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Recovering Damages After a Distracted Driving Accident

Despite strict motor vehicle laws and road-safety initiatives, driving while distracted is a major cause of car accidents in California. Drivers who allow their attention to be diverted from the road may be held liable for the bodily injury and property damage another person suffers in a resulting crash. Recovering damages requires a plaintiff to prove that a driver’s actions constituted negligence, which is the standard for legal liability. However, certain distracting activities are prohibited by law, so they may be considered negligence, making recovery easier. 

People have a general duty to act with reasonable care while operating a motor vehicle. Negligence means deviating from that standard of care, such as by engaging in distractive activities. These generally fall into three categories:

  • Visual — This means anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, such as devices, written materials, mirrors, scenery and other objects or events inside or outside the vehicle.
  • Manual — A number of activities may require the driver to take a hand off the wheel, such as eating, drinking, grooming, reaching for items in a handbag or using a hand-held device.
  • Cognitive — This includes any action that requires concentration, such as talking on the phone or with passengers, texting, emailing or listening to audio.

Winning a lawsuit against an allegedly distracted driver over injuries suffered in a crash usually requires showing not only that the driver was negligent but also that the negligence caused the accident. 

Fortunately, showing causation may not be necessary in certain circumstances. California has laws that prohibit motor vehicle operators from using hand held telephones and other electronic devices while driving. If a driver is in an accident while violating these laws, he or she is presumed to be at fault. This is known as negligence per se. A plaintiff needs to show only that the other driver was breaking the law, that the plaintiff is a person that the statute was designed to protect (i.e. a driver, passenger or pedestrian) and that the plaintiff suffered a bodily injury as a result.

In Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, acute road and traffic conditions have made these restrictions on use of devices a special law enforcement priority. If a driver is ticketed for a violation, that can serve as evidence in a civil lawsuit. A driver’s cellphone records may be subpoenaed to establish that he or she was talking or texting at the time of the accident. Also, the driver may be required to testify under oath as to anything occurring that may have been a distraction. A qualified and experienced motor vehicle accident lawyer is best able to amass the evidence needed to establish liability for the crash.

Located in Santa Barbara, Patterson Law is one of southern California’s premier wrongful death and personal injury law firms. If you or a family member has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please feel free to contact us online or call 888-479-4589 for an initial consultation.