Distracted driving refers to when a driver engages in a separate activity at the same time in which they are operating a motor vehicle. Although there are many kinds of activities that may divert a driver’s attention away from focusing on the road in front of them, distracted driving usually involves doing a cell-phone related activity. Examples of this include talking on the phone, texting, or composing an email. 

Other tasks that may be considered forms of distracted driving include:

  • Searching for a playlist on your phone;
  • Applying make-up;
  • Eating food or drinking beverages;
  • Yelling at other passengers in the car; 
  • Rummaging in a bag or checking the backseat for your phone; 
  • Rubbernecking; and/or
  • Taking photos.

Basically, if you are doing something that causes you to take your hands off the steering wheel or to concentrate on something other than your driving, then you may be taking part in a distracted driving activity.

What are Distracted Driving Laws? 

Although distracted driving laws can vary both by state and by county, the majority of states have enacted some version of distracted driving laws. Montana is currently the only state that does not have statewide distracted driving laws in place. However, a few of the more populous counties (e.g., Helena and Missoula) in Montana have enacted their own distracted driving regulations. 

The purpose of most distracted driving statutes is to reduce a driver’s phone usage while driving. This is why so many state statutes ban the use of hand-held devices and explicitly say “no texting while driving.”

In contrast, there are a handful of states that have implemented broad distracted driving laws. The text of these statutes will provide a general description of what is considered distracted driving, as opposed to a more specific one that tells a driver which activities they can or cannot do. A state statute that provides a broad definition will say something like, “Drivers must refrain from those activities that are not necessary to operating a motor vehicle.”

How Do You Prove Negligent or Distracted Driving?

Many distracted driving cases are based on a claim for negligence. Thus, in order to receive a favorable outcome in a distracted driving case, the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate the following four elements to prove that the other driver was negligent:

  • Duty of care: First, a plaintiff must show that the driver owed a duty of care to others around them. In general, all drivers can comply with the duty of care standard by obeying traffic laws, driving in a safe manner, and by making a reasonable effort to avoid injuring others while driving. The key component here is reasonableness. 
  • Breach of duty: Second, a plaintiff will have to prove that the other driver breached the standard duty of care by showing that a reasonable driver would not have acted like the defendant did if they were faced with the same scenario. For instance, if the driver rolled through a stop sign because they were playing with their phone, as opposed to stopping at it like other prudent drivers. 
  • Actual and proximate cause: After proving duty and breach, a plaintiff must prove that the other driver was both the actual and proximate cause of their resulting injuries. In other words, did they actually cause the accident and was the accident foreseeable based on the other driver’s careless or reckless actions. 
  • Damages: The fourth and final element relates to the plaintiff’s injury or damages caused by the accident. A plaintiff can usually prove this element by submitting medical reports, hospital bills, police reports, property damage, and so forth.

What Injuries Can Distracted Driving Result In?

Distracted driving can result in a number of different injuries, such as:

  • Property damage (e.g., a person’s own car, another person’s car, or to the land);
  • Physical injuries (both internal and external);
  • Emotional injuries (e.g., emotional distress, mental anguish, etc.); and/or
  • Legal consequences (e.g., financial injuries).

What are the Consequences of Distracted Driving?

Depending on the specific facts of a case and the laws of the state hearing the case, a distracted driver can face any of the following consequences:

  • Monetary fines;
  • Civil damages;
  • Misdemeanor or felony charges (note that if convicted, these can include having to pay criminal fines and/or a prison sentence); 
  • Court-ordered driving courses;
  • Points on the driver’s license; 
  • Suspension or revocation of the driver’s license or vehicle; and/or
  • Increased insurance rates.

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

A person who has been injured by a negligent or distracted driver may be able to recover damages. Plaintiffs to these cases are generally awarded some amount of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages reimburse the injured party for expenses they were forced to cover as a result of the accident, such as hospital bills, surgical procedures, and property damage. 

In some instances, the court may also require the defendant to pay punitive damages. For instance, if the defendant has repeatedly been cited for distracted driving, then the court may issue punitive damages on top of all other damages. Punitive damages are usually only awarded in extreme cases. It should be noted that the cap for punitive damages in Virginia is $350,000.

Are There any Unique Distracted Driving Laws in the Fairfax Area? 

In 2020, the state of Virginia passed a distracted driving law banning the use of hand-held communication devices while driving. This law officially goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

Other unique distracted driving laws that apply in the Fairfax area include:

  • It is illegal to stream or watch videos, TV, or motion pictures while driving. Although drivers are permitted to use their phone for GPS purposes, if they are caught using a device to watch videos and are convicted, the driver can receive points on their license and a fine.
  • Like most states with distracted driving laws, it is also illegal to use a cell phone to text, make phone calls, draft emails, read communications, search for pre-existing contacts, snap photos, and so on, while driving a vehicle in the Fairfax area.

Additionally, there are various other distracted driving laws that apply to the entire state, not just the Fairfax area. There are also some exceptions to these statewide laws. For instance, all Virginia drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving, even if it is a hands-free device. However, a driver under the age of 18 is allowed to use their cell phone in the event of an emergency.

To find out more about the laws that specifically pertain to Fairfax drivers, it is important to consult local DMV resources and/or the advice of a Fairfax attorney.

How Do I File a Distracted Driving Lawsuit in Fairfax? 

An injured party in a distracted driving accident has three options: they can settle with the insurance company, file a lawsuit against the other driver, or simply, do nothing. However, an injured party should consider speaking to a Fairfax lawyer before they make any decisions. A lawyer can help the party to decide which course of legal action is right for their matter.

If the injured person decides to file a distracted driving lawsuit, they must file a complaint with the local court. They can either hire an attorney to assist them with this process, which is strongly recommended, or they may do so on their own by visiting the Virginia Judicial System Court Self-Help website. 

After they have filed a complaint, they will have to serve a certified copy of the complaint on the defendant to the case, and make sure that they follow all local court rules regarding procedure. Once the defendant is notified about the court case filed against them, the steps from this point onwards will depend on the facts of the case and how the defendant responds to the plaintiff’s complaint. 

For example, a defendant may ask to settle outside of court. Thus, why it is so crucial to speak to a Fairfax lawyer about a case. They can guide an individual through different types of legal procedures, while at the same time, ensuring that they comply with all local and state laws.

What are the Defenses for Negligent or Distracted Driving? 

Defendants accused of distracted driving may be able to raise one of the following defenses against a claim, including

  • Statute of limitations; 
  • Failure to mitigate or reduce damages;
  • Extraordinary circumstances (e.g., if there was an emergency);
  • Lack of proof or fault; and/or
  • Contributory or modified comparative negligence. 

Should I Hire a Fairfax Injury Lawyer for Help?

Lawsuits involving claims for distracted driving can be quite difficult to navigate without any legal assistance. As such, if you have been injured in a distracted driving accident, then you should consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer for further advice.

A Fairfax injury lawyer will be familiar with the most up-to-date distracted driving laws in your county, which they can then use to address the facts of a case to assess whether you have a supportable claim. Additionally, your attorney can also help you prepare and file your case, represent you in court, and devise a legal strategy that will provide the best possible outcome for your particular matter.