We’ve all rolled our eyes as fellow commuters eat their breakfast, program the GPS or hold a cell phone to their ear as they barrel down the expressway. But what can you do when their inattention involves you in an accident and causes you injury? And how can expert personal injury lawyers help you?
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. But, since 391,000 people were injured and 3,450 people were killed by vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015 and 2016 respectively, it’s something we should be paying attention to every month.
By now, most residents of the Empire State are aware that using a cell phone or other hand-held electronic device whilst driving is illegal unless using a hands-free adaptation. It can result in fines of $50 to $200 (or $50 to $450 for repeat offenders). The only exceptions are for genuine emergency calls.
Although the National Safety Council confirms that cell phone-related distractions are by far the most prevalent, distracted driving is not limited to driving while using a phone.
It can include doing any secondary activity while behind the wheel, such as:
· Grooming (for example shaving or applying make-up)
· Adjusting the stereo or AC,
· Dealing with children or pets
· Talking to a passenger
Even glancing away from the road for two seconds to check the weather, other vehicles, or the scenery can significantly increase the risk of a crash, especially in younger, less experienced drivers. Anything that takes a driver’s attention from the road can be considered a distraction.
So if you are involved in an accident where you know or strongly suspect that the other driver was distracted, what should you do?
1. Stay at the Scene, Stay Safe and Call 911
As in any other accident, check the wellbeing of everyone in the vehicle and move out of the flow of traffic if it is safe to do so.
As always, remain at the scene until informed by the authorities that you are cleared to go.
2. Document, Document, Document
Make sure you gather as much information as you can – at a minimum the other driver’s name, address, contact details, driver’s license information, and insurer.
Also make a note of the attending police officer’s name and, of course, cooperate fully in answering his or her questions. The police report will likely become a key piece of evidence.
Take photographs of your vehicle and the other vehicles involved. If your phone is lost or damaged in the accident, make a sketch and notes of exactly what happened as soon as you’re able. It may be possible to obtain traffic camera images and/or subpoena phone records that show the distracted behavior if you make a careful record of what you saw.
3. Get witness information.
Obtain full contact details for anyone who saw what happened. As a neutral third party, their evidence could be given more weight than yours or the other driver’s at trial. Make sure the chance to call them to the stand is not lost.
4. Hire an Expert Personal Injury Lawyer
As soon as possible, speak to a personal injury lawyer with expertise in an auto accident and distracted driving claims to help you build a strong case and avoid common pitfalls. Depending on your unique situation, an attorney may be able to provide information regarding the lawsuit timeframes and how much your case may be worth.
5. Keep a Record of All Medical Appointments and Expenses
Keep track of all medical costs, which can soon mount up. Even if you do not feel injured, get yourself checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible after the accident.
6. Record Lost Earnings
Keep a note of all days missed at work or school and whether your future earning capacity is likely to be impacted.
7. What Is the Emotional Impact?
You should be able to claim for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life where appropriate, so make a note of any pertinent information.
8. Count All Property Damage
Not just the damage to your car, but also any property inside it at the time of the accident that was damaged or destroyed (laptop, sports equipment, phone, etc.).
Since New York is a no-fault car insurance state, you will still need to file a claim with your own insurance company under your personal injury protection coverage.
But if you have suffered severe injuries or receive a payout from your insurance company that does not cover your losses, you may be able to bring a claim in negligence against the inattentive driver for the additional losses.
Whatever form the distracted driving takes, it might constitute negligence and give you the right to make a claim against the inattentive driver.
To be negligent, a person’s standard of behavior must fall below that which would usually be expected of a reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances. In other words, the members of the jury will need to ask themselves if a reasonable and prudent rush hour driver would send a text/take a selfie/eat a sandwich whilst operating a vehicle.
New York is a comparative negligence state, meaning that if the jury considers you were 10% responsible for the accident, your payout can be reduced accordingly. However, in a distracted driving case where you are able to show that the other driver was inattentive, your personal injury lawyer should aim to reduce or eliminate any liability on your part.
If the other driver’s actions weren’t just negligent but were so reckless as to show a complete disregard for your safety, you may also be entitled to punitive damages. As the name suggests, these damages are designed to punish the inattentive driver for his or her behavior.
File in Time – 3 Year Limitation Period
In most cases, the statute of limitations for car accidents in New York State is 3 years. This means you have 3 years from the date of the accident to get your case against the distracted driver into the court system.
Being in a car accident is a difficult, frustrating, and distressing time for those involved. You will need the right legal support to allow you to focus on recovering and rebuilding, safe in the knowledge that your case is being handled diligently and proactively.
As the victim of a distracted driver, you will need a lawyer on your side that has a proven track record of dealing with similar cases.
Raphaelson & Levine has over 30 years of experience helping auto accident victims and has recovered over $500 million in verdicts and settlements for our clients. We see our clients as family, not files, and approach each and every case with empathy and determination to do the best for you. If you've been hurt in a car accident, contact us today to learn about your legal rights and next steps - call 212-268-3222 or complete a free case evaluation form on our website.