More legal troubles for distracted drivers

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Distracted driving is driving while engaging in any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your mind off of the task of driving, or your hands off of the steering wheel. It includes any numbers of activities, such as driving while drinking, texting or even talking on the cell phone. Of course, driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime. Texting while driving is a summary offense. Some activity is dangerous. In addition, when someone gets hurt, the negligent driver faces liability for damages.

In cell-phone cases, injured parties have sued for compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are the total amount of money necessary to balance the harm done by the negligent party. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and are reserved for outrageous conduct. Punitive damages are generally not covered by insurance. Most courts have held that merely using a cell phone does not deserve punitive damages. Recently, however, a federal court in Pennsylvania has held that looking at a cell phone while driving may be evidence that the driver was willfully inattentive. That court therefore has not yet thrown out a claim for punitive damages. The driver who was using a cell phone could potentially be responsible to pay punitive damages.

In New Jersey, the second highest court recently decided whether a person sending a driver a text message could be responsible for injuries caused by the texting driver’s distracted conduct. The court in that case held that the text sender in that case could not be liable, but the court left open the possibility for liability in future cases. For example, if a texter has special reason to know that the driver will not only receive the text, but read it while driving, the text sender could be responsible. The court compared the conduct to a passenger distracting a driver. Therefore, some courts are starting to recognize a duty of third parties not to distract drivers by knowingly engaging them in dangerous conduct.

If you or someone you love has been hurt by a distracted driver, call us at 570-359-3283 to schedule a free consultation. We at The Seach Law Offices advocate against distracted driving. Attorney Seach is available to speak to groups, including schools and other organizations, on the dangers of distracted driving. Call us for further information.