A Personal Injury Case Study
This texting and driving accident case illustrates some important personal injury legal issues. We'll review a teenage car accident, the resulting injuries, determine liability and discuss injury settlement negotiations.
Sixteen-year-old Emily and five of her teenage friends piled into Emily's mother's mini-van to drive to a local football game on a Friday night. Emily had just gotten her license and was excited to drive to her first event but made sure that everyone was seatbelted before departing.
As they did, Emily cranked up the stereo and the girls began screaming and singing though Emily was driving safely and within the speed limit. Five minutes into Emily's drive, she received a text message from her boyfriend Brian, telling her that he wanted to break off their relationship of one year.
Rather than wait until she was out of the vehicle, Emily started texting and driving. Getting increasingly upset, Emily began texting using both hands, attempting to drive the mini-van with her knees, elbows and while reading text messages from Brian.
While not looking at the road at all, and reading a long message, Emily failed to notice that the mini-van began to careen off the road. Unable to correct her driving due to her relative inexperience and all the distractions, Emily accelerated and drove off the road into a ditch.
Emily was a new driver and her mother forgot to add her to the family insurance policy, however Emily was still liable because she was clearly negligent.
Most states have now enacted laws that not only disallow cell phone use while driving, unless by a Bluetooth or other wireless device, but they have also outlawed texting while driving because of how dangerous it is.
Sixteen percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 were due to "driver distractions" (with 100 billion text messages being sent per month in that year). Not all of those texts were from people texting and driving of course, but it is evidence that text messaging as a mode of communication is on the rise (increasing from 9.8 billion messages per month on average in 2005).
Fortunately in this case all the teens were wearing their seatbelts and there were no fatalities. Car accident injuries can range from nothing at all to whiplash, broken bones, internal injuries, cuts due to broken glass, head trauma and even death.
In this teenage car accident, Emily bumped her head on the steering wheel and all the passengers experienced whiplash, with one receiving minor cuts due to the passenger window shattering...
Passenger 1 had no medical bills because she chose to ignore treatment.
Passenger 2 went to a chiropractor for 4 weeks incurring $1,200 in bills.
Passenger 3 went to her primary care physician which was covered by insurance and was prescribed pain killers.
Passenger 4 went to urgent care immediately after the accident for her cuts and the bill was $690. She also went to a chiropractor for 6 weeks incurring $1,800 in bills.
Passenger 5 went to the hospital on the day of the accident with a migraine incurring $960 in bills and followed up with her primary care physician which was covered by insurance.
This is a case in which liability is likely not going to be questioned. It was a single vehicle accident caused by Emily's texting and driving (i.e. driver distraction). However, one of the problems was whether Emily is covered by insurance. Because her parents failed to add her, she was technically not covered. However, the policy allowed for liability to ANY driver driving the mini-van.
If Emily had not been covered or if there was not enough money to go around within the policy, Emily's parents would face being personally sued for negligent entrustment - this occurs when someone negligently allows another to drive their vehicle.
Emily's parents could face coming out of pocket in as many as 5 lawsuits (one for each teen in the car). They would also face a negligence suit for allowing Emily to drive at all. Most states have passed laws that do not allow 16-year-old drivers to drive with ANYONE under 18, even a family member!
A final settlement would be based upon the medical bills of all the passengers in the mini-van.
Passenger 1 did not submit a claim.
Passenger 2 submitted a claim for $3,600 which settled for $2,900.
Passenger 3 submitted a claim for $1,000 which settled for the same amount.
Passenger 4 submitted a claim for $8,000 which settled for $6,000.
Passenger 5 submitted a claim for $3,000 which settled for $2,800.
Because Emily was a young driver, the insurance policy premiums also increased by $1,800 for the year.
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