Establishing Liability in Device Distraction Claims

Every day, distracted drivers cause thousands of serious injury crashes. Most people agree that using a cell phone while driving, along with other forms of distracted driving, is dangerous. Yet most drivers also admit that they regularly, or at least occasionally, multitask while driving.

Behind an office desk, multitasking is usually a good thing. But when behind the wheel of a car, multitasking is a bad thing, because safe driving requires concentration.

New York personal injury attorneys have several legal options when it comes to obtaining compensation in these cases. New York has a very broad cell phone law. Additionally, almost any distracted driving arguably violates the duty of reasonable care.


Device Distraction and Negligence Per Se

The law often has a hard time keeping up with technology. For many years, New York had a limited cell phone law which only applied to texting and driving. Yet many people use their smartphones for many other things, such as web-surfing, game-playing, video-watching, and picture-taking, even while driving.

So, New York lawmakers recently passed a hands-free law. Vehicle and Traffic Law 1225(c) prohibits any use of a hand-held computing device while behind the wheel. The legal definition includes smartphones, laptops, tablets, games, and any other electronic device. The old texting and driving law, 1225(d), is still on the books as well.

Under New York law, tortfeasors (negligent drivers) may be responsible for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially causes injury.

So, if a tortfeasor was using a wireless device in the moments before the crash and received a citation, the tortfeasor may be responsible for damages no matter how careful s/he was.


Device Distraction and Ordinary Negligence

Despite the broad nature of the cell phone law, the negligence per se doctrine is unavailable in many of these car crash claims. Often, the tortfeasor was using a hands-free device, which is legal under 1225(c).

Yet a hands-free phone is not risk-free. Drivers who use these devices take their eyes off the road and take their minds off driving. So, these gadgets are visually and cognitively distracting. Furthermore, hands-free devices give many operators a false sense of security, so they take too many risks while driving.

As a result, using a hands-free device arguably violates the duty of reasonable care. If drivers breach their duty, and that breach substantially causes injury, the tortfeasor may be responsible for damages.

Unlike negligence per se cases, ordinary negligence claims require evidence. Evidence of device distraction includes things like web browsing logs, text message records, call logs, and app usage records.

In ordinary negligence claims, the victim/plaintiff must establish a breach of duty by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest burden of proof under New York law.

Non-device distraction claims, such as eating or drinking while driving, are also ordinary negligence claims which must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence of non-device distraction includes any statements the tortfeasor made to emergency responders and well as any circumstantial evidence in the vehicle.


Rely on an Experienced Attorney

Distracted drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced NYC personal injury lawyer in New York, contact Michael J. Redenburg, Esq. P.C. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.