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You May Need an Attorney and Not Even Know It

Charged with Murder for Texting While Driving? It's Possible

by Barry Butler

A number of states have banned texting while driving and for good reason. According to the Federal Communications Commission, every day approximately 1,161 people are injured and another 8 are killed in accidents involving distracted drivers. Generally, you'll be issued a ticket and made to pay a fine if you're caught texting and driving. However, there are some cases where it may result a more serious consequences. Here's more information about this issue.

Vehicular Homicide and Texting While Driving

If you cause an accident because you were texting while driving and someone is injured or killed as a result, you may be charged with reckless driving and/or vehicular homicide. As a driver, you have an obligation to use the road in a safe manner. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates texting causes a person to take their eyes off the road for 5 seconds, resulting in them blindly traveling the length of a football field for that period of time.

Since the dangers of distracted driving are fairly well known, this may be enough for a prosecutor to feel justified in elevating what would normally be a misdemeanor to a felony homicide or manslaughter charge if someone died or reckless driving if there were only injuries and/or property damage.

In Massachusetts, for example, a teen was recently convicted of motor vehicle homicide by texting, a first for the state. According to available information, the teen was reading or responding to a text when his vehicle drifted abruptly into oncoming traffic and crashed into the victim.

The teen denied texting, but police secured evidence of texts sent and received barely one to two minutes before the accident occurred. The teen was charged and convicted with other crimes including negligent operation of a vehicle and using a cell phone while driving and has since been sentenced to two years in prison for the incident.

Massachusetts isn't the only state where people have faced aggravated charges stemming from causing an accident while texting. Therefore, it's critical you hire an attorney as soon as possible after the incident to help protect your rights and develop a legal strategy that may help you avoid this type of outcome.

Enhanced Civil Penalties

Another place where texting while driving can result in more serious consequences is in civil court. First of all, there's a higher chance you will be found liable for the accident if the victim can prove you were texting while driving when the collision occurred.

Even in cases where another driver is mostly at-fault for the accident, you may still be held partially liable because the court may feel the accident wouldn't have been as bad had you been paying attention to the road rather than your cell phone. In states with comparative negligence laws, you may still be required to pay a percentage of the damages based on the amount of liability the court assigns to you (e.g. 20 percent liability means being ordered to pay 20 percent of the damages).

Second, since texting while driving can be seen as a reckless act, the court may order you to pay punitive damages. This is money you must pay the plaintiff above and beyond the person's normal damages and losses. The whole purpose of punitive damages is to punish you for your actions and to deter you (and others) from engaging in the same behavior in the future.

There are many consequences associated with texting while driving. If you find yourself getting in legal trouble because of this issue, it's critical you contact an attorney right away. The lawyer can guide you on the best way to handle the situation that may help you avoid some or all these issues. For help with a case, contact a local law firm.