Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

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Everyone has seen the advertising campaigns geared against texting and driving. Moreover, numerous states have enacted legislation which makes it illegal to text on your phone while you drive. While those ads and laws have certainly helped curb distracted driving on our roads, is their focus too limited? Should we consider not only the conduct of the person receiving the text, but also the conduct of the person sending the text?

The Ruling

In a recent opinion from the New Jersey Court of Appeals, three judges agreed with the general proposition that you can be liable if you text someone who you know is driving a vehicle and that person is subsequently distracted and gets into a wreck. In September 2009 a young man was driving down the road as he and his girlfriend were exchanging text messages. The plaintiffs, a married couple, were driving in the opposite direction on their motorcycle. As the young man drove down the road, he became distracted from the flurry of text messages and he allowed his truck to drift across the double center line and hit the plaintiffs’ motorcycle head-on. Seventeen seconds elapsed from when the young man received the last text message until he dialed 911 to report the incident.

On Monday, August 28, 2015, a Geneva County jury awarded $3.8 million in damages to three people who were struck by a car driven by a “buzzed” driver. The accident occurred on October 15, 2013. Randell and Donna Heard were driving from Hazel Green, Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida when 16-year old, Timothy Joel Thomas, ran a stop sign and crashed into their vehicle. The collision seriously injured Randell and Donna Heard as well as a 16-year passenger in Thomas’ vehicle.

During trial, Thomas testified that he may have consumed between one and three tallboys before getting in the vehicle and driving down the road. The evidence proved that Thomas’s blood alcohol content at the time of the accident was .059, which is well under the legal limit to charge Thomas with Driving under the Influence (“DUI”). In Alabama the legal limit of intoxication for a DUI depends on the person’s age. For anyone that is under the age of 21, such as Thomas, the legal limit for a DUI is having a blood alcohol content of .02% or higher. For anyone 21 years of age or older the legal limit is .08% or higher. Therefore, although Thomas did not face criminal charges for DUI, he still faced civil liability for the damages that he caused by driving buzzed. Generally, buzzed driving is classified as driving with a blood alcohol content between .01 to .07, and although technically you may be under the legal limit, driving while buzzed can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.

In fact, the attorney’s representing the 16-year old passenger of Thomas’ car stated that “buzzed driving” played an integral part in the case. After deliberating for less than an hour and a half the jury found Thomas liable and returned a $3.8 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Randell Heard received $850,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. Donna Heard received $450,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. The 16-year old passenger received $500,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. This case stands as a reminder that even though you may not feel intoxicated, if you are going to drink, drink responsibly, because under the law in Alabama if you drive buzzed you may be subject to civil liability.

Was that text message really that important?  Unfortunately, this is a question that far too many individuals, especially young people, find themselves having to answer after being involved in a motor vehicle accident.  A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a “distracted” driver in 2011.

Although a driver can become distracted for many reasons other than texting and general cell phone usage, distraction associated with texting has become an increasingly big problem, almost to an epidemic level.  The same study by the CDC established that 196 billion text messages were either sent or received in 2011 in the U.S., up nearly 50% from June 2009.  In 2011, at least 23% of automobile collisions involved cell phones.  With so many individuals now utilizing cell phones and/or mobile devices, these percentages will most certainly grow.  The frequency of automobile accidents associated with texting has becomes so widespread that it is now being referred to as “Driving While Intexticated.”

On April 3, 2013, Alex Heit, age 22, was a student at the University of Northern Colorado with his entire life ahead of him.  However, he was tragically killed that day due to texting while driving.  At the time of the crash, Alex was texting “Sounds good my man, seeya soon, ill tw.”  The message was never completed and sent.  Witnesses stated that his head was down and off the road as he veered into the opposing lane of travel.  In an effort to avoid a collision, Alex overcorrected and rolled his vehicle.  Incidents like the one involving Alex are happening all too often on our streets.