Car crashes caused by distracted drivers are on the rise. Learn how to build a strong insurance claim after a driver on their cell phone causes an accident.
More than 25 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States involve cell phones, resulting in 4,637 deaths in one year alone.¹
The average American driver can expect to be in at least four car accidents during their lifetime.² At least one of those accidents will occur because of a distracted driver using a cell phone.
What you do after a car accident can help protect your right to fair compensation from the at-fault driver, especially if they were using a cell phone or other mobile device.
What To Do After a Cell Phone Accident
You not only need to prove the other driver caused the car accident, but you must also prove the accident caused your injuries. Proving negligence and damages requires evidence.
If you are physically able, or if there is someone who can do it for you, begin to collect important information and evidence at the scene.
At the scene of the crash:
- Call 911 to report the accident and ask for help. Tell the dispatcher the road you’re on and describe any nearby landmarks. Tell the dispatcher if you’re hurt and if you know of any other injured persons.
- Take photographs and videos: Photographs are very effective evidence. Take pictures of the vehicles and surrounding area from several different angles.
- Locate witnesses: Witness statements can be compelling evidence of liability. It will help your case tremendously if a witness saw the other driver using a cell phone before the collision, or heard the driver make admissions like, “I was on the phone with my girlfriend.”
- Cooperate with paramedics: Never refuse medical attention at the scene. Tell the paramedics about every symptom you have, no matter how mild. If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, seek immediate medical attention on your own. Refusing or delaying medical treatment will seriously undermine your insurance claim.
- Cooperate with law enforcement: When a car accident results in injuries, the police will come and secure the accident scene. Wait until the officer can speak with you. Be sure you tell the officer if you saw the other driver using a cell phone when the crash occurred.
During your recovery:
- Order the police report: The investigating officer will file a police accident report. The official report will include diagrams of the accident, driver and witness information, driver statements, citations issued, and the officer’s opinion of fault.
- Medical records and bills: Medical records won’t prove negligence, but they can directly link your injuries to the accident. Your medical expenses are a big part of calculating the amount of your compensation.
- Lost wages: Ask your employer for a statement of your lost wages, and any sick time or vacation days used during your recovery.
- Keep a diary: Write down everything you remember about the accident and its aftermath. Describe how you knew the other driver was using a cell phone. Continue making notes of your injuries, pain levels, and physical limitations from your injuries.
How to Pursue Accident Compensation
A distracted driver who caused an accident is legally responsible for compensating any injured victims. However, the driver may not be the only party liable for your damages, and there may be more than one insurance policy applicable to your case.
The Drivers’ Insurance Companies
Most accident victims start by filing injury and property damage claims with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you must first look to your own auto insurance to pay personal injury damages, no matter who caused the accident. Med-Pay or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage will pay for your reasonable medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. PIP will not cover your pain and suffering.
No-fault states permit accident victims to pursue the other driver in cases of permanent injuries, wrongful death, or when your injury expenses exceed your PIP limit.
The at-fault driver may have liability coverage through more than one insurance policy. For example, they may have an umbrella policy specifically for liability in excess of their auto policy.
When the at-fault driver has no insurance or their liability limits aren’t enough to cover your injuries, the uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage on your own policy (if you elected the coverage) should cover some or all of your damages.
Parental Liability for Teen Cell Phone Accidents
Although several factors can contribute to teen car accidents, an increase in cell phone use while driving has been demonstrated as a factor in the unexpected increase in adolescent crash rates since 2013.
If you’re injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by an underage driver, you may have recourse for compensation through the parents.
Teen drivers with divorced parents may be covered by both parents’ auto insurance policies. When the parents share custody, the teen legally resides in both households.
In addition to insurance, in some states parents may be personally liable for injuries caused by their child’s negligence.
For example, in Florida, an adult must sign the underage driver’s application for a driver’s license, agreeing to be responsible for the teen’s actions. Your attorney could go after the parent’s personal assets, not just their auto insurance.
Florida law states, in part:
“Any negligence or willful misconduct of a minor under the age of 18 years when driving a motor vehicle upon a highway shall be imputed to the person who has signed the application of such minor for a permit or license, which person shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.”
