Case Example: Texting and Teen Driving

Take a look at injury claims following a single-car collision caused by a texting teen. Learn about passenger claims and coverage for teen drivers.

Here we present a fictional case study drawn from the fact patterns in actual car accidents caused by texting and driving.

Our study deals with a single-vehicle collision that left several passengers suffering from crash-related injuries.

We’ll discuss how the crash occurred, liability, injuries, negotiations, and the final claim resolutions.

We wrap up with a list of important points you should know about car accidents caused by texting and teen drivers.

How the Collision Occurred

Sixteen-year-old Emily and four of her teenage friends piled into Emily’s mother’s minivan to drive to a high school football game.

Emily had just gotten her license and was excited to drive to her first event. She made sure that everyone was wearing their safety belts before departing.

Once on the road, Emily cranked up the stereo. The girls began singing to the music at the top of their lungs. Emily was driving safely and within the speed limit as she sang along with her friends.

Five minutes into Emily’s drive, she received a text message from her boyfriend, Brian. Glancing down at her phone, Emily was shocked to see that Brian was breaking up with her.

Rather than pull over, or wait until she reached her destination, Emily started texting back and forth with Brian as she drove.

In the time it took for Emily to read a long message from Brian, the minivan was veering off the road. By the time she heard one of the girls shouting over the stereo, it was too late. Panicked and inexperienced, Emily couldn’t correct her course. She drove off the road into a fence.

Single Vehicle Accident Injuries

Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. A carload of kids with a distracted, texting driver is usually a recipe for disaster.

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.

Fortunately, in this case, all the teens were wearing their seatbelts, and there were no fatalities. Emily was not speeding at the time of the crash, and the vehicle did not hit an immovable object or rollover.

Another motorist saw the minivan leave the road and plow through the picket fence before coming to a stop in someone’s yard. The alert motorist immediately called 911 for help.

All five girls were treated by paramedics at the scene and transported to the hospital emergency room by ambulance.

Emily walked away from the accident with stiff and sore muscles and bruises from the safety belts.

Passenger 1: Sharon was in the front passenger seat. She was injured when a flying fence board came through the windshield and hit her in the face. She suffered a broken nose and had dozens of stitches to her right cheek and chin. She would require future surgical revisions of her scars.

Passenger 2: Kate was sitting behind Emily. She sustained a mild concussion from her head slamming into the passenger window during the crash. She was back in school the following week.

Passenger 3: Ashley was sitting behind Sharon. Her right arm was broken from hitting the passenger door. She also suffered mild whiplash from being jolted from side to side during the crash. Ashley’s whiplash resolved after a week of rest. Her arm healed without complications after six weeks in a cast.

Passenger 4: Dawn was sitting in the middle of the back seat, between Kate and Ashley. Because the other girls’ bodies cushioned her, Dawn only had a few minor cuts from flying glass and some bruising from her safety belt. She required no further treatment after being checked out at the emergency room.

Liability for Teen Texting Accidents

Almost every state’s traffic laws prohibit texting while driving. Some states specifically ban texting by underage drivers.

Emily admitted to the police officer at the accident scene that she had been texting while driving. The police report showed Emily was liable for the accident.

The officer ticketed Emily for:

  • Failing to maintain control of her vehicle
  • Texting while driving
  • Violating Graduated Drivers Licensing laws limiting the number of passengers for teen drivers

Emily later appeared in traffic court, where her driver’s license was suspended until she reached the age of 18.

Available Insurance Coverage

Emily lived primarily with her mother and stepfather. She was driving her mother’s vehicle and was covered under her mother’s auto insurance policy.

Emily’s mother carried bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident on her auto insurance policy.

Because Emily’s parents shared custody, Emily was also a member of her father’s household. As a member of her father’s household, she was also covered by her dad’s auto insurance policy.

Emily’s dad carried car insurance with bodily injury liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

In a no-fault car insurance state, passengers can file an injury claim with the driver’s insurance company, no matter who caused the accident.

Damages and Claim Negotiations

Bodily injury damages include:

  • Ambulance expenses
  • Medical bills
  • Mental health treatment bills
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Transportation costs to medical appointments
  • Pain and suffering

Passenger 1: Sharon was the most severely injured occupant of the vehicle. She was injured when a flying fence board came through the windshield and hit her in the face. In addition to a concussion and mild whiplash, Sharon’s nose was broken. She sustained several deep, jagged gashes to her right cheek and chin.

A plastic surgeon was called in to stitch her face and treat the nose fracture at the hospital, but she would require and least three rounds of reconstructive facial surgery in the future. Despite medical intervention, there was no doubt that Sharon’s face was permanently scarred.

Sharon became deeply depressed after the crash. She was tormented by nightmares of the crash and required a tranquilizer to be able to ride in a vehicle to medical appointments. Sharon was ashamed and repulsed by the changes to her face.

Sharon required intense mental health treatment for the first three months after the crash, with ongoing counseling expected to continue.

Because Sharon’s current and future medical expenses totaled $40,000, her attorney sought $75,000 to cover Sharon’s hard costs, extreme emotional distress, and permanent facial scarring.

Sharon’s attorney demanded $25,000 per-person policy limits from Emily’s mother’s auto insurance and the $50,000 per-person limits from Emily’s father’s policy.

Both insurance companies paid their policy limits to Sharon, rather than fight a losing battle in court.

Passenger 2: Kate sustained a mild concussion that gave her a headache went away by the next day. She was back in school the following week.

Kate’s medical bills totaled $350. She was upset after the accident but suffered no long-term effects. Her family did not hire an attorney. Kate’s claim with Emily’s mother’s insurance company settled for $700.

Passenger 3: Ashley’s arm was broken from hitting the passenger door. She also suffered mild whiplash that resolved after a week of rest. She saw an orthopedist for her arm, which healed without complications after six weeks in a cast.

Ashley missed a week of school. Her arm hurt and kept her from sleeping well for several days. She was terribly upset about Sharon’s injuries and considered herself lucky. Ashley’s mom had to help her to bathe, dress, and fix her hair every day until the cast came off.

Ashley’s medical bills came to $2,500. Her attorney demanded $10,000 for Ashley’s medical bills and pain and suffering. Emily’s mother’s insurance company settled Ashley’s claim for $8,000.  

Passenger 4: Dawn only had a few minor cuts from flying glass and some bruising from her safety belt. She required no further treatment after being checked out at the emergency room.

Dawn’s emergency room bill was $350. Emily’s mother’s insurance company paid Dawn’s hospital bill and added a small amount for her inconvenience, settling the claim for $500.

Important Points About Texting and Teen Driving

  • Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States
  • Texting while driving is banned in almost every jurisdiction
  • Injury attorneys don’t hesitate to subpoena the at-fault driver’s cell phone records
  • Teen drivers of divorced parents are often covered under two auto insurance policies
  • Severe injury claims should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney for the best results
  • Depending on the state and the amount of money, settlements for underage injury victims might need court approval
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>