidents can also lead to long term pain and suffering or disability. Fortunately, the law provides multiple options for the victim of a distracted driving accident to receive compensation. Anyone injured in a car accident should contact an attorney as soon as possible to help get all the settlement money they need and deserve.
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Car Insurance Personal Injury Protection Benefits
As in any car accident, the victim of a driver who was texting is entitled to receive compensation from their own car insurance policy’s personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. These benefits will cover any medical bills up to the policy limit, as well as lost wages if the injured person has to miss work because of the accident.
Although it’s relatively easy to receive compensation from PIP benefits, they do have limitations. First, they’re part of a car insurance policy, so an injured person who doesn’t have a car won’t have PIP benefits. Second, PIP benefits only cover medical bills and lost wages, not other forms of harm, which means they won’t pay out for pain and suffering or long term disability caused by an accident.
Finally, car insurance policies have PIP coverage limits as low as $15,000, so any medical bills over the limit won’t be covered. Medical bills for even moderately severe injuries can be very high, so it’s likely they’ll exceed the policy limit.
If PIP benefits are unavailable or won’t cover the full amount of the damage, the injured person will have to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident.
Suing the Distracted Driver
Fortunately, a person injured by a distracted driver can usually win a lawsuit. In any personal injury lawsuit, a person can be held liable if they had a duty to exercise reasonable care and their failure to do so injured someone else. Specifically, New Jersey statute 39:4-97.3 makes it illegal to text while driving, so texting is extremely strong evidence that someone was not driving with reasonable care.
Car accidents caused by distracted driving can lead to severe injuries. In Depinto v. ABM Janitorial Services, for example, the driver of a van ran over a tire fragment on the road because he was texting while driving. The fragment struck a motorcyclist in the face, knocking him off his motorcycle and causing injuries to his spine, shoulder, and wrist. The injuries were serious enough to prevent the motorcyclist from working at his job as a marble mechanic, and a jury awarded him $1,302,470.07.
Collecting the amount due from the driver is often more difficult than proving the driver is liable. If the accident led to large medical bills or caused significant pain or disability, the driver likely won’t have enough money to pay for the judgment.
All drivers in New Jersey are required to carry at least $15,000 in personal injury liability coverage, which is meant to guarantee the injured person can receive at least some compensation for an accident. Some drivers choose to carry more.
If the driver is illegally driving without insurance or if the total amount owed is above the responsible driver’s policy limits, the injured person can also receive uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits under their own car insurance policy.
UIM coverage applies if the driver at fault’s liability coverage isn’t enough to cover the damage they caused. When this happens, the injured person will receive in UIM benefits the amount that the driver at fault was unable to pay. So, if the drunk driver owed $45,000 in damages but only had $15,000 worth of insurance, the injured person would receive UIM benefits of $30,000.
Even though it’s relatively easy to win a case against a distracted driver, it’s still best to be represented by a lawyer. A lawyer can analyze the facts of the accident and develop a persuasive case that will either convince the driver’s insurance to settle or win a verdict at trial. Personal injury lawyers have a lot of experience dealing with insurance companies and know how to get the most money possible for an injury.
A lawyer can also use the discovery process in litigation to find evidence that the other driver was distracted. In Scianni v. Suriano, a defendant in a car accident case used the other driver’s cell phone records to prove the other driver was on the phone at the time of the accident. Even without an eyewitness to testify someone was texting or calling, a person’s cell phone records can prove that they were distracted and therefore at fault for an accident.
Suing the Person Who Texted the Driver
Unlike New York, New Jersey also allows a person injured by a distracted driver to sue the person who texted the driver. Although these lawsuits are only possible under a limited set of circumstances, it may still be worth it if the driver and the insurance payouts did not cover the full extent of the injuries.
In 2013, New Jersey became the first state in the country to allow lawsuits against the sender of a text message in a car accident case. In Kubert v. Best, a married couple suffered severe injuries after a teenager crashed his truck into their motorcycle while texting. The couple sued the teenager’s friend for sending the text that distracted him. Ultimately, the court did not find the teenager’s friend liable because she had no way of knowing the teenager was driving, but it ruled that she could have been liable if she had known.
In any personal injury case, a person who encouraged or helped a person do something reckless can also be held liable. In a texting and driving case, this means that the person who sent texts is liable if they knew or had a special reason to know that the driver would read the texts while driving.
This is a fairly narrow set of circumstances; courts have been clear that just sending a text to someone who happens to be driving doesn’t mean liability. The person who sent the texts must have had some reason to know that the recipient was driving and would read the texts. A lawyer can use the discovery process in a lawsuit to look for evidence (like phone records) that the sender knew the recipient was driving and determine if there is a viable case against the sender of the texts.
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What Should I Do if I Was Injured by a Distracted Driver?
If you or a loved one has been injured by a driver who was texting, contact Rosenblum Law for a free consultation today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys have handled many car accident cases and know how to get you as much of the compensation you deserve as possible. Call 888-815-3649 or email us.