Distracted Driving Accident Lawyer

When we first learn to drive, we are taught certain basics: never get behind the wheel of the car when you have been drinking, keep your hands at the 10:00 and 2:00 positions, and other safety tips. Most of us follow these rules when driving to prevent accidents. Yet there is one type of driving that far too many of us engage in on a regular basis, even though we know how dangerous it can be: distracted driving.

According to a 2019 study, an average driver is distracted by their smartphone – making calls, texting, or swiping through apps – anywhere from 24% to 26% of their driving time. While phone usage is a major source of distracted driving, there are many other things that may take our attention away from the road. This may include talking to other people in the vehicle, eating and/or drinking, or even using a navigation system.

The result of all of these distractions is a growing number of motor vehicle accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 alone, over 2,800 people were killed and an additional 400,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. That works out to approximately 8 people per day killed by a distracted driver in the U.S. 1 in 5 of these victims were walking, riding their bikes, or running. 

Although California has strict laws on distracted driving, the problem continues to grow. In 2013 alone, the state issued more than 426,000 tickets for using a cell phone use or texting while driving. 59.6% of California drivers report that they have either been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking on the phone or texting while driving. These distracted driving statistics show just how serious the problem is – and how dangerous it can be for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others on the road.

If you are in a motor vehicle accident with a distracted driver, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for your losses. Our Walnut Creek distracted driving attorneys can work with you to help you get the money that you deserve for your losses.

What Is Distracted Driving?

When most of us think of distracted driving, our minds probably go to using our phone or another electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. While talking, texting, and even being on social media is a major source of driver distraction, electronics aren’t the only thing that may lead to a distracted driving accident.

Anything that takes your attention away from the road while you are behind the wheel is considered distracted driving.  There are three types of distractions that may impact your ability to drive:

  1. Visual distractions: taking your eyes off of the road (such as turning around to check on your kids); 
  2. Manual distractions: taking your hands off of the wheel (such as reaching over to the passenger seat to get something); and 
  3. Cognitive distractions: allowing your mind to focus on things other than driving (such as letting your mind wander to a work problem).

Some types of distracted driving, such as texting, are particularly dangerous because it combines all three forms.  Your eyes are looking at the screen, instead of the road, your hands are on your phone, instead of on the wheel, and your focus is on your message, rather than the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the 5 seconds that it takes to send an average text, a vehicle going 55 miles per hour (mph) could cover the length of a football field (100 yards).  

Beyond texting, a driver may be distracted by:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Adjusting the radio or changing the music
  • Reading a map
  • Using a navigating system
  • Chatting with passengers
  • Eating or drinking
  • Getting something for your kids
  • Turning to look at an accident scene or something interesting along the road (rubbernecking)
  • Having rowdy passengers
  • Personal grooming
  • Watching a video

No matter what caused a driver’s attention to be away from the road, if they cause an accident, they may be held responsible for any injuries that they cause. 

California Law on Distracted Driving

In California, it is illegal for any driver to use a handheld phone in any way. The law is broken down into three categories. 

First, all drivers are prohibited from texting, using apps, and other devices use while driving. Second, for drivers who are 18 or older, phones can only be used if they are not handheld. This means that these drivers can use voice commands and talk using Bluetooth, but they cannot hold their phone at any time. Third, drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using a communication device at any time, whether handheld or hands-free. 

There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, if you need to turn a mounted GPS on or off, you can do so, as long as it requires no more than a single swipe or tap. There is also an exception for making an emergency call to the police, a medical provider, or another emergency service agency.

Despite these laws, hundreds of thousands of drivers in California continue to use their phones while driving – and to engage in other forms of distracted driving. If a driver does violate California law on handheld cell phones and devices and causes an auto accident as a result, it could affect the outcome of a personal injury lawyer. A skilled Walnut Creek car accident lawyer can work with you to explain how this type of violation may affect the outcome of your case.

Filing a Claim for a Distracted Driving Accident

California personal injury claims are based on a theory of negligence, a legal theory that means that a person failed to use reasonable care to prevent harm to themselves or to others. If the at-fault driver failed to use reasonable care to avoid a car crash, then they could be held responsible for any injuries or losses that result. 

To demonstrate that another person was negligent, you will typically have to prove four things:

  1. Duty: the other driver (defendant) owed you (plaintiff) a duty of care to operate their motor vehicle safely.
  2. Breach: the defendant breached (violated) that duty of care, such as by texting and driving.
  3. Causation: The defendant’s breach was the but-for or proximate cause of the accident (i.e., but for the driver being distracted, the accident would not have happened).
  4. Damages: you suffered damages as a result.

If you can prove that the other driver was negligent, then they will be financially liable for any losses that you incurred in the collision. Distracted driving accidents can lead to serious injuries or even fatalities. As car accident attorneys, we have represented clients who have suffered a range of injuries in distracted driving crashes, such as:

If the victim dies as a result of their injuries, then their loved one may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of personal injury claim allows family members to seek compensation for the losses that they have suffered as a result of their loved one’s death.

