In one year alone, nearly one hundred fifty people were killed by distracted drivers in New Jersey.
Distracted driving refers to driving a vehicle while doing something that takes one’s attention away from the road. This can take many forms, like using a cell phone, applying makeup, fixing one’s hair in the rearview mirror, drinking or eating something just picked up a drive-through window, or checking on kids in the back seat.
New Jersey has some of the nation’s strictest laws against distracted driving. Anyone who holds a cell phone while driving can be fined up to $400 for a first offense, and can lose their license after three offenses. But, although a distracted driver who causes an accident may have to pay a fine, that fine goes to the state, not the victim. To receive compensation, the victim will need to file an insurance claim and possibly sue the distracted driver if the injuries are serious enough.
CAN YOU SUE A DISTRACTED DRIVER?
In New Jersey, car insurance policies carry Personal Injury Protection (or PIP) benefits that compensate accident victims regardless of fault. If a person does not suffer a permanent injury, they generally must take the benefits instead of filing a lawsuit. However, anyone who suffers a permanent injury, such as a disfiguring facial scar, loss of a limb, or lasting pain or disability, can do both. They may take the PIP benefits and file a lawsuit against the distracted driver.
PROVING A DRIVER WAS DISTRACTED
There are several ways to prove that a driver was distracted at the time of an accident. The most common are:
- Eyewitnesses might have seen the driver looking at a phone or engaging in some other type of distraction.
- A distracted driver might admit to being distracted at the accident scene.
- If police find evidence of distracted driving, they will note it in their reports.
- Once a lawsuit has been filed, it’s possible to request records from the driver’s cell phone carrier to see if they were calling or texting at the time of the accident.
- Partially eaten fast food, makeup tossed inside the car or out onto the road, and other physical items at the scene of the crash might be helpful in proving the driver was distracted.
- In many car crash cases, lawyers will hire forensic experts to reconstruct the accident for the jury. The experts might be able to show the driver was distracted and didn’t even apply their brakes prior to the collision, for example.
- It’s possible that the accident, and the events leading up to it, were captured by nearby store surveillance cameras. The footage may show the driver was not paying attention to the road just before the crash.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO SUE SOMEONE WHO DISTRACTED A DRIVER?
A passenger who distracted a driver may be partially at fault for the accident. In one case, Champion v. Dunfee, the Appellate Division stated that a passenger who actively encourages a driver to act negligently may be held liable for an accident.
New Jersey was also one of the first states to allow lawsuits against someone who texted a driver. In Kubert v. Best, the victim of an accident sued someone who was texting the driver who injured them. Although the texter was not found guilty in this case because she didn’t know the other person was driving, the court said that a person who texts a driver would be liable if that person had reason to believe the text recipient was driving.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, contact Rosenblum Law for a free, no-obligation consultation.