Employer Liability for Negligent Drivers
When the distracted driver was on the road for business reasons, the employer shares liability for your injuries. The negligent driver may have been operating a company vehicle or driving their personal car while conducting business for their employer.
Business liability insurance or commercial vehicle policies typically carry much higher coverage limits than personal auto policies. If your car accident case ends up in court, the company may be forced to pay punitive damages as “punishment” for contributing to a hazardous situation.
Case Example: Texas Jury Awards $24 Million in Distracted Employee Driving Case
Araceli Venessa Cabral was driving a Coca-Cola truck and talking on her cell phone when she slammed into a vehicle driven by Vanice Chatman-Wilson.
Chatman-Wilson suffered neck and back injuries that required surgery after the crash.
Attorneys for Chatman-Wilson alleged that Coca-Cola failed to provide clear guidelines for use of cell phones to its drivers. Cabral testified she would not have been talking on her cell phone if she had been aware of the dangers.
All drivers have a duty of care to other drivers on the road. When a driver is distracted by a cell phone or text messaging, they violate their duty of care.
Filing your injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company is just the beginning. You might think it’s perfectly obvious that the other driver caused the accident. However, your claim won’t survive unless the adjuster is convinced their insured is to blame for the crash.
Evidence you’ve gathered, like the police report and witness statements, can be compelling proof of the other driver’s fault.
How Mobile Phones Distract Drivers
The number of motor vehicle accidents has risen dramatically over the years in direct correlation to cell phone usage.
In response to the dangers of distracted driving, states have enacted laws limiting cell phone use and texting while driving. Knowing your state’s distracted driving laws will help you show the other driver was negligent.
3 ways drivers are distracted by cell phones:
- Manual distractions: Drivers shift attention away from the road and take one or both hands from the steering wheel while reaching for a phone, dialing a phone number, or texting.
- Visual distractions: Drivers often drift out of their travel lane while looking at their phone. Shifting attention back to the road requires a brief “switching time” for your brain to register the change. That’s time you won’t have to avoid a collision.
- Cognitive distractions: Hands-free cell phone use is still distracting. Studies show that even drivers who are looking straight ahead experience “inattention blindness” while talking on a hands-free cell phone. Trying to multi-task while driving can be fatal.
Case Example: Jury Awards $200,000 to Man Injured in Phone-Related Crash
Jeffrey Braun was sitting in his car, waiting to merge onto a highway when his car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Jeffrey Schweig. Admitting fault, Schweig said he had dropped his cell phone and was trying to retrieve it when the accident occurred.
Braun suffered a broken back, protruding disc, and a concussion. When Schweig’s insurance company would not come up from a low settlement offer, Braun’s attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit on his behalf.
The jury found in favor of Braun, awarding $200,000 in compensation for his injuries and pain and suffering.
In this case, the at-fault driver was distracted by his cell phone even though he wasn’t talking or sending a text message at the time of the crash. He was manually distracted by taking his hand off the wheel to reach for the dropped phone, and visually distracted by looking down at the passenger side floor where the phone had landed.
How to Maximize Your Injury Compensation
Your total compensation will depend on what type of injuries you sustained, the complexity of your case, and the available insurance coverage.
If you’ve fully recovered from relatively minor injuries, you might decide to negotiate a settlement without help from an attorney.
Calculate your claim’s value by totaling your medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses, and your lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering. Send your demand letter with enclosed copies of your bills, costs, and a wage statement from your employer.
An Attorney Can Boost Your Injury Compensation
Serious injury claims are complex, high-dollar cases. If you or a loved one are severely injured, you’ll need an attorney to get the full amount of all available compensation.
Your attorney will explore every avenue for maximizing your compensation and push back against allegations of shared fault for the accident, so you end up with more in your pocket.
Accident attorneys can get evidence of the at-fault driver’s phone use that you can’t get on your own. Cell phone records can prove the driver was using their phone at the time of the crash. Phone records are powerful evidence of negligence.
The phone company won’t voluntarily release another person’s cell phone records, and the at-fault driver is unlikely to hand over incriminating evidence to support your claim. But your attorney can subpoena these records.
There’s too much at stake with serious injuries to face the insurance company’s attorneys on your own. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation to victims of cell phone accidents. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.
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