Increasingly, states are banning the use of cell phones while driving. Many states now impose fines on motorists who are caught talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. In addition to being a violation of the law in most states, using a cell phone while driving can expose you to a personal injury lawsuit if you cause an accident while you’re distracted. If you are injured in a crash in the Tampa Bay area by another driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone, discuss your rights and options at once with an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney.
When one motorist sues another for personal injuries sustained in a traffic collision, the injury victim (called the “plaintiff”) has to prove that the other driver (called the “defendant”) caused the crash by driving negligently. Motorists who are using their cell phones while they drive are negligent because they must take their eyes off the road, at least one hand off the steering wheel, and their attention off the task of driving safely.
According to the Wall Street Journal, cell phones now are an element in more than a quarter of the car crashes in the U.S., and drivers who text and drive – depending on which report, survey, or study you believe – are from three to twenty-three times more likely to be in crash than the average motorist who isn’t texting. Does the law in Florida permit motorists to use their cell phones while driving?
WHAT IS FLORIDA’S TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING LAW?
Talking on a cell phone while driving is legal in Florida. State law makes texting while driving illegal in most situations, with exceptions for emergencies and for fire, police, and medical personnel. However, texting while you drive in this state is a “secondary” offense, meaning that a police officer cannot conduct a traffic stop merely because a driver is texting. The officer must observe a distinct, “primary” infraction in order to stop a motorist in traffic. In fact, the Tampa Bay Times tells us that most Florida police officers find the texting ban difficult to enforce and many ignore it entirely.
What is the “punishment” for texting and driving in Florida? Candidly, it’s not much. The first violation can be penalized with a $30 fine and no points on your driver’s license – unless the violation happens in a school zone (two points) or causes an accident (six points). A second violation within five years is a moving violation punishable with a fine of up to $60 and three points added to the license.
Many observers feel that Florida’s texting-while-driving statute is insufficient. Texting while you drive is illegal, negligent, and dangerous. In Palm Harbor, if you are injured by a negligent motorist, and if you choose to file a personal injury claim to seek compensation, if the other driver’s phone records could be conclusive evidence, your lawyer will attempt to obtain those records on your behalf. If cell phone records prove the other driver’s phone was being used when the accident happened, a personal injury lawsuit will almost surely succeed.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AFTER A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT?
After any accident with a driver who was distracted or negligent, even if you don’t seem to be hurt, have yourself examined by a healthcare professional. This protects you in case a latent injury emerges later as a serious medical condition and you need to seek compensation. After a medical exam, if you’ve been injured in any way, reach out to an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney regarding your legal recourse. An experienced injury lawyer can evaluate the particulars of your case and determine if you have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
If you and your attorney can prove that the other driver’s negligence caused your injuries in a Florida traffic accident, Florida law entitles you to complete reimbursement for your medical costs, your lost wages, and all related damages. If your injury is long-term, disabling, or permanent, your reimbursement should include the projected cost of long-term care as well your loss of earning capacity. That means you will need the maximum possible amount of reimbursement.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will look at every potential source of compensation on behalf of a defendant. If a negligent driver was working – and using a cell phone for a work-related purpose – when that driver injured you, the employer might have liability. If the vehicle and/or the cell phone belonged to the employer, the likelihood of liability increases.
If a teenager crashes into you while driving his or her parents’ vehicle and talking on a cell phone they provide, the parents might have liability. Every case, of course, is different, so any injured victim of negligence must have trustworthy, detailed legal advice about his or her individual case.
HOW SHOULD YOU DEAL WITH DRIVING DISTRACTIONS?
Talking and texting on cell phones are just two of the many ways that Florida motorists can be distracted. Children and pets – and the need to tend to them – can be quite distracting. When you drive, avoid eating, grooming, reading, looking for something in the back seat, or fiddling with a music or GPS device. Pull off the street and safely away from traffic if you need – while you’re driving – to do something other than drive.
While talking on a cell phone as you drive remains legal in this state, every study conducted has shown that it’s a dangerous practice. If you cause a collision because you were talking on a cell phone while driving, you will probably be charged with careless or reckless driving, and if you injure someone because you were talking on a cell phone while driving, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a personal injury lawsuit. Any accident you cause by using a cell phone will increase your auto insurance rates.
In Florida, an injured victim of negligence has limited time to take legal action, but if you’ve been injured, you should not wait to speak with a auto accident lawyer. Evidence deteriorates over time, and so do the memories of witnesses. After you’ve been injured, the sooner you discuss your case with an experienced Palm Harbor personal injury lawyer, the sooner that lawyer can begin fighting for the compensation that is rightfully yours.