As entertainment technologies improve, expand, and become more prevalent than ever, distracted driving accidents continue to rise year after year. Thousands of Americans are killed every year by drivers who simply weren’t paying attention. Mobile devices, addictive apps, navigation systems, and in-vehicle entertainment systems offer more temptations than ever for drivers to divert their attention from the road. Learn more about the problem of distracted driving and what Florida drivers can do to reduce the risk of being injured in a distracted driving accident. If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, it is important to consult with an experienced auto accident attorney as soon as possible. You have important legal rights which are subject to a statute of limitation. The Lawler Firm helps Florida accident victims protect their legal rights and access compensation for their injuries.The Scope of the Distracted Driving Problem
Distracted driving has been the subject of much research in recent years. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released the results of a study of distracted driving. Previous research has demonstrated that a driver who looks away from the road for just two seconds is twice as likely to cause an accident. Now, the AAA research found that drivers who use in-vehicle infotainment technologies (such as voice control and touch screen features) are visually and mentally distracted for more than forty seconds. Programming navigation was found to be the most distracting task for drivers with in-vehicle “infotainment” systems.
Distracted driving is a major problem in Florida, as well. Action New Jax reports that an estimated 50,000 crashes—or approximately five crashes every hour—were caused by distracted driving in Florida in 2016. Florida’s distracted driving numbers are not comparable to other states. In fact, according to the Miami Herald , Florida ranked second-worst in a ranking of all fifty states’ distracted driving statistics. In an interview, the director of communications for the insurance company which sponsored the study noted that Vermont—which ranked lowest in distracted driving incidents—has tough laws preventing the dangerous habit. Florida, on the other hand, is one of only four states that does not make texting and driving a primary offense. This makes the law difficult to enforce because police officers cannot stop distracted drivers unless they observe a separate traffic violation.
These statistics are more than simple numbers for the family members whose lives are devastated by the tragic loss of a distracted driving victim. WTXL reports on the story of a man whose 19-year-old son was killed by the driver of a van who was not paying attention to the road. Now, the father travels to Florida high schools, spreading the message that distracted driving can kill. He hopes to help Florida’s youngest drivers see the danger of allowing themselves to become distracted by mobile devices while behind the wheel.Drivers Have a Legal Obligation to Avoid Distracted Driving—But it is Difficult to Enforce in Florida
The Florida Statutes prevent distracted driving with the following provisions:
A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging. As used in this section, the term “wireless communications device” means any handheld device used or capable of being used in a handheld manner, that is designed or intended to receive or transmit text or character-based messages, access or store data, or connect to the Internet. Florida Statutes §316.305(3)(a).
The language of this law also covers other internet activities on a smartphone. While this ban was originally targeting to prevent texting—the section is even called “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law”—it can be used to penalize drivers for becoming distracted by other smart phone activities. However, a small legal quirk means that this law is difficult for police officers to enforce. The Palm Beach Post notes that texting while driving is not a “primary offense” in Florida. This means that a motorist cannot be stopped just for violating the texting law. Another traffic, civil, or criminal offense must be observed before a police officer can pull the driver over. And despite the fact that distracted driving increased between 2015 and 2016, state legislators still refused to entertain distracted driving bills. State representative Emily Slosberg was not able to even get a hearing for her proposed bills to making texting while driving a primary offense. Her fellow state legislators told they were not convinced that distracted driving penalties actually deterred the behavior.
Some circumstances surrounding cell phone use while driving can make it difficult to establish liability for a distracted driving accident. For example: Do Not Disturb features have become more and more accessible to users of mobile devices. Apple recently released a comprehensive Do Not Disturb While Driving feature as part of its iOs 11 operating system, released in Fall 2017. This move came after multiple wrongful death lawsuits were filed against the tech giant. The New York Times reported on one such lawsuit arising out of a fatal accident in Texas, which occurred when a young driver checked her text messages while speeding down a highway. She crashed into a sport utility vehicle and killed two occupants. The accident also left a child paralyzed. The families of the victims sued Apple for wrongful death, alleging that the company knew its phones would be used for texting while driving.
Another fatal accident led to a separate lawsuit against Apple in Santa Clara County, California. According to The Guardian , Bethany and James Modisette were driving with their two young daughters when another driver crashed into their vehicle. All four were injured, and one of their daughters later died as a result of the accident. The other driver had been video chatting through the FaceTime application at the time of the accident. The Modisettes’ lawsuit alleges that Apple failed to implement any settings or safety features to discourage the use of FaceTime while driving, despite holding a patent for such technology at the time the accident occurred. The Guardian further reports that, while legal experts do not believe such lawsuits will prevail against Apple, they are nonetheless problematic for the company, because they have proven that Apple holds patents for Do Not Disturb technologies. This demonstrates that Apple has long known that phone use while driving is dangerous. Apple’s comprehensive Do Not Disturb While Driving feature is one way to address these dangers (and mitigate Apple’s legal liability). Other smartphone manufacturers are also exploring similar features and settings.
