Distracted Driving Accident Attorney

Many Californians rightfully view drunk driving as a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do — and something that they would never personally do.  While driving under the influence is a leading cause of serious and fatal accidents, distracted driving (something that almost all motorists do at some point) is actually more common — and just as deadly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 9 people die each day and another 1,060 are injured as a result of distracted driving.  In 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. In California, there were more than 426,000 tickets issued for handheld cell phone and texting violations in 2013 — which demonstrates the scope of the problem.

We know that distracted driving is a major issue throughout California.  At Appel Law Firm, we are committed to helping individuals who have been hurt in accidents with drivers who simply aren’t paying attention to the road.  If you have been injured in a distracted driving collision, one of our Walnut Creek distracted driving attorneys can work with you to help you get the compensation that you deserve for your losses.

What Is Distracted Driving?

There is a common misperception that distracted driving only involves being on your phone while you are behind the wheel.  Although texting, talking, or even being on social media while driving is a major problem, that isn’t the only source of distracted driving in California.

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: taking your eyes off of the road; 
  2. Manual: taking your hands off of the wheel; and 
  3. Cognitive: allowing your mind to focus on things other than driving.

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, there are a number of other ways that a person may engage in distracted driving, such as:

  • Cell phone use
  • Using a navigation system
  • Adjusting the radio, CD or MP3 player
  • Reading a map
  • Eating and drinking
  • Getting something for your kids
  • Chatting with passengers
  • Grooming yourself (e.g., applying makeup, brushing hair, etc.)
  • Watching a video
  • Having rowdy passengers
  • Rubbernecking (e.g., looking at an accident scene, monument, etc.)

Whatever the cause of distracted driving may be, we know that the end result can be serious, or even fatal.

California Law on Distracted Driving

In California, it is against the law for any driver to use a handheld phone in any way. While it is legal for drivers to use a smartphone or another device wirelessly, it must be mounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console in order to do so.  Drivers are only permitted to use functions of their device if it requires just a single swipe or touch.

New drivers cannot use any device while driving, even to make calls hands-free.  Under California law, new drivers include anyone with a recently acquired license or anyone under the age of 18. Texting and driving is always illegal in California.

Importantly, if a driver is found to have violated California’s distracted driving laws on using a phone or other device while driving, they may be found negligent in a lawsuit for any damage that they cause in any accident.  This is critical for victims of distracted driving accidents, as it may make it easier to prove that the other driver was at fault for the accident.

Filing a Claim for a Distracted Driving Accident

As a general rule, in order to win a personal injury case in California (such as a car accident case), you must prove that the person responsible was negligent.  Negligence is defined as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In other words, if another driver did not use reasonable care to avoid a collision that would harm someone, they may be found negligent.

A driver who is deemed negligent under California law will be held liable for the result of any wreck that they caused.  They will typically have to pay for the damages suffered by anyone hurt by their negligence. A crash caused by a distracted driver can lead to devastating injuries, such as:

It can often be difficult to prove negligence in personal injury cases.  However, under California law, if a person violated a statute, then they are 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 law on using a device while driving, 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.

There are a range of damages available in California car accident cases.  Economic damages are meant to cover the easily quantifiable losses that a person may suffer, such as past and future medical bills, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity.  Non-economic damages include items that are harder to put a number on, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress. In rare cases, punitive damages may be available if the other driver acted recklessly or intentionally.

Importantly, even if the other driver was “negligent per se,” they may still be able to recover for their own damages.  Under California’s comparative fault laws, even a person who caused an accident can recover compensation for their losses (as long as they were less than 100% at fault).  Their recovery will be reduced by the percentage that they were at fault for the crash. For example, if a distracted driver was 80% at fault for an accident and suffered $100,000 in damages, their total recovery will be reduced by 80% ($80,000) to $20,000.

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.

We Can Help Victims of Distracted Driving

If you or someone you love has been involved in a car accident, it’s a good idea to speak to a Walnut Creek distracted driving attorney as soon as possible.  An experienced accident lawyer can investigate the circumstances of the crash, help you file a personal injury claim, and aggressively advocate for your right to compensation.  They will take on the insurance company for you — and help you move forward with your life.

At Appel Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping people just like you who have been injured in car crashes with distracted drivers — and all other types of motor vehicle 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.

The California motor vehicle attorneys at the Appel Law Firm LLP are dedicated to helping San Francisco Bay Area residents receive compensation for injuries and wrongful deaths arising from distracted driving accidents.