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How Texting and Driving can Establish Liability in an Auto Accident

She was looking at her cell phone. That's why a woman says she struck six pedestrians with her car,killing a man and his two grandchildren.

When she pleaded guilty last week to several counts of manslaughter and assault, the defendant told a Kentucky court she was trying to plug an auxiliary cord into her phone so she could listen to music.

She will be sentenced next month, and she is likely going to prison. That's not necessarily the end of her legal problems, though. The families of the victims will also most likely file personal injury lawsuits including three claims for wrongful death...

Unfortunately, this story is not unusual. The number of crashes blamed on cell phone use is on the rise - more than a quarter of auto accidents involve a driver using their cell phone, according to the National Safety Council.

What Does SC Law Say About Texting and Driving?

In SC, the law is clear - it is illegal to look at, send, or write a text message while driving.

It is also illegal to send, receive or view emails or messages from social media sites, whether you are using a phone, laptop, or a tablet. Legally, you can use a device to get GPS directions, but you should be careful using any technology that pulls your attention away from the road, even for a second.

Also, you are allowed to use hands-free devices while driving, but it's important to note that many highway safety experts - and the guys at MythBusters - say the evidence shows that it is no safer to use a hands-free device than a handset.

What Criminal Charges Can Result from a Texting-While-Driving Accident?

In South Carolina, a driver can be charged with reckless vehicular manslaughter if they cause the death of another because of reckless or negligent driving, including texting while driving.

Reckless vehicular homicide is a felony in South Carolina, and it carries up to a 10-year prison sentence, fines of up to $5,000, and a five-year driver's license revocation.

If the Other Driver was Texting or Using Their Phone, Can I Sue?

If you were hurt in an auto accident because another driver was using their phone, you should contact your SC personal injury attorney immediately.

Using a phone while driving is evidence of negligence, and you should be able to recover damages from the other driver. When the other driver violates a criminal or traffic law (i.e. you can prove they were texting at the time of the accident), it is called "negligence per-se," and liability may be easily established.

What if the Other Driver was Convicted of a Crime?

When the driver has already been convicted or pleaded guilty, as in the Kentucky case mentioned above, liability is already established because the standard of proof required in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt) is higher than the standard of proof in civil court (a preponderance of evidence). Remember, violation of a criminal or traffic law is negligence per-se...

This could make the civil case easier because the jurors only have to decide the amount of damages. If jurors decide the accident was the result of the at-fault driver's gross negligence or intentional act, they can award punitive damages, as well.

How Do I Prove Negligence if They were not Charged with a Crime?

In many cases, the at-fault driver is not charged with texting while driving - the police may not have known.

There are different ways to prove that a driver was texting at the time of the accident. For example:

  • Witness testimony;
  • Your attorney may subpoena their phone records or receive them in discovery; or
  • An expert witness may assist and interpret the cell phone data for the jurors.

Got Axelrod?

Your Myrtle Beach auto accident attorney at Axelrod and Associates will investigate your case and help you to determine who was at fault and what your potential sources of recovery are. Whether the other driver was charged criminally or not, they are negligent if they were using their cell phone at the time of the accident.

Schedule a free consultation with a Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer on the Axelrod team today. Call us at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form to discuss your case and find out how we can help.

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