It's been almost two years since Ohio legislators enacted a ban on texting while driving - one of the strictest in the nation, particularly for novice drivers.
Ohio Revised Code 4511.204 holds that no person operating a motor vehicle is allowed to do so while using a handheld, electronic wireless communications device to write, send or read a text-based communication.
On its own, a violation for someone under-18 will result in a two-month license suspension, plus $150. For adults, it's simply a $150 fine. However, the Columbus personal injury lawyers of The Smith Law Firm know that when these actions result in serious injury or death, the penalties can be much steeper, as such behavior is deemed "reckless," and therefore the basis for a felony charge.
It can be a challenge, though, whether in criminal or civil court, to prove that a defendant was distracted by his or her phone at the time of the crash.
A recent case out of Gurnsey County, about 1.5 hours east of Columbus, illustrates this point.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that a 17-year-old driver was reportedly texting with his girlfriend in the minutes before he slammed into another vehicle, killing a 35-year-old mother and injuring her two young daughters. Prosecutors allege he was speeding and texting at the time of the wreck. They noted the exchange of text messages and the amount of time between the last text and the time the teen placed a panicked call to his father to tell him about the crash - just four minutes.
And yet, the judge dismissed the felony charge of aggravated vehicular homicide because prosecutors were unable to definitively prove he'd been texting. As defense lawyers pointed out, he might have sent that last text two minutes before the crash. Or it might have been two seconds. But there was no real way to know. In the end, he was convicted of misdemeanor vehicular homicide.
Of course, that doesn't stop the victim's family from pursuing civil action against the driver. The insurance company of an at-fault driver may be compelled to pay damages regardless of whether recklessness comes into play. But proof of recklessness can sometimes bolster the overall amount of compensation - particularly for punitive damages, or damages that are ordered with the intent to punish the at-fault driver.
While the threshold of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal cases (a preponderance of the evidence versus a finding beyond a reasonable doubt), some of the same challenges exist.
Phone records can be subpoenaed, but as this case shows, sometimes those only reveal so much. In a lot of cases, what we find is that a person may not be actively typing or dialing, but rather looking at a phone at the time of a crash. Proving that can be tougher.
We look therefore not only to cell phone records, but also witness statements and any statements made by the defendant at the time of the crash.
The effectiveness of this argument often depends on the experience of your legal team.
Contact the Columbus car accident lawyers at the Smith Law Office today. Call 800-930-SCOTT or complete the online contact form to schedule a free consultation.