Massachusetts. In a landmark case for the state, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty on charges of vehicular homicide, texting while driving and negligent operation of a motor vehicle in a 2011 crash that fatally injured Donald Bowley, 55, of Danville, New Hampshire, and seriously injured a passenger in Bowley's car.
The teen was sentenced to two and a half years on the vehicular homicide charge and two years on the texting and causing injury charge. He will serve one year concurrently on both charges and the balance of both charges is suspended for five years. His license will be suspended for 15 years.
Georgia. A Georgia employer reportedly paid $5 million to settle a claim by a severely injured motorist. The defendant's employee was allegedly using a cell phone while driving a company vehicle that struck the plaintiff. (Smith v. Beers Skansa Inc.) In a more recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment granted to an employer in a case arising out of an employee's traffic accident while on the way to work. The court acknowledged that normally an employee involved in an accident while commuting to work would not implicate the employer.
Hawaii. A state employee, reportedly using her cell phone while driving, struck a pedestrian. The victim suffered severe brain damage after being struck, resulting in the state reportedly paying $1.5 million to the victim
Texas. A jury has ordered a college student, Jason Reed Vestal, to