Most Americans agree that distracted driving is dangerous. Yet most Americans admit that they are distracted on a regular basis. Many even confess to things like Face Timing while driving.
The problem is not limited to device distraction. Many drivers freely admit to eating or drinking while driving. Pet distraction is a problem as well. A third of pet owners say their animals sometimes travel with them. But only a few of these individuals properly restrain their pets.
Distracted driving collisions often cause serious injuries. Frequently, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is travelling at or near top speed at the moment of impact. Such collisions often cause head injuries and other serious wounds.
As a result, a Marietta personal injury attorney can often obtain substantial compensation in these cases. Most of these cases settle out of court. But as outlined below, the settlement process is often anything but quick or easy.
Device Distraction Liability
To reduce the staggering number of distracted driving collisions, Georgia lawmakers recently approved one of the broadest hands-free laws in the country. A phone or other device cannot touch a driver while s/he is operating a vehicle. All interaction must be completely hands-free.
Hand-held phones are not the only source of device distraction, but they rightly get most of the media attention. These gadgets combine all three forms of distracted driving, which are:
- Cognitive (taking one’s mind off the road),
- Manual (taking one’s hand off the wheel), and
- Visual (taking one’s eyes off the road).
Georgia’s hands-free law specifically exempts a number of devices, such as GPS navigators, speakerphones, and phone attached to smart watches. These gadgets help drivers keep both hands on the wheel, but they are visually and cognitively distracting. Additionally, drivers do not instantly refocus on driving after they use a hands-free device. That transition requires about thirty seconds, and a lot can happen during that time frame. Finally, hands-free devices give many operators a false sense of security. So, they might take unnecessary chances while driving.
Legally, device distraction can involve the ordinary negligence doctrine or the negligence per se shortcut. Evidence of negligence while using a hands-free device includes:
- Expert testimony about the effects of a hands-free device,
- Call or text message logs, and
- Web browsing or other use history.
If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) received a citation for using a hand-held device, and that device usage substantially caused the crash, the tortfeasor might be liable for damages as a matter of law. Generally, Marietta personal injury attorneys need not introduce additional evidence of negligence.
Non-Device Distraction Liability
Arguably, the hands-free Georgia law might have been unnecessary. The Peach State already had one of the broadest distracted driving laws in the country. In 2015, a Marietta police officer ticketed a man for eating a cheeseburger while driving in violation of the state’s distracted driving law. Prosecutors dismissed that ticket a few weeks later. But the mere fact the officer wrote it underscores the broad nature of this law.
Eating while driving, drinking while driving, applying makeup while driving, and other such behaviors are visually, cognitively, and manually distracting.
However, because of the fallout over the McDonald’s cheeseburger case, Cobb County police officers rarely cite drivers for non-device distraction. So, most of these claims involve the ordinary negligence doctrine. Evidence of distraction includes:
- Erratic driving prior to the crash,
- Physical evidence from the vehicle, like a Big Mac wrapper, and
- Statements the tortfeasor made about distracted driving.
In ordinary negligence claims, victim/plaintiffs must establish a lack of care by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in Georgia law. So, a little evidence of distraction goes a long way toward establishing liability for damages.
Distracted Drivers and Claim Settlement
In a catastrophic injury case, such as a spine injury claim, the medical bills alone could exceed $4 million. Other injury claims, like a head injury claim, might involve at least tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Evidence is important in the liability portion of a trial. It’s also important in the damages portion of a trial. Medical bills are usually quite valuable. These documents contain diagnostic, treatment, and financial information. Additionally, medical bills often include physician notes about the patient’s pain level or general disposition. This evidence could be relevant in terms of noneconomic damages.
Anyone who has worked with a hospital bureaucracy before knows that internal medical records are not easy to obtain. A web of privacy and other laws usually applies. A good Marietta personal injury attorney knows how to overcome these hurdles and get the evidence needed.
Once the evidence is in hand and analyzed, settlement negotiations can begin in earnest. Typically, attorneys send demand letters to insurance companies. These letters usually demand compensation for economic and noneconomic losses. To determine the latter, most lawyers multiply the economic damages, such as medical costs and lost wages, by two, three, or four, depending on the facts of the case.
If liability is clear, the insurance company has a duty to settle the case within a few weeks. But vehicle collisions often involve one or more negligence defenses, such as contributory negligence or last clear chance. So, most cases proceed to the next settlement phase.
When insurance companies drag their feet, attorneys usually file legal claims to pressure them to settle. These filings usually prompt Cobb County judges to appoint professional mediators. During mediation, insurance companies have a legal duty to negotiate in good faith. They cannot take unreasonable positions or rely simply on legal loopholes. They must try to reach a settlement. Because of this added judicial pressure, many cases settle at this point. In fact, according to some estimates, mediation has a 90 percent success rate.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
Distracted drivers often cause catastrophic injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.