Texting While Driving: Who Wins in a California Accident Lawsuit?

Female Driver Sending Text Message Whilst Driving

Distracted driving kills thousands of people a year, and hundreds of thousands of people are injured by distracted driving, yet over a third of teenagers admit to texting while driving. We all know texting while driving is dangerous yet the truth is many teenagers and adults do it, and, even where they may not be texting, other drivers are distracted by music, podcast, email, GPS, and all other sorts of applications on their phone. California has comprehensive laws addressing the use of wireless devices by drivers, but what does that mean for a person who is injured in a car accident when cell phone use is involved?

The Connection Between Texting While Driving and Negligence

In order to win a lawsuit for personal injuries arising from a car accident in California, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant named in the lawsuit was negligent. In general, proving that another driver was negligent involves presenting facts indicating that the driver failed to act like a reasonable under the circumstances and that failure was the act or omission that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Which leads to the question of whether another driver’s texting while driving would be considered a failure to act reasonably under the circumstances. In answering that question, a court would look at California’s laws which prohibit the following acts by drivers:

  • Driving while holding a wireless device, unless the device is hands-free and voice-manipulated
  • Manipulating a wireless device mounted to a dashboard, unless it can be done with a single swipe or tap

Under the legal doctrine of negligence per se in place in California, presenting evidence of a person’s violation of the law that is a “substantial factor in bringing about the harm” pled in a personal injury lawsuit is sufficient to show that that person was negligent and thus liable for money damages. Thus, if a plaintiff can present evidence that another driver was indeed texting while driving or otherwise breaking California law regarding wireless devices while driving, and that this act was a substantial factor in causing the accident, then this will constitute the evidence of negligence needed to win a lawsuit.

What if the Plaintiff Was Texting While Driving?

Of course, it is quite often the case that both drivers are injured in an accident involving texting while driving, which leads to the question of whether a driver that had been using his or her cellphone when an accident and was injured can recover any damages from the other driver.

In such a case, a court would still have to look at whether the other driver was negligent, and then compare that level of negligence with that of the plaintiff’s. For example, if a plaintiff was stopped at a red light and using his wireless device when a drunk driver crossed over from the other lane and barrelled into him, then the plaintiff would very likely recover because: 1) it does not appear under those circumstances that the plaintiff’s use of the wireless device was a causal factor in the accident; and 2) the drunk driver’s negligence in driving while drunk and crossing a lane was a more substantial factor, if not the only factor, in causing the accident.

Other cases may be closer calls, and both drivers might be considered negligent, but a plaintiff can still pursue damages against a defendant, although those damages might be reduced by the level of the plaintiff’s own negligence.

Contact a Southern California Personal Injury Attorney ASAP After an Accident

In any case, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as an accident occurs so that the process of investigating the facts of the accident in order to prove negligence can begin.

At Berglund & Johnson, our attorneys are committed to serving our clients in an honorable, ethical, and compassionate manner. Contact Berglund & Johnson today at 1-800-4IF-HURT to schedule a brief, no-hassle consultation to discuss your auto accident and see how we might be of service to you and your family.

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