$8.8 Million Verdict in Texting Death, But No Florida Law Against Distracted Driving
An $8.8 million award to the family of a Miami woman killed in a texting while driving accident has drawn attention to Florida’s lack of distracted driving laws.
- Phone records used to prove texting while driving
- Florida has shot down proposed distracted driving laws since 2002
- Six new potential laws in the works for 2012
Death by Texting
Myriam del Socorro Lopez and her husband were driving through Miami in 2008 when their car was struck by defendant Luis Cruz-Govin, then 17. Lopez was killed in the accident, while her husband suffered substantial injuries.
According to phone company records produced by lawyers for Lopez’s family, Cruz-Govin was texting his girlfriend when the accident occurred.
While Cruv-Govin paid fines and lost his license for speeding and reckless driving charges, he was never charged with vehicular homicide. Nor were there criminal penalties for his phone activity, because Florida has no laws against calling, texting, sending emails or otherwise manipulating electronic devices while driving a car.
Goldfarb produced phone records that showed Cruz-Govin had sent a text to his girlfriend at 8:19 pm the night of the accident. At 8:21 pm, paramedics were called. The defendant maintained that he had sent the text while sitting at a stop-sign prior to the accident, but the plaintiff’s evidence combined with Cruz-Govin’s speeding and erratic lane changes were enough to convince the jury to award the Lopez’s family $8.8 million for her death.
State Has Resisted Laws for 10 Years
Texting while driving expert Dr. David Strayer from the University of Utah, author of the study Driven To Distraction, testified at the trial that texting drivers are eight times more likely to get in an accident, compared to four times more likely for drunk drivers. “If you have DUI laws, why don’t you have texting laws?” Goldfarb asks.
Last month the National Transportation Safety Board called all states to outlaw cell phone use by drivers, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that phone use was involved in 3,092 highway deaths in 2010.
Florida is one of only 15 states that have no laws governing cell-phone use in cars. Not only does Florida lack any state-wide law against texting, cities and counties are not allowed to implement their own bans.
Legislators have attempted to enact distracted driving laws as far back as 2002, but none have ever made it into law. A number of efforts again failed in 2011, including a measure that would require the DMV to educate drivers on the dangers of electronic distractions that made it all the way to Governor Rick Scott’s desk before he vetoed it. At least six different laws are under consideration again this year. Some laws would only make texting a secondary offense, meaning police could not stop a driver for texting unless the driver committed another violation at the same time.
That’s not enough, says Goldfarb. “To me, there should be no doubt that this should be a primary law,” he says. “Anytime an officer sees someone texting, that should be a substantial ticket. I think if there’s a significant accident, officers should examine the drivers’ phones immediately so they can look and determine if they were a factor.”
“I hope that we help public awareness and propagate laws that actually have some bite in them,” Goldfarb says. “This has a devastating effect on families.”
Aaron Kase is a news reporter for Lawyers.com.
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