Operators of motor vehicles have a duty of care to other drivers on the road. Drivers must operate their vehicles with a level of care and skill sufficient to avoid injuring another driver. If a driver does not observe this duty of care, and another driver is injured as a result, the driver has acted negligently.

One of the main causes of negligent driving is driving while distracted. A distracted driver is a driver who, instead of focusing on the road in front of them, is diverting attention, to objects such as cell phones, or to people, by conversing with them.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is an offense in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia. Distracted driving is any behavior or activity, that shifts a driver’s attention away from the task of driving. Distracted driving takes a number of forms, which include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Using a cell phone while driving
  • Drinking or eating while driving
  • Grooming oneself (e.g., brushing one’s hair) while driving
  • Looking at a GPS device, map, or other document, object, or device, while driving

All of these activities have been to impair the visual and cognitive attention of a driver.. These impairments increase the risk of a crash.

What are Distracted Driving Laws?

DC distracted driving laws impose a ban on a driver’s use of any handheld device while driving. Handheld devices require the use of a driver’s hands to operate and include cell phones, tablets, laptops, and readers. DC’s distracted driving laws also prohibit drivers from texting while driving. Drivers who violate these laws may be pulled over and ticketed.

What is Needed to Prove Negligent or Distracted Driving?

To prove distracted driving, a plaintiff must demonstrate that several elements are present. These include:

  • The defendant, as a motorist, owed a duty of care to the plaintiff to drive in a non-negligent fashion.
  • The defendant breached this duty by engaging in distracted driving.
  • The distracted driving legally caused the plaintiff to sustain injuries.
  • The injuries resulted in plaintiff sustaining damages (monetary losses)

What Types of Injuries Can Distracted Driving Cause?

Distracted driving injuries can include injuries to the spine, neck,and back. If these injuries are severe, the injuries can result in death. Distracted driving injuries may cause permanent disfiguration of a body part. This disfiguration may require amputation of a limb, or may require the plaintiff to use a wheelchair or other device to assist with mobility.

What are the Legal Consequences of Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving, if observed by the police, can result in issuance of monetary fines. If distracted driving results in a driver ‘s damaging property, a court can order the defendant to pay for the cost of repairs to the property. If distracted driving results in injury to another person, the defendant may be held liable for damages (monetary compensation) sustained by that person.

Can I Receive Damages if I’ve Been Injured by a Negligent or Distracted Driver?

A plaintiff who is injured by a motorist’s negligent or distracted driving may recover damages. The term “damages” refers to a sum of money that a court orders a defendant to pay a plaintiff, to compensate the plaintiff for certain losses. These losses consist of expenses resulting from the injury. If, for example, a plaintiff’s injury requires the plaintiff to take a prescription medication, a court may award damages to cover the costs of the medication.

Are There any Special Distracted Driving Laws in D.C.?

A Washington, D.C. law called the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 (“MVCRA”) applies in situations where distracted drivers injure non-motorized transportation users. Non-motorized transportation users include pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders.

In some instances, a non-motorized transportation user may act negligently in bringing about their injury, in addition to the driver’s negligence. The MVCRA allows negligent non-transportation users to recover a portion of the damages, provided the non-negligent non-transportation user is found to be 50% or less at fault in an accident with a motor vehicle.

The damages the non-transportation can recover will equal the amount by which the defendant is at fault, or negligent. This means,for example, if a judge or a jury determines that a pedestrian was 20% at fault (negligent) in the collision, the pedestrian will receive 80% of the total possible damages .

The MVCRA is an exception to the general “contributory negligence” rule in D.C., Under the contributory negligence rule, if a plaintiff is even slightly at fault for a collision with another motor vehicle, the plaintiff is barred from recovering damages. For a defendant to prove the defense of contributory negligence, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff acted negligently, and that this negligence contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

How Do I File a Distracted Driving Lawsuit in D.C.?

A plaintiff files a distracted driving lawsuit in D.C. by filing two documents, a summons and complaint, with the Civil Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The plaintiff must also ensure that the defendant receives a copy of these documents. A plaintiff must file a document with the clerk of the court, known as a case information form. The plaintiff must indicate, on the form, that the type of claim the plaintiff is bringing, is one for negligence.

Are There any Defenses for Negligent or Distracted Driving?

In addition to contributory negligence, a defendant can assert that a plaintiff’s injuries were caused not by negligence, but by a manufacturing or design defect of the defendant’s vehicle. To prevail on this defense, a defendant must show that the manufacturing or design defect was present when the defendant was operating the vehicle. The defendant also must prove that the defect was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

A defendant may also raise the statute of limitations as a defense. The D.C. statute of limitations for personal injury is three years. This period runs from the date on which the injury was sustained. If the plaintiff does not file a lawsuit during this period, a defendant may raise the statute of limitations to a subsequent claim. This can result in the dismissal of a plaintiff’s claim.

In DC, there is a limited exception to this three-year rule. Certain injuries are not immediately discoverable. A plaintiff may not experience symptoms until a period of time after the accident. If a plaintiff, acting diligently, does not discover an injury or harm, or their symptoms, until after the accident, the statute of limitations may be extended. This extension can be made under DC’s “discovery of harm” rule.

Under this rule, a plaintiff may demonstrate that they did not discover a harm, nor could they have discovered it with reasonable diligence, until a point in time after the accident. If the discovery is “late,” a court may order the statute of limitations to begin to run only when the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered a harm.

Should I Hire a D.C. Lawyer for Help With a Distracted Driving Lawsuit?

If you believe you have been injured by someone’s distracted driving, you should contact a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury lawyer in the D.C. area can review your claim, advise you as to how to proceed, and can represent you in court proceedings.