Texting while driving accident cases that go to trial have been not traditionally been eligible for punitive damages, unless another aggravating factor – like speeding or failing to comply with other traffic laws – is also involved.
In recent years, however, an increasing number of these claims have been permitted to request punitive damages from juries, paving the way for these cases to be far more costly for the at-fault parties.
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Why Have Texting While Driving Crash Claims NOT Been Subject to Punitive Damages In the Past?
Punitive damages are typically reserved for especially egregious negligence, and they are generally awarded to punish the negligent party (rather than specifically compensating the victim). In the realm of car crash claims, drunk driving cases have commonly been subject to punitive damages.
The same has not been true for texting while driving (and other distracted driving) cases due to a combination of factors, like (but not limited to):
- Dated laws & lenient penalties – While all states have passed some law regarding the use of cellphones while driving, two states (Arizona and Montana) do NOT currently have any bans regarding texting while driving, and Missouri only bans it for motorists younger than 21 years old. Here’s a table showing cellphone and texting while driving laws by state.For the states that do ban texting while driving, the penalties are commonly minor, resulting in fines and/or points added to a motorist’s driving record for first offenses. The relative leniency of the laws and penalties surrounding texting while driving (when compared to, for example, drunk driving) has resulted in more relaxed attitudes surrounding the offense. This has often meant that, in the past, judges and juries may not have regarded texting while driving as being egregious enough to warrant the possibility of punitive damages.
- Settlements – The vast majority of texting while driving accident cases are resolved via out-of-court settlements. While this may be the result of insurance companies trying to avoid litigation costs, it may also be motivated by the fear that punitive damages may be awarded by a jury. Consequently, there has been limited opportunity to set legal precedents for punitive damages to be awarded in these cases.
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The Changes That Have Opened the Door for Punitive Damages
As the dangers of texting while driving have become more apparent to motorists and law makers, some states have taken action to increase the severity of their laws and the penalties for this offense. Many legal experts believe that, as the texting while driving laws become harsher and there’s greater public awareness about the issue, circumstances are primed for:
- Judges to be more open to allowing plaintiffs to request punitive damages for texting while driving cases
- Juries to be more open to awarding these damages to punish motorists who text while driving and end up injuring or killing others as a result.
If – or when – punitive damages become regular aspects of distracted driving crash cases, it will likely further promote public awareness about the dangers of texting while driving and, hopefully, serve as a powerful deterrent.
A Fort Lee, New Jersey Car Accident Lawyer at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, P.C. Can Help Victims of Distracted Driving Crashes
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a distracted driving crash or any type of auto wreck, contact an experienced Fort Lee, New Jersey car accident lawyer at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, P.C.
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