Device Distraction Claims in California
Most drivers agree that it is very dangerous to use a cell phone or other device while driving. Yet most drivers also admit that they regularly, or at least occasionally, use such devices while they are behind the wheel. In response, California lawmakers approved a sweeping hands-free law in 2018. But as outlined below, this law’s protection only goes so far.
Lawmakers and safety advocates have targeted cell phones because they combine all three forms of distracted driving. Motorists who use these gadgets are visually distracted (eyes off the road), manually distracted (hand off the wheel), and cognitively distracted (mind off driving). Furthermore, when a distracted driver causes a crash, the vehicle is often traveling at or near top speed.
Because of all these things, a San Jose personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation for distracted driving crash victims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Negligence Per Se
Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who violate a safety law, like the hands-free law, and cause a crash could be liable for damages as a matter of law.
California’s ban is essentially a “hold and use” ban. It prohibits drivers from holding a device and using it in any way while driving. That includes not only talking and texting, but also streaming video, surfing the internet, using an app, and pretty much anything else.
Yet despite the law’s sweeping nature, there are some gaping holes. Many drivers can use GPS navigation functions and a few other features while driving. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the law does not apply to hands-free cell phones. These gadgets are visually and cognitively distracting. As a result, hands-free phones give many drivers a false sense of security.
On a related note, many emergency responders do not issue cell phone citations. Many police officers and other responders view car crashes as civil disputes. They do not want to write tickets and get involved.
So, many device distraction wrecks rely on the ordinary negligence doctrine. Basically, ordinary negligence is a lack of reasonable care. This duty applies to most noncommercial drivers. Uber drivers and other commercial operators usually have a higher duty of care.
Legal duty is typically an issue for the judge to decide. The jury usually decides if the tortfeasor breached his/her duty of care, based on evidence like:
- Erratic driving prior to the wreck,
- Device use logs,
- The presence or absence of a cell phone in the front seat,
- Eyewitnesses who saw the tortfeasor using a phone, and
- Tortfeasor’s statements about device use.
Attorneys must act quickly to preserve evidence like device use logs. Otherwise, the owner might “accidentally” delete them. A spoliation letter creates a legal duty to preserve all potential physical evidence for trial. Recipients are subject to harsh penalties if they violate spoliation letters.
The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. That’s the lowest burden of proof in California law. Nevertheless, it’s best to collect as much evidence as possible. There’s usually a direct relationship between the amount of proof and the amount of damages. Furthermore, the victim/plaintiff’s case must be strong enough to withstand some common negligence defenses, such as comparative fault.
Connect with a Thorough Attorney
Distracted drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced San Jose car accident lawyer, contact Solution Now Law Firm. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.