A defendant’s insurance company may argue that his or use of a Do Not Disturb While Driving Feature should mitigate the driver’s liability for distracted driving. The existence of such features may also reduce the likelihood that mobile device and application manufacturers can be held liable for accidents caused by distracted drivers who use their products. This is, however, a new and developing area of the law. With very little case law to guide courts on these new issues of law, injury victims may face greater risks at trial by submitting untried issues to a jury. Nonetheless, injury victims should consider how the use of a Do Not Disturb feature may impact liability for either a distracted driver or a technology manufacturer.
Another legal detail also makes it difficult for distracted drivers to see the consequences of their actions. Florida requires drivers to carry personal injury protection coverage. (See Florida Statutes § 627.736 .) This a is no-fault coverage which compensates a driver for his or her own injuries, regardless of who caused the accident. This means that some drivers obtain compensation for medical bills through their own insurance coverage, and do not file a claim against the negligent driver who caused the accident. Without the financial consequence of being obligated to compensate all injuries caused by distracted driving, a negligent driver may not fully realize the consequences of his or her dangerous actions.An Attorney Can Help Injury Victims Hold Distracted Drivers Accountable for Dangerous Driving Behavior
In spite of these problems with Florida’s distracted driving law, drivers do have a legal obligation to operate their vehicles with due care. This duty is measured against the standard of the reasonably prudent driver in similar traffic circumstances. Thus, if the reasonably prudent driver would not have been checking text messages in stop and go traffic, a driver who does so and causes an accident may be found negligent. A driver who has been found negligent has a legal obligation to compensate victims for their injuries caused by the accident, regardless of whether he or she also received a citation for distracted driving. This is why it is important for injury victims to hold negligent drivers accountable for their dangerous behavior by filing claims for their injuries. Even when a negligent driver does not receive a citation, an insurance claim or lawsuit can provide the incentive to drive more safely in the future.
After an auto accident, the legal process begins by filing a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company. The insurance company will then conduct an investigation to determine who was at fault for the accident. If the insurance carrier agrees that its driver was, indeed, legally responsible for causing the accident, it will accept liability. An insurance carrier can accept full or partial liability, or deny liability altogether. Liability can be apportioned between more than one driver, or even assigned to a company (such a manufacturer which negligently designed a vehicle). Liability can also be apportioned to an injury victim him- or herself. Florida law allows injury victims to recover compensation even when they are partially at fault for an auto accident. The compensation is simply reduced by the victim’s proportional liability.
Once the insurance company (or multiple insurance companies for multiple defendants) have agreed to liability, the claim will be assigned to a claims adjuster to value the claim. The value of a claim is a combination of different components, such as lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, and other financial losses which were the direct result of the defendant’s negligence. Claims adjusters receive extensive training from the insurance companies which employ them. They are trained to pay as little as possible on as few claims as possible. Subjective losses, such as pain and suffering, are difficult to quantify. Because of this, they are a common target for claims adjusters. Many injury victims are told that their pain does not support the value they seek—or even any value at all. It is therefore important that injury victims have experienced legal representation, so they may present the strongest possible case for the value of all components of their personal injury award.
If the injury victim and the negligent driver’s insurance company cannot agree upon liability, or cannot negotiate a fair settlement amount for the claim, the victim may be forced to file a lawsuit. The litigation process allows a judge or jury to determine liability, the value of a claim, or both of these issues. Sometimes the mere act of filing a lawsuit is enough to secure a fair settlement offer from an insurance carrier. Other cases must proceed throughout the litigation process so that these issues can be resolved at trial. An experienced auto accident attorney can help injury victims decide whether to file a lawsuit and explain what sorts of risks they might face at trial. An attorney will also help ensure that procedural rules are followed in order to promote fairness throughout the litigation process.Aggressive Representation of Auto Injury Claims Arising From Distracted Driving
Injury victims in and around the Brandon area trust the The Lawler Firm to protect their legal interests. Experienced personal injury attorney Stephen M. Lawler is highly skilled at holding distracted drivers accountable for their dangerous behavior and helping injury victims access compensation for their injuries. Call (813) 431-4470 or write to us using our online contact form to schedule your free consultation with a personal injury attorney today.