If the other driver violated California law – such as by updating their social media while driving – then it may be easier for you to recover compensation for your losses. In California, if a person violated a statute that was meant to protect from the type of harm that an injury victim suffered, then that person is considered “negligent per se.” Negligence per se is a legal theory where negligence is presumed because the responsible party violated a statute or law.

In the context of distracted driving, if the other driver broke California’s distracted driving laws, the victim wouldn’t have to prove that they were negligent.  The simple fact that they broke the law would mean that negligence was presumed — and that the victim will likely be able to recover for their damages.

If the other driver was not cited for distracted driving, your California car accident attorney may be able to introduce evidence to prove that they were distracted at the time of the collision. For example, if another driver slammed into your vehicle at a red light, a lawyer may seek the driver’s cell phone records to show that they were on the phone and not paying attention to the road when the accident occurred.

Damages Available in a California Distracted Driving Lawsuit

There are three types of damages that may be available in a California personal injury claim: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are compensatory in nature, which means that they are meant to compensate a victim for a particular type of loss. By contrast, punitive damages are intended to punish a wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Economic damages cover the easily quantifiable losses that a person may suffer in an auto accident. They may include things such as property damage, past, and future medical expenses, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity. Your attorney will introduce evidence like pay stubs, invoices, and expert opinions to prove economic damages.

Non-economic damages are meant to address the intangible losses that an injury victim has faced. Examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, emotional trauma, and loss of enjoyment of life. While it can be harder to put a number on these losses, a skilled distracted driving accident attorney will use their experience of similar cases to develop a demand for compensation.

Punitive damages are rarely available in personal injury cases, which are based on a theory of negligence. If the other driver acted intentionally or recklessly, you may be awarded punitive damages.

If I Am Partially at Fault for an Accident, Can I Still Recover?

Possibly. California follows a legal model known as comparative fault. Under this law, even if you were partially at fault for an accident, you can recover compensation for any losses that you suffered (as long as you were less than 100% at fault). Your recovery will then be reduced by the percentage that you were at fault. 

For example, if you suffered $100,000 in damages in an accident and the jury finds that you were 80% at fault because you were using your phone while driving, then your recovery will be reduced by 80%. This means that instead of getting $100,000 for your losses, you will receive $20,000 ($100,000 – 80%, or $80,000).

This concept is important because it means that even if you caused an accident while you were distracted, you may still be able to obtain a settlement or jury award if the other driver was at least partially at fault.  If you answered a call by picking up your phone while driving, and the other driver ran a red light, leading to a collision, you are both at fault — and you can likely both recover for your damages. In this situation, a judge or jury will determine each driver’s share of the blame (expressed as a percentage), and each party’s recovery will be reduced accordingly.

How Long Do I Have to File a Distracted Driving Lawsuit?

In California, there is a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases. This means that you have two years from the date of a distracted driving accident to file a lawsuit. If you fail to do so, then your claim may be barred entirely.

The statute of limitations may seem unfair, but it serves an important purpose. Over time, witness memories fade, and evidence is lost or destroyed, which can make it hard to prove your case (or for the at-fault driver to defend against it). The best way to ensure that your claim is filed in a timely manner is to reach out to a distracted driving accident lawyer as soon as possible to schedule a free consultation.

Will My Case Go to Trial?

Whenever you file a lawsuit, there is a possibility that your case will go to trial. The majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled prior to a jury rendering a verdict. According to statistics from the United States Department of Justice, 97% of personal injury cases are settled outside of court.

After hiring a personal injury law firm, your attorney may submit what is known as a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This letter will set out the facts of your distracted driving claim, the legal reason why their insured was responsible for the crash, and make a demand for compensation. Typically, the demand letter will start a negotiation process.

If the insurance company does not offer you fair compensation for your injuries, then your distracted driving lawyer may advise you that it is necessary to file a lawsuit. Negotiations will usually continue throughout the pre-trial process, right up until the eve or even the morning of trial. If the insurance company still refuses to compensate you appropriately for your losses, then your attorney will present your claim to a jury and ask them to return a verdict in your favor.

Hurt in a Distracted Driving Accident? We’re Here for You.

Being in any type of car crash can be incredibly traumatic. Not only are you dealing with physical injuries, but you may also be facing mounting medical bills, lost wages, and emotional trauma. In this situation, an experienced distracted driving accident attorney can help you file a personal injury claim, taking on the insurance company for you so that you can focus on your recovery.

Based in Walnut Creek, Appel Law Firm LLP represents clients throughout Northern California who have been injured in distracted driving accidents and all other types of accidents. We offer free initial consultations, and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you.  To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today at (925) 938-2000, or email us anytime.