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.