Florida 's New Texting While Driving Ban Offers Light Penalties, But May Help Strengthen Victim's Case, Says Fort Lauderdale Auto Accident Lawyer

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The Florida Legislature passed a ban on texting while driving earlier this year that went into effect last month. Fort Lauderdale auto accident lawyer Lisa S. Levine said that while the penalties for violating the law are light, the very fact that the act is illegal could provide support for the victims of those injured by distracted drivers.

If you have been the victim of a driver who was busy sending or reading text messages instead of paying attention to the road, you may have a very strong case.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed a ban on texting while driving, added to the Statutes as Fla. Stat. § 316.305. The law went into effect October 1, and specifically forbids any driver in Florida from typing in letters or other characters, from sending data or from reading data on cell phones or other wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle.

Breaking the law only carries a $30 penalty, and an officer can only cite a driver if he or she has been pulled over for some other offense. However, the law makes distracted driving a matter of "per se" negligence, strengthening the case for any victim who was injured in an accident involving texting while driving, said Fort Lauderdale auto accident lawyer Lisa S. Levine.

"We've known for a while how incredibly dangerous it is to text while driving," Levine said. "This law may or may not significantly cut down on how common this practice is. It does, however, add the force of law behind an argument that the driver who caused the accident was behaving in a way that constitutes negligence."

In most personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff, or person suing, must show that the defendant, or person being sued, was being negligent, Levine said. Negligence means that the defendant had a duty to act in a certain way, failed to act that way, and the plaintiff was injured as a result, Levine explained.

For an auto accident case, the standard is that the defendant should have behaved as a reasonable driver. Before the new law took effect, an injury victim's Fort Lauderdale distracted driving lawyer would have to prove that texting while driving constituted a breach of that duty, meaning that a reasonable driver would not text and drive.

Proving this is far from an insurmountable task, said Levine. A 2009 Virginia Tech study, updated this year, showed that texting while driving made a driver 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

However, when there is a law in place to prevent harm, the plaintiff was a person the law was intended to protect from harm, and there is a criminal penalty, including a fine, then it creates a rebuttable presumption that the defendant was negligent if he or she violated that law, Levine said. This is called "negligence per se."

The texting ban is very clear in its purpose, Levine said. The law explicitly states that its purpose is to "improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, vehicle passengers, bicyclists and other road users" and to "prevent crashes."

"The law could not be clearer that it exists to prevent accidents to anyone, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and even passengers of a person who is texting," Levine said. "If you have been the victim of a driver who was busy sending or reading text messages instead of paying attention to the road, you may have a very strong case."

Levine said accident victims should contact an attorney and not take a settlement from the driver's insurance company. The insurance company will offer the lowest settlement they can get away with, she said.

"An attorney can help victims fully recover for all their injuries, including for hospital bills, lost wages, lost ability to work and pain and suffering," she said.

Lisa S. Levine, of Lisa S. Levine, P.A., is a Fort Lauderdale auto accident lawyer who represents the victims of texting while driving and any other accident cause in Broward County, including in Weston, Miramar and Pembroke Pines.

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Lisa Levine
since: 09/2010
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Lisa Levine P.A.
since: 09/2010
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