Distracted driving constitutes a major source of death and injury in the U.S., with more than 3,000 people killed in accidents caused by distracted drivers each year and many thousands more suffering injuries that can alter the course of their lives. The dilemma of distracted driving on Florida’s roadways had posed such a concern that lawmakers passed a bill that allows the police to pull someone over and issue a citation if they witness the driver texting while driving.
While texting constitutes one of the main distracted driving concerns, many other activities and events can also lead to a driving distraction.
If you sustained injuries in an accident caused by a distracted driver, an experienced car accident attorney can seek compensation for the financial and psychological costs of your injury. Don’t delay reaching out to an attorney, as the sooner you retain legal representation, the quicker you can file your claim and begin your journey to recovery.
Types of Driving Distractions
A driving distraction includes any activity that diverts your attention from driving.
The three primary types of driving distractions include:
- Manual distractions, which cause drivers to remove their hands from the proper position on the steering wheel.
- Visual distractions, which cause drivers to avert their eyes from watching the roadway.
- Cognitive distractions, which draw drivers’ thoughts away from the task of driving safely.
Texting and other cell phone use while driving pose such a concern because cell phone use involves all three driving distractions simultaneously. At highway speeds, in the time it takes a driver to read or reply to a text, the driver will have traveled the distance of a football field without tending to the roadway.
Other driving distractions include eating, drinking, applying makeup, visiting with passengers, controlling pets or children, adjusting GPS and stereo controls, paying attention to the drivers of other vehicles, reading billboards, or watching events occurring on the roadside.
Florida’s Texting and Driving Law
As mentioned, the texting and driving law prohibits drivers from using any handheld wireless communications device (such as a phone) in a manner that requires them to type in letters or numbers to send a text or instant message. Police can pull drivers over for texting and driving as a primary offense that carries an increasing array of penalties and fines, depending on how many texting and driving offenses the driver has already incurred.
Unfortunately, a review of analysis after the first year of the law revealed that the police rarely enforced it and the state had failed to compile the distracted driving statistics it desired. Florida has more than 15 million registered drivers and, on average, experiences more than 48,000 accidents reported as distracted driving-caused, resulting in 2,800 injuries from these crashes and 299 fatalities. However, the state only reported slightly over 3,000 citations issued to distracted drivers in the same timeframe, and many of the state’s law enforcement agencies did not report any distracted driving citations.
The Types of Accidents Caused by Distracted Driving
If a driver fails to notice what’s going on around them, the driver can cause nearly any type of traffic-related accident, including:
- Rear-end crashes, which involve the front of one vehicle colliding with the rear of another. Rear-end crashes most often result from drivers following too closely (tailgating). Unfortunately, a driver who is already following too closely may become distracted by something and fail to notice that the driver in front braked. The first driver had already deprived themselves of some of the time and distance needed to brake, which involves the driver perceiving a hazard on the roadway, responding to the hazard braking, and the distance needed for the brakes to stop the vehicle. Distractions further increase the likelihood that the driver will fail to stop in time.
- Broadside (T-bone) collisions, which occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another vehicle. This particularly dangerous accident most often occurs at an intersection when one driver fails to yield the right-of-way to another. A common reason for failing to yield at a stoplight is that the light was green, the driver became distracted, the light turned red, and the driver did not notice.
- Improper backing or lane changes, which occur when drivers fail to check their side and rearview mirrors or look over their shoulder to ensure that the travel lane is clear before changing lanes or backing up. Driver’s ed involves learning certain basic driving maneuvers. However, distractions can cause an individual to temporarily forget even the basics of safe driving as they focus on other things. Improper lane changes sometimes lead to sideswipe accidents, which occur when the side of one vehicle collides with the side of another vehicle.
- Head-on collisions, which occur when the front of a vehicle collides with the front of another vehicle. Distracted drivers can cause head-on collisions if they take their eyes from the roadway and cross over into an opposing travel lane. Distracted driving head-on accidents can also occur if the distracted driver fails to notice they entered a one-way roadway, interstate entrance, or exit going the wrong direction.
- Crosswalk accidents, which occur when a vehicle collides with a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Distractions can cause the driver to look down or away and miss seeing a pedestrian who entered the crosswalk.
- Bicycle accidents, which can result when the distracted driver fails to notice and rear-ends a bicyclist or turns in their path. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20 percent of the individuals killed in distracted driving accidents die while outside of a vehicle, as either a pedestrian or bicyclist.
Seeking Compensation After a Distracted Driving Accident
All drivers registered in Florida must show proof of insurance, including a personal injury protection (PIP) policy of at least $10,000. Those who have sustained injuries in distracted driving accidents often turn to their PIP policy as their first resource for compensation, as it provides coverage of medical expenses and a portion of wage loss up to the policy limits. Only those whose expenses exceed the limits of their policy or whose injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold can file a personal injury lawsuit and seek compensation from the at-fault party’s auto liability insurance provider.
Florida’s serious injury threshold involves injuries that result in a significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury within a degree of medical probability, permanent and significant scarring, or death.
The Steps of a Personal Injury Claim
If you qualify to seek compensation for your injuries through the personal injury claims process as your first step, hire an experienced car accident attorney to assist you. You should seek an attorney who feels comfortable helping you obtain compensation through either a negotiated settlement or by litigation, as the need arises.
The main reason for hiring an attorney as soon as possible is that an attorney provides the best protection of your right to make a claim, as attorneys understand the tactics that insurance companies use to reduce the cost of claims. One of the most common tactics that insurance companies employ includes making a quick and low settlement offer, sometimes before the victim has even left the hospital.
These offers rarely account for the big picture of the expenses and impacts the claimant faces (which no one knows right after an accident). Rather, insurance companies just bank on the idea that the claimant has not yet hired an attorney and, faced with the new uncertainties of the injury and its financial impact, may feel desperate enough to accept the offer.
Settlement offers involve a one-shot deal. If you agree to an amount of compensation that doesn’t adequately cover the past, present, and future expenses of your injury, you cannot go back and ask the at-fault party for more money.
Once you have hired your attorney, you can take the following actions in your case.
- The attorney will submit a demand package to the distracted driver’s auto liability insurance carrier that details the accident, documents expenses, and demands payment for the full value of your claim. The insurance company can accept the claim, deny the claim, or accept liability but offer to settle the claim for less than the claim’s value.
- If the insurance adjuster makes a settlement offer, this will begin settlement negotiations, where your attorney will work with the insurance provider to garner an offer that provides you fair compensation.
- At some point, within the statute of limitations for your claim (four years for personal injury and two years for wrongful death), if the negotiations fail to produce a fair settlement offer, you and your attorney may file your claim in civil court. This does not necessarily mean that your case will go to court, however, as settlement negotiations can continue until the court decides the matter. The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits never see the inside of a courtroom because they resolve before that point.
- Once you’ve formally filed a lawsuit, your attorney will begin gathering evidence and deposing witnesses in preparation for litigation. If you fail to reach a settlement with the at-fault party before your trial begins, your attorney will present your case in court.
- After you have reached a settlement agreement or have had a court judgment in your favor, your attorney will assist you in collecting your compensation.
I Can’t Afford an Attorney—What Should I Do?
Many people feel reluctant to hire an attorney after suffering a personal injury because they fear that they can’t afford one. Most car accident attorneys, however, will offer prospective clients free consultations, during which they can discuss the details of their case, ask questions, and determine their eligibility to pursue compensation. When interviewing potential attorneys, you want to retain one with the knowledge and experience to maximize your chances of success. This includes experience handling cases similar to yours, successfully negotiating with at-fault parties and insurance companies, and trial wins.
Most personal injury attorneys will offer:
- A free case evaluation, which provides you with time to speak to an experienced car accident attorney about your case, ask your legal questions, and learn more about the process and the services available to you.
- A contingent-fee billing method, which allows you to delay payment for the services provided unless you reach a positive outcome. This allows your attorney to begin working immediately with you on your claim, without waiting for you to gather the money to pay any upfront fees. For this reason, you shouldn’t worry about whether you can afford an attorney.
Car accidents rank among the most devastating occurrences in the lifetimes of injured individuals and their family members. Unfortunately, these car accidents often result from avoidable carelessness, such as texting and driving. Let us help you plan a way forward by helping you understand the process of obtaining compensation for your injury or loss. For your free case evaluation, contact an experienced attorney today.