Countless lives are lost and destroyed each year through auto accidents. The experienced Chicago car accident attorneys of Passen & Powell are all too familiar with these types of losses, and are increasingly concerned by the amount of motor vehicle accidents caused by “distracted driving”: eating, using cell phones and smart phones, and even performing personal grooming. With the advent and rise in popularity of texting and smart phones supporting email and web browsing, this trend has become downright alarming.
A recent Chicago-area case called attention to the dangers of distracted driving, due in large part to the shocking nature of the distraction in that case: a woman polishing her nails. The driver, distracted by her nail polishing, failed to stop at a stoplight and ran her car, at 50 miles per hour, directly into the motorcyclist stopped in front of her. The motorcyclist did not survive. Although the driver claimed that she put the nail polish aside as she approached the intersection, the evidence proved otherwise. Nail polish spilled in massive amounts on the steering wheel and column demonstrated that she was holding the bottle at the time of the fatal crash. A Lake County jury found the driver guilty of reckless homicide after only 3½ hours of deliberations.
But distracted driving typically does not lead to criminal charges, although the consequences may be devastating. That’s why civil cases – including wrongful death lawsuits by victims and their families for financial compensation – are so important in providing justice for victims and curbing the practice of distracted driving. In cases like that in Lake County, where a conviction is obtained after a distracted driving death, the family very likely also has a case for wrongful death against the driver. Experienced car and truck accident lawyers, however, can seek compensation and a sense of closure for victims regardless of whether criminal charges are brought.
For example, in a recently decided Texas case arising from a 2007 accident, the driver who caused the accident was found to have made 7 phone calls and sent 15 text messages during the 45 minutes of driving leading up to the crash. Indeed, several texts were sent and received only moments before the crash.
The driver was a college student who, in 2007, crossed the center line of a Texas highway in his pickup truck and caused a head-on collision. The oncoming car which was stuck was driven by a 21-year old college co-ed, who was killed. Another student, driving in the car behind the victim, was also injured when her car was run off the road by the truck after the initial collision.
No criminal charges were brought against the truck’s driver, however. It took the investigation of a civil attorney to uncover the truth about the negligent distracted driving which caused the crash. In the end, that investigation revealed that this tragedy was caused by a driver who was not drunk, was not tired, and was not faced with any obstructions or obstacles in the roadway – he was simply too enthralled in his electronic communications to keep his car on his side of the road.
Although the driver escaped criminal charges, a jury in the civil case awarded $21 million to the family of the deceased. This verdict is largely symbolic, however, as the distracted driver declared bankruptcy at the start of the civil trial. Still, the family will likely recover at least a portion of this amount from the driver’s insurance company.
More importantly, the family has found justice for their lost loved one, and helped to send a clear message to other distracted drivers: put down the phone and stop texting, or there will be consequences, to you as well as your victims.
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident, it is important to thoroughly investigate to determine if distracted driving was behind the crash, and whether you have a claim for personal injury or wrongful death. An experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer can help you to get the bottom of your particular case. In the Texas case, for example, the distracted driver claimed, even under oath, that he did not even have his phone with him at the time of the crash – until a civil attorney subpoenaed his phone records and discovered what he had been doing when he was supposed to be keeping his car on the road. Without the civil case, this driver would have gotten away with his distracted driving, and his deception, and justice could not have been served.
For a free consultation with an experienced car and truck accident lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.