Thursday, April 23, 2015

Put the Phone Down While Driving… Or it Could Cost You

     The National Safety Council’s 2014 Injury and Fatality Report found that the use of cell phones causes 26% of the nation’s car accidents.  That is one in four accidents!  As a Southwest Florida personal injury attorney representing those injured in motor vehicle accidents I have certainly seen an increase in accidents resulting from cell phone usage.  

   In an attempt to deter Florida drivers from utilizing a cell phone while driving, the Florida legislature, in 2013, implemented the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law (Florida Statute 316.305).  Florida’s ban on texting and driving makes it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while entering information or reading data on a wireless communication device.  The penalty is a noncriminal traffic infraction.  With the apparent rise in cell phone related motor vehicle accidents there is a push within the 2015 Florida legislative session to strengthen the Texting While Driving Law.  Specifically, Rep. Richard Stark (D-Weston) (HB1) and Sen. Thad Altman (R-Rockledge) (SB0192) introduced bills that would make the texting while driving violations a primary offense, meaning that violations of the statute could serve as means for law enforcement to stop a motor vehicle.  The law, in its current state, makes violations a secondary offense, which means that the traffic stop must stem from some other traffic violation.

     In addition to aforementioned legislative activity, Florida Courts have recognized the inherent dangers in utilizing a cell phone while driving.  Specifically, courts throughout the state, including Lee County and Collier County, are permitting motor vehicle accident victims to assert claims for punitive damages where there is evidence that the accident-causing party was utilizing a cell phone or texting at the time of the motor vehicle accident. Recently, a Lee County Circuit Judge, in granting an accident victims request to make a claim for punitive damages, held that a jury could reasonably conclude that cell phone usage results in impairments similar to those caused by operating motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.  These judicial rulings allow for additional avenues of recovery in the form of punitive damages for victims of motor vehicle accidents.  Punitive damages (Florida Statute 768.72) are monetary damages intended to deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit (i.e. texting while driving).  Thus, those injured in cell phone related motor vehicle accidents may be able to claim punitive damages in addition to the standard monetary damages of medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. 

     It is time to put the cell phone down while driving.  No text message is so urgent that it must be sent while your vehicle is in motion.  If you are the unfortunate victim of a motor vehicle accident involving cell phone usage, give Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice, and Purtz, P.A. a call for a free consultation.  We represent individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents throughout Southwest Florida.  We have locations in Fort Myers (two offices to better serve you), Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral, Naples, and Port Charlotte.

By: Zachary M. Gill, Partner, Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, P.A.

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