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Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded For Texting And Driving?

Last year Florida passed a law banning texting while driving (F.S. 316.305).  The Legislature stated that the intent of the statute was to:

  1. Improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users;
  2. Prevent crashes related to the act of texting;
  3. Reduce injuries, deaths, property damage, health care costs, health insurance rates, and automobile insurance rates; and
  4. Authorize officers to stop automobiles and issue citations as a secondary offense.

While the law does not make it illegal to text and drive, it does allow for a citation if you are texting while committing another traffic code violation (such as speeding).  This is all on the criminal side of the law.  However, if you are texting and cause an accident injuring another person, the civil side of the law kicks in and may allow for punitive damages to be awarded.

Punitive damages are damages awarded in addition to actual damages (such as medical expenses and pain and suffering) when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit.  Traditionally, punitive damages in auto cases were mostly awarded against drunk drivers.  However, with the passage of the anti-texting statute and the results of a University of Utah study more and more judges are allowing punitive damages to be pled in cases involving a texting driver.  The study out of the University of Utah concluded:

  1. Drivers using a cell phone exhibited a delay in their response to events in the driving scenario and were more likely to be involved in a traffic accident;
  2. With respect to safety, the data suggests that the impairments associated with cell phone drivers may be as great as those commonly observed with intoxicated drivers;
  3. Cell phone drivers have slower reactions and were involved in more accidents; and
  4. The impairments are attributable to the diversion of attention from the processing of information necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 388; the University of Utah citing Strayer et. al., 2003; Strayer & Johnson, 2001).

Both the Florida Legislature and University studies have researched the issue and concluded that texting while driving is dangerous.  The attorneys at the LaBovick Law Group handle civil litigation of automobile accidents.  If you have been injured by another driver, call the LaBovick Law Group for a free consultation.

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