One of the most dangerous habits on the road is texting while driving. In 2018, distracted driving (such as texting) led to 87,728 car accidents in the state, a dramatic increase from 57,006 the year before. In addition to deaths, distracted driving is the leading cause of personal injury accidents in New York state.
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 texting while 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, there are limitations. First, they’re part of a car insurance policy, so an injured person who doesn’t have a car won’t have access to 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 $25,000, 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.
Texting While Driving Statistics
Texting is one of the most dangerous forms of distraction. Over 2,600 people were killed in the U.S. in 2018 due to various forms of distracted driving. That amounts to nearly 8 people killed a day, and 14% of those crashes were related to cell phone use in particular.
Young people are at high risk for texting related accidents. One quarter of all distracted driving accidents involved a teen driver in 2018. The year before, 9% of all teen accident fatalities involved distracted driving. In a national survey, 39% of drivers between the ages of 15 and 18 admitted to having texted or emailed while driving within the past 30 days.
Suing a Driver Who Was Texting While Driving
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 York statute makes it illegal to text while driving, so texting is extremely strong evidence that someone was not driving with reasonable care.
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.
As noted earlier, all drivers in New York are required to carry at least $25,000 in personal injury liability coverage, which is meant to guarantee the injured person can receive at least some compensation for an accident. Some drivers may 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) benefits under their own car insurance policy. Uninsured Motorist insurance is required in New York while Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) is optional.
While it may seem 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. 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
It is widely understood that texting while driving is risky behavior. But what about the person who texted a driver who got into a car accident? There have been interesting cases which examine this question.
A groundbreaking case, Kubert v. Best, took place after a 2009 accident in Mine Hill Township, New Jersey, just 30 miles south of the New York State border. The Kuberts 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.
New York State saw a similar case in 2012, Vega v. Crane. The circumstances of the accident were almost identical to Kubert v. Best but the New York court took a different approach to the case. The judges felt that it was not up to them to assign liability to a third-party texter and that “the expansion of liability to individuals who text message would be exponential.” For those reasons, they granted “summary judgment” to the defendant, which means they did not allow a trial. New Jersey issued the same ruling but New York left less room for future suits. However, this was a novel case for New York and the state could rule differently in the future.
In any personal injury case, a person who encouraged or helped a person do something reckless can also be held liable. Courts have been clear that just sending a text to someone who happens to be driving doesn’t amount to liability. In a texting and driving case, 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.
Phone Usage for Reasons Other Than Texting
New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1225-d clearly prohibits texting while driving. As technology advances, however, people are beginning to use their smartphones for an increasing variety of purposes. These innovations are convenient but each new feature raises new legal questions.
In People v. Riexinger, a driver was pulled over for looking at her cell phone. She told the officer she was just using her phone to check the time. Her phone records confirmed that she had not sent any texts nor made any calls while driving. She was still issued a ticket and took the matter to court, which found her not guilty on the basis that her action of checking her phone for the time was no different than checking a wrist watch.
In People v. Goldstein, a driver was also pulled over for holding a phone. He told the officer he was turning on his Bluetooth while stopped at a traffic light. The court found that his action wasn’t technically classified as ‘use’ of a cellphone under the New York statute and his case was dismissed.
In People v. Fortini, a driver was pulled over after she was driving while holding her phone outside of the car in order to take a video recording of the scenery. This action could have resulted in serious injury to herself and other drivers. She had technically been charged with the wrong violation and her case was dismissed as a result. But, what if she had been charged with a different violation?
None of these cases resulted in an accident. It is clear, though, that the laws surrounding smartphone usage are subject to interpretation. If any of these types of incidents lead to accidents, victims will need an experienced attorney to determine if the drivers’ actions can be proven to be negligent.
What Should I Do if I Was Injured by a Texting 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.