Sunday, September 20, 2015

Florida Texting While Driving Law and Civil Liability



Florida Texting While Driving Law and Civil Liability


 By Beau Blackwell

Florida Statute § 316.305 was enacted in 2013 as the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.[i]  This law states that an individual may not drive an automobile “while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data in such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.”[ii]  A “wireless communication device” is any handheld device capable of being used in a handheld manner that is used to receive or send text messages, access or store data, or connect to the internet.[iii]

Any person who violates this statute commits a noncriminal traffic infraction punishable as a nonmoving violation. [iv] Police may not pull you over for merely texting while driving and not breaking any other laws.[v]  “Violation of the law is considered a secondary offense, meaning a police officer can't pull someone over for just texting. The driver must be committing another violation such as speeding or running a stop sign. If there's an accident, motorists' cell phone records can be used against them only if the accident results in death or personal injury.”[vi]

Exceptions

Like nearly all laws, there are several exceptions.

1.      A driver may use their device for navigational purposes. 
2.      The device may be used for reporting emergencies. 
3.      The driver may use voice commands on their device. 
4.      The device may be used for listening to music or other programs that does not require typing.
5.      The driver may also use their device to receive emergency alerts.[vii]
6.      Stationery vehicles are not subject to these rules.[viii] For example, a driver is allowed to text while stopped at a stop light.

Multi-Million Dollar Verdict for Texting While Driving Victim

On December 20, 2010, a 26 year-old, Florida woman was a passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend.[ix]  The woman’s boyfriend ran a stop sign because he was texting, and drove into the path of a tractor trailor. The woman tragically sustained a traumatic brain injury that put her in a coma for three weeks. The woman is now permanently disabled. 

The woman filed suit in Flager County Circuit Court, accusing the defendant boyfriend of negligence for texting while driving that resulted in the crash. The plaintiff pursued compensatory and non-compensatory damages for her disability. The matter was resolved by a bench verdict for $4,300,000 in damages.[x]

Employers May be Liable for Dangerous Texting of Employees

Under the theory of vicarious liability, one person, although entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, is nonetheless held responsible for harm caused by the wrongful act of another.[xi]  Vicarious liability is an indirect liability.[xii] For instance, a business is burdened with the liability resulting from the negligence of its employees; namely, the employee's liability is imputed to the employer.[xiii]

An employer may be liable if an employee has an accident while texting.  For example, the employer could be liable if the employer was driving a business vehicle, using a business cell phone, or carrying out employer business while driving.[xiv]


[i] FL ST § 316.305
[ii] 4A Fla. Jur 2d Automobiles and Other Vehicles § 578.50
[iii] Id.
[iv] § 316.305(4)(a), Fla. Stat.
[v] § 316.305(5), Fla. Stat.
[vi] Lisa Berg, Florida Bans Texting While Driving, 25 Fla. Emp. L. Letter.
[vii] Id. 
[viii] Id. 
[ix] 24 Fla. J.V.R.A. 9:14, 2014 WL 5463441 (Fla.Cir.Ct.).
[x] Id. 
[xi] 38 Fla. Jur 2d Negligence § 101
[xii] Id. 
[xiii] Id. 
[xiv] Lisa Berg, Florida Bans Texting While Driving, 25 Fla. Emp. L. Letter.

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