A tour bus driver triggered a three-car pile-up crash when he crossed the center line of Sonyea road in Mt. Morris, New Jersey.
Investigators believe that 26-year-old Lin Hou, of Flushing, may have been using his cellphone when he crossed into oncoming traffic near Cleveland Road. The other driver, 67-year-old Susan Migliore, of Nunda, was killed almost instantly; a trailing SUV then rear-ended her wrecked vehicle. The SUV driver – 39-year-old Richard Stanley of Reading, Pennsylvania – was also injured. The van was carrying twelve Chinese tourists returning from a sightseeing tour of Niagara Falls; all twelve were rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office will examine Mr. Hou’s cellphone records; they also believe that icy roads may have contributed to the wreck.
First Party Liability
Slick streets, dark skies, poor visibility, and other environmental factors are never an excuse for negligent driving. In fact, drivers have an enhanced legal duty in these cases and they must slow down and adjust to the conditions, regardless of what the posted speed limit is.
In addition to failure to adjust to poor conditions, some common causes of car crashes include:
- Speed: Excessive velocity decreases reaction time before a crash, and increases force in a collision.
- Alcohol: As little as one drink may impair motor skills and judgement, making it dangerous to operate a motor vehicle.
- Distracted Driving: Cellphones combine all three types of distracted driving, because users take at least one hand off the wheel (manual), take their eyes off the road (visual), and take their minds off driving (cognitive).
If a driver breaches the duty of reasonable care under the circumstances and that breach causes injury, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is liable for damages.
Third Party Liability
The tortfeasor may not be the only party responsible for damages. Third party liability theories, like respondeat superior, are especially important if the tortfeasor was uninsured or underinsured, as is often the case.
This doctrine holds employers responsible for the negligent acts of their employees. To establish third party liability, the plaintiff must prove that the tortfeasor was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the incident. This phrase is defined very broadly: if the employer is obtaining any benefit at the time, no matter how small, the tortfeasor was generally acting within the scope of employment.
Car crash victims are often entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with attorneys who make negligent parties pay damages, contact our office. After hours and hospital visits are available.
Were You On The Phone Again?
A pair of lawmakers want to make it easier for peace officers to access cellphone records after a car crash.
Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown) and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) are co-sponsoring Evan’s Law, which if enacted, would allow investigators to use “available technology” and determine if tortfeasors (negligent drivers) were using their phones just prior to car crashes. At the same time, they state that the method used does not “invade personal privacy by evaluating the personal content contained the device.” Governor Cuomo, who has presided over the strengthening of the cellphone law and has been very aggressive in his stance against distracted driving, praised Evan’s Law. The measure is named for Evan Lieberman, a New Castle teen who was killed by a distracted driver in 2011. At a press conference, his father, Ben, said “It’s time to recognize that distracted driving is a similar impairment and should be dealt with in a similar fashion.”
The proposal comes amid heightened legal tensions in this area, as the FBI recently hacked into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.
In 2014, 431,000 people were injured in a car crash caused by a distracted driver. This term covers a wide range of behavior, from eating while driving to applying makeup to using a cellphone.
Arguably, any distracted driving is a breach of the duty of reasonable care. But in most cases, the plaintiff must prove that the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) breach caused the plaintiff’s injury, for the victim to be entitled damages.
Negligence Per Se
However, if the defendant violated a statute, it is not always necessary to prove that the tortfeasor acted unreasonably. Violation of the cellphone law is an excellent example. In New York, it is illegal to “hold a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages, or other electronic data.”
To support a claim of negligence per se under the cellphone law, the plaintiff must basically demonstrate that the:
- Defendant violated a statute, and
- Plaintiff was among the people the statute was designed to protect.
If the law did not apply to the tortfeasor’s conduct (using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle is exempt conduct), the plaintiff can use an ordinary negligence case to establish liability.
Distracted drivers injure thousands. For a free consultation with attorneys who use the law to protect victims, contact our office. An attorney can arrange ongoing medical care for victims, even if they have no insurance and no money.