Texting and driving has become such an epidemic in this country that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a cellular telephone in most states. Harsh penalties and fines can accompany a citation for driving and texting or calling someone without the use of a hands-free device. Penalties can be much more severe, however, if your carelessness leads to the death of someone else. These accidents can lead to wrongful death lawsuits by the family members of the injured party, and can lead to thousands of dollars in damages.
Illinois law provides relief to those who have been harmed by someone else’s carelessness. This includes relief for family members whose loved ones have been killed following a motor vehicle accident if it was caused by careless or reckless behavior, such as texting while driving. The law prohibits the use of any “electronic communication device” and includes cell phones, hand-held personal digital assistants, and computers, but interestingly does not include GPS (global positioning system) use. One could ask whether use of a GPS application on one’s cell phone would constitute a violation under the law, but in a wrongful death situation, it is likely that such actions could be viewed as “use of a cell phone.” The law provides that a person who is found to have injured another person while violating the law will be guilty of the offense of “aggravated use of an electronic communication device.” Further, use of such a device that leads to the death of another person can lead to a Class 4 felony.
Examples in the News
There are news stories almost daily reporting on individuals who chose to drive while distracted. Whether a driver is driving and texting, or driving while drunk, the outcome is often unfortunately the same. Those who are injured in an accident do not care whether the cause was one reckless behavior or another. One teen discovered the consequences of her actions last Fall, when she pled guilty to texting while driving and causing the death of a 45-year-old cyclist. She was given two years of probation for the offense, but she was facing a potential prison sentence under the law. While the judge was lenient, likely due to her acceptance of responsibility for the accident. She was also ordered to perform 150 hours of community service, specifically to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
The penalty could have been much worse, however, had the victim’s family decided to seek damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. It is important for anyone who has lost a loved one to distracted driving to realize that the criminal justice system is not their only recourse after an accident. Wrongful death actions can be brought under civil statutes. Illinois’ wrongful death statute allows for damages in the amount that is “fair and just” and includes monetary relief for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.”
If you or a loved one has lost someone due to another person’s distracted driving, call Robert T. Edens, P.C today and speak to an attorney who can help you understand the law. While the criminal justice system can provide some comfort, in Illinois families of victims do not need to be left grieving and suffering without recourse. Wrongful death actions allow for a family to obtain needed compensation to help them on their road to recovery.