Category: Car Accidents – CA

The New California Cellphone Law And Negligence Cases – CA

An expanded cellphone law that its author says is designed to “prevent distracted driving” takes effect this coming January 1.

The move takes place as cellphone use while driving has expanded in California and elsewhere. As a result, CHP spokesperson Jon Sloat called the bill “welcome news” for law enforcement. Beginning in January, officers will write tickets whenever they see drivers using cellphones, whether they are talking, texting, “checking their GPS or their music,” he added. The bill’s primary sponsor was Assembly-member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

Last year, cellphone related crashes killed sixteen Californians and injured 500 others, and Officer Sloat believes these numbers are vastly under-reported.

The California Cellphone Law

When lawmakers began debating the current cellphone laws a little over a decade ago, most available devices were quite rudimentary compared to the ones of today, and the more advanced models were often priced out of reach of many drivers. Moreover, social media platforms and smartphone apps were not nearly as well-developed then as they are today. As a result, since most people still used their phones primarily for talking and texting, the Legislature passed very narrowly tailored laws to address these concerns.

In 2014, the Fifth District Court of Appeal court ruled in favor of Steven Spriggs, who received a ticket for using his cellphone to access a GPS map while he was stuck in traffic. The court ruled that since Mr. Spriggs was not talking on his phone at the time, the statute as written did not apply. “We conclude the statute means what it says — it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it,” the court wrote. At the time, the CHP elected not to appeal this decision, probably because the court was clearly correct in its interpretation of the narrow law.

A.B. 1785 passed by wide margins in both the Assembly and the Senate. It essentially replaces the existing “talking and texting” language with the phrase “holding or operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device.” The law also limits the use of cellphone mounts.

Direct Evidence of Negligence

When drivers are cited for violating the new Vehicle Code 23123.5, prosecutors must still prove that the driver was using the device and not checking the time, glancing at a status update, declining an incoming call, or otherwise using the device in an approved way. However, in civil court, the burden of proof is lower. So, evidence that a cellphone was on and was in the front passenger area would probably be sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that, more likely than not, the driver was using the device at or near the time of the crash.

It is well-settled law in California that most statutory violations, including VC 23123.5 infractions, constitute negligence per se (negligence “as such”). The elements are:

  • Infraction: The jury must determine, based on the evidence, that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a safety law; the jury could make such a finding even if the tortfeasor was not convicted in criminal court, because of the lower standard of proof.
  • Cause: The violation must have been “a substantial factor in bringing about the harm,” which is not the same thing as the sole factor in bringing about the harm.

Violating a traffic or other law sometimes raises a presumption in favor of additional punitive damages. To obtain these damages, the plaintiff must offer clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor recklessly disregarded the safety and property of others, and 90 percent of drivers agree that using a cellphone while driving is a serious hazard.

Indirect Evidence

Cellphone use is one of the most dangerous kinds of distracted driving because it involves all three areas of distraction:

  • Cognitive (taking your mind off the road),
  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road), and
  • Manual (taking at least one hand off the wheel).

This definition obviously encompasses a wide array of behaviors that may or may not cause car crashes. For example, since it involves two types of distraction (cognitive and visual), turning one’s head to speak to a passenger is almost as distracting as using a cellphone. In these situations, the jury determines if the driver breached the duty of reasonable care. In a nutshell, there is a significant difference between having an emotional face-to-face discussion with a significant other while driving and turning one’s head for a moment to ask if the air conditioner is blowing too hard.

In both direct and indirect evidence cases, compensatory damages generally include money for economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as loss of enjoyment in life. If you’ve been injured, make sure to see our guide on how to find a good personal injury lawyer in California.

My Friend Crashed My Car – Am I Liable?

People commonly loan out their cars to friends and family. But what happens when you loan out your car to someone and they get into an accident? Worse yet, what if the accident is the fault of your friend or loved one whom you let borrow your car?

The good news is this – car insurance policies cover the car and not the driver. So if you loan out your car to your neighbor and they cause an accident, you will be responsible for filing the claim with your insurance company.

Exceptions to the Rule

However, there are important exceptions to keep in mind. First, most insurance polices do not cover people you live with unless those people are added to your insurance. It seems odd that the people most likely to drive your car are not covered under the policy by default, but perhaps the insurance companies are trying avoid insuring someone who they normally would not cover. As such, check your policy carefully before loaning your car to someone you live with to understand whether or not they are covered.

Another important exception applies if you are using your vehicle for work-related purposes. For example, assume you own a small flower shop and use your personal car to make deliveries. Now assume further that you ask one of your employees to make a delivery in your personal car and they cause an accident in the course of that delivery. Generally, your personal policy excludes coverage if the vehicle was being used for business purposes, especially if the car was being used for delivery purposes.

Will Your Insurance Cover Everything?

In most states, you are required to have liability insurance for both property damage and personal injury. If you loan out your car to a friend they cause an accident, your liability insurance will cover the damages to the other party. However, if their damages are greater than your policy limit, then your friend’s insurance policy will cover the difference. But be careful, because if they person driving your car doesn’t have their own car insurance, then you will be responsible for anything beyond your policy limit.

What To Do After An Accident

If you loaned out your car to a friend or loved one and they caused an accident, you should consider speaking to an attorney in your local jurisdiction to better understand your rights. Given the potential pitfalls involved with loaning out your car, you may want consider simply giving your friend a ride or having them use public transportation.

Top 7 Steps To Take After a Car Accident

If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know how traumatic those moments immediately following the accident can be. You’re out of sorts, stressed, and may be injured. To help out, we outline the top 7 steps to take after a car accident. Our list is designed to help you protect both your legal rights and physical well-being.

Step 1: Seek medical assistance

The first step is obvious. If you have been injured, you should immediately seek medical treatment for your injuries. This is critical for several reasons. First, even car accident injuries that seem minor could have long-lasting consequences. Prompt attention could help speed up the recovery process and prevent minor injuries from becoming more serious. Second, it’s important to establish record of injury if you decide to pursue your case against the negligent party.

Step 2: Exchange Information

After an accident, make sure you exchange information with the other drivers involved in the accident. At a minimum, take a picture of their drivers license, insurance documents, and license plate. Additionally, you should get their phone number.

Step 3: Get Names of Witnesses

If you can, try to get the names and contact info of anyone that may have witnessed the accident. This information could be useful if litigation becomes necessary.

Step 4: Do Not Admit Fault

After an accident, you may be inclined to apologize and claim responsibility for the accident. Given the confusion, you may not understand what actually happened. As such, it’s best to not admit fault and instead speak to an attorney regrading the accident.

Step 5: Sign Any Tickets Issued By Police

You may be issued a ticket by police at the scene of the accident and may be asked to sign it. Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt or fault, just simply acknowledgement that you received the ticket. As such, you should cooperate with law enforcement.

Step 6: Do Not Negotiate with the Insurance Company

You may be contacted by the negligent party’s insurance company. They have attorneys and professional insurance adjusters who do everything they can to minimize your claims and attempt to have you make statements against your interests. While you are within your rights to negotiate with an insurance company, you should consider speaking to an attorney who can deal with them on your behalf.

Step 7: Speak to a Personal Injury Attorney

As mentioned, the insurance company will have a team of attorneys. By hiring a personal injury attorney, you level the playing field. Further, an attorney can help you properly assess your injuries to ensure that you get the amount of compensation you deserve.