How Can Cell Phone Use Impact Liability Decisions?
Everyone knows that using a cellphone while driving is a bad idea. Both talking on the phone and texting can significantly decrease a driver’s ability to react to danger and changing road and traffic conditions.
The National Safety Council has reported that over 20% of all car crashes in the US occurred because of drivers texting or talking on their phones. And it appears that cell phone use during accidents is widely under-reported, so the proportion could be even higher.
As of 2014, it is illegal in Illinois to use any hand held devices while driving. If you absolutely need to use the phone while driving, only hands-free technology such as Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones are legal. But if you’re in a school or construction zone, any cell phone use is prohibited.
Using a Cell Phone is Evidence of a Failure to Use Reasonable Care
Accident victims usually seek to recover compensation for their damages by suing the responsible parties for negligence. In order to succeed, they must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care, which proximately resulted in injuries or property damages.
Drivers have a duty to drive with the same level of care as a reasonable person under similar circumstances. If a driver was talking on the phone or texting at the time of the accident, this strongly suggests that the driver was breaching the duty of ordinary care owed to other drivers on the road.
As we’ve seen, using a cell phone at the wheel is sometimes illegal. If a driver is using a cell phone illegally at the time of the accident, the victims can use the failure to obey the law as convincing evidence of the driver’s breach of duty.
Evidence of a Driver’s Cell Phone Use Can Be Evidence of Employer Liability
Most of the time, victims can only hold the at-fault driver individually responsible for their injuries. But if there’s evidence that the driver was at work or performing a work-related task at the time of the accident, the victims can seek compensation from the driver’s employer.
If a victim can prove that the at-fault driver was on the phone with a colleague or supervisor when the crash occurred, a court would likely consider that the driver was performing a work-related task. Thus, the driver’s employer would be vicariously liable for any damages you sustained because of the driver’s negligence.
Victims Can Use of Evidence of Cell Phone Use to Ask for Punitive Damages
In Illinois, victims can seek punitive damages from a defendant when there is evidence that he or she acted with “reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.”
In most cases, crash victims only receive compensatory damages, which aim at “making the victim whole” after the accident. But in egregious cases, courts will award punitive damages to the victim so as to punish the defendant for the conduct and to deter others from acting similarly in the future.
Since it is so widely known that using a cell phone while driving is extremely dangerous, victims of accidents caused by a texting driver might be able to ask for punitive damages, as would be the case if the at-fault driver were intoxicated.