Most states in the U.S. have some sort of restriction on using cell phones while driving. These restrictions are known as distracted driving laws. The purpose of distracted driving laws is to prevent the number of accidents that occur each year and to protect others from drivers who may be distracted by their smartphones while operating a motor vehicle.

Smartphone use while driving not only puts yourself in danger, but also puts the other drivers and passengers around you in a potentially life-threatening situation. In addition, it can reduce the amount of damages you recover in the event of a lawsuit. For instance, if you were talking on your smartphone and it led to an accident, you could be held liable for damages since the majority of states have made this practice illegal.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence can be used as a defense in a smartphone negligence case. Although it is only available in a handful of states, contributory negligence will act as a complete bar against recovery. In such states, a defendant may be released from liability if they can prove that the plaintiff performed some act of negligence that led to the accident and thus contributed to their injuries.

For instance, in a state that recognizes a pure contributory negligence theory, the plaintiff will be barred from recovery if the defendant can prove that they were at least some percent at fault in causing the accident. So, for example, if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was also negligently using their smartphone while driving, then they may be able to get the case against them dismissed.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is often raised as an affirmative defense in lawsuits based on a claim for negligence, such as an auto accident involving the negligence use of a smartphone while driving. The basic idea behind this legal theory is that the plaintiff in the case has somehow contributed to their own injuries.

For instance, suppose the defendant was speeding while using their smartphone and the plaintiff was fiddling with their radio. If they could have prevented the accident if they had been paying attention, then the plaintiff would also be at fault for causing any injuries they sustained in the accident.

The court will examine the behavior of both parties to determine which of the two was more responsible for causing the accident. If the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was also negligent in causing the accident and therefore their injuries, then this defense could potentially reduce the amount of damages that the defendant will have to pay.

However, there are two types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. Most states follow a modified comparative negligence approach. In these states, a defendant may be able to get the case against them dismissed if they can show that the plaintiff was 51% at fault in causing the accident.

On the other hand, in a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction, the plaintiff will still be allowed to recover damages even if they are 95% at fault for causing the accident and their own injuries. Thus, the defendant could be held liable for the other 5% of damages.

What Defenses Are Available?

The plaintiff in a negligence lawsuit must be able to prove all four elements of negligence in order to bring a successful case. On the other hand, the defendant in a negligence lawsuit must be able to raise a legal defense that is specific to the plaintiff’s claims.

For example, negligence cases generally require a plaintiff to prove that the defendant owed them a reasonable duty of care and that the defendant breached that duty by acting in a way that would be unreasonable to others who found themselves in the same or a very similar situation.

After the first two elements of negligence have been established, namely, duty and breach, the plaintiff would continue on to try and prove that the defendant was both the proximate and actual cause of the accident and therefore their injuries. The plaintiff would also need to prove the fourth and final element, which is that the defendant caused the plaintiff to suffer actual damages (i.e., the injuries they sustained in the accident).

As for the defendant, if they are able to disprove one or more of these four elements or if they can show that the plaintiff was unable to prove a prima facie case of negligence, then they will most likely be able to get the case against them dismissed. This type of defense is known as either a “lack of proof” or “lack of fault” defense. It is often used in cases where the plaintiff has not sustained any injuries in the accident.

The following is a list of some other kinds of legal defenses that may be available to raise against a smartphone negligence claim. Such defenses can include:

  • Failure to mitigate damages: If a plaintiff has failed to mitigate the damages they suffered in an accident, then the defendant might be able to cite this as a defense to reduce the amount of damages that they owe. An example of a failure to mitigate damages would be if the plaintiff was injured in an accident and refused to seek medical treatment, which in turn worsened their injuries.

    • In some cases, a failure to mitigate damages might completely bar a plaintiff from recovery.
  • Statute of limitations: Statute of limitations refers to a law that prescribes a certain period of time for a plaintiff to file a lawsuit. These laws tend to vary from state to state and can differ based on the legal claim being filed. If the plaintiff of a smartphone negligence accident fails to file within the allotted amount of time, the defendant can raise this as a defense to prevent them from bringing a case and to bar recovery.

    • For example, in New York, a plaintiff will have three years to file a lawsuit against another driver and only two years if the lawsuit involves a claim for wrongful death. If the plaintiff fails to file within this time frame, then they will most likely be barred from bringing a lawsuit.
  • Extraordinary circumstances: If extraordinary circumstances, such as an emergency, justified the use of a smartphone while driving, then a defendant may be able to assert this as a defense in a smartphone negligence case.

Additionally, as discussed above, a defendant can also use contributory negligence or comparative negligence as a defense against a claim involving smartphone negligence. However, it is important to note that the two will result in different outcomes. For instance, in a state that recognizes pure comparative negligence, the defendant can still be held liable even if they were only 1% at fault for causing the accident.

In contrast, while only a handful of states allow for a pure contributory negligence defense, if the defendant can prove contributory negligence in these states, then this defense will serve as a complete bar against recovery. In other words, the defendant would not be liable for damages if they successfully assert a contributory negligence defense and the accident occurred in either Maryland, Alabama, Virginia, and/or North Carolina.

Lastly, there are also some jurisdictions that will protect a defendant from having to pay damages if they can prove that the plaintiff was 51% or more at fault for causing the accident. Again, this concept is referred to as modified comparative negligence and it is the approach that has been adopted by most states.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Smartphone negligence defenses can be quite complicated to apply in a case without the help of a lawyer. Therefore, if you are being sued for causing an accident due to smartphone negligence, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local car accident attorney for further assistance with your case.

An experienced car accident attorney will already be familiar with the most current smartphone laws in your area and can use them to determine whether there are any defenses available that you might be able to assert against a claim. Your attorney can also inform you of your rights under the law and can ensure that those rights are protected.

In addition, your attorney can provide legal representation in court and can raise your chances of receiving the best possible outcome based on the facts of the case. Alternatively, a personal injury attorney can also help you file a lawsuit as well as recover damages if you have been injured in an accident because of smartphone negligence.