A new Utah law that went into effect in May 2009 now punishes a driver who text messages as severely as it would a Utah drunk driver who causes an accident. Legislatures who considered this bill felt that the decision to text while driving is intentional, like the decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated or hopped up on drugs. “It’s a willful act,” said state senator Lyle Hillyard. “If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose to text and drive, you’re assuming the same risk.” Under the new law, driving while texting in Utah is now considered “reckless” behavior and opens the door for punitive damages against that person if he injures someone while text messaging. The only other state in the union that has a law this tough is Alaska, where someone could be punished with a felony and up to 20 years in prison.
All this came about from the crash that killed two men, James Furaro, 38 and his passenger Keith P. O’Dell, 50, as they were commuting to work at ATK Launch Systems, near Logan, Utah, where they worked designing and building rocket boosters. On that day, September 22, 2006, Reggie Shaw, a 19 year old college student was texting while driving. He had been seen driving over the double yellow line by a witness a short time before the collision. As he approached the car the two men were in, he again crossed over the double yellow line, clipping the Saturn vehicle. This caused the car to spin, where it was hit by a pickup truck pulling a trailer with horseshoes and other equipment. By reports, the two scientists died instantly. Mr. Shaw initially denied that he was texting while driving, but his phone records showed otherwise. He eventually confessed that it was in fact text messaging that caused this Utah car accident.
Video Courtesy of KSL.com.
Now, Mr. Shaw has turned advocate against texting while driving. (This came in part from the sentence that the judge gave, where Shaw was ordered to read the book “Les Misérables” in order to learn, like the book’s character Jean Valjean, how he could make a contribution to society following this tragic car accident. Shaw’s presentation to Utah’s legislature was said to be a turning point in their consideration of a bill sponsored by Hillyard.
Now, offenders who are found to have been texting while driving will face a misdemeanor charge and up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $750. If a text messaging driver causes a Utah car accident, the consequences are much worse: up to 15 years in prison and a felony on their record.
Proving that a driver was texting while driving, however, may prove difficult. There would first need to be witnesses that saw this take place, so that there would be cause to request phone records. Once obtained, phone records can certainly show if the driver was text messaging.
One thing is clear: the insurance company of a driver who causes a Utah car accident while texting will be paying out much more than they would otherwise. Here at the Kramer Law Group, our Utah personal injury lawyers have represented persons injured because of someone who became distracted while texting and driving. For example, we represented the gentleman injured in a crash, as reported on KSL.com. The woman who caused the crash, to her credit, admitted that she had been driving while text messaging. Her admission made our job of proving this fact, obviously, much easier and we were able to collect policy limits on our client’s case. What really adds value to these Utah text messaging accident cases, though, is the fact that punitive damages are a legally foregone conclusion.
Ron Kramer is a Utah personal injury and accident lawyer practicing throughout the state. Call the Kramer Law Group today at 801-666-3959 for a free consultation if you are in need of a Utah car accident attorney.