Articles Posted in Car Accidents

IMG_3308-200x300by Michael Eldridge, HWC Attorney

Over the past two decades, the cell phone has evolved into a vital extension of our daily lives. The smartphone is now how we respond to emails, listen to music, surf the Internet, take photographs, buy groceries, make dinner reservations, and much, much more. All this use creates an enormous amount of data about us. What most of us might not realize, however, is that all of this forensic evidence is stored right inside our device.

In recent years, parties in litigation regarding motor vehicle collisions have battled over the discoverability of this forensic evidence. The battle centers on two competing interests. The need to uncover relevant evidence versus a person’s right to privacy. As it relates to the former, it is unquestionable that cell phone evidence could lead to the discovery of important evidence. According to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, as of early 2018, 95% of adults in the United States owned a cell phone,1 77% of which owned a smartphone.2 What has grown alongside these astonishing ownership rates is device capabilities. Smartphones today have what seems like infinite capabilities, which creates an infinite number of distractions. According to the National Safety Council, 25% of highway crashes in the United States are caused by distractions from the use of cellular phones and/or smart devices.3

by HWC Attorney John Spade

IMG_3251-200x300It may seem like common courtesy to change lanes to provide emergency vehicles on the side of the road more room, but law enforcement wants you to remember, this gesture is more than common courtesy. For the safety of all involved—drivers as well as emergency vehicles and personnel—giving a wide girth of space to side-of-the-road emergency vehicles and personnel, is law.

The law (Section 32-5A-58.2), passed in 2009, is designed to protect not only law enforcement officers and emergency responders assisting motorists on the side of the road, but also tow truck drivers and other maintenance personnel who may be conducting business on Alabama’s roadways. If drivers are unable to completely vacate the lane nearest the emergency or maintenance vehicles, the law states the following:

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Beginning November 2017, Alabama motorists should be prepared to incur stiff penalties if they are caught without liability insurance on the state’s roadways. Although Alabama motorists have been required to carry liability insurance on their vehicles since the Alabama Mandatory Insurance Act was initially passed in 2013, the Alabama Legislature recently enacted a bill which gave the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency a procedure to levy civil penalties against drivers found to be in violation of the previously enacted Alabama Mandatory Insurance Act. The bill, which was passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2016, gave drivers a grace period in an effort to allow motorists time to obtain proper coverage.

With the grace period expiring on November 1, 2017, all motorists are now effectively responsible to be properly insured when taking to Alabama roadways. Applicable fines include the following:

  • $200 for the first offense,

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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.

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.

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