Can I sue for negligence if I was hit by someone who was texting while driving?

When a person is injured in a car accident due to the actions of a drunk driver, the injured person is allowed to seek punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages, from the drunk driver. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the injured party for their injuries and include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant solely to punish and deter people from engaging in the act which caused the harm. Drunk drivers have been subject to punitive damages because as a society we want to deter this type of dangerous behavior and punish an individual who engages in such.

Studies have shown that distracted driving through the use of electronic devices such as cell phones, text-messaging, Facebook applications, etc., is just as dangerous, if not more so, than driving under the influence. According to research performed by the National Transportation Safety Board, texting while behind the wheel increases the risk of an accident by a staggering 2,300 percent. Because of the immense dangers involved with texting while driving, there is a national trend developing to allow individuals hurt by such a distracted driver to sue for punitive damages.

In Florida, a defendant may be held liable for punitive damages if they engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Gross negligence means that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.

A Collier Circuit Judge Hugh Hayes recently granted a motion from a Naples widow to seek punitive damages from a driver who is accused of texting while driving when he struck and killed 62-year-old bicyclist James Caskey Jr. in August 2008. The defendant, Lawrence Daniels’ phone records show that he checked his voicemail, sent text messages, and received text messages just prior to this accident.

Furthermore, in 2008, a Miami-Dade jury awarded $8.8 million to the family of Myriam del Socorro Lopez who was killed when a speeding and weaving driver crashed into her vehicle. The defendant, Luis Cruz-Govin, was a habitual texter and phone records show that he sent a text message two minutes before paramedics were called to the scene.

Despite the known dangers of distracted driving, the National Transportation Safety Board has found that texting while driving is increasing. Many people involved with researching and dealing with issue are calling texting while driving the new DUI. Although the Florida Legislature has made numerous attempts to pass bills that would ban texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, no such law has currently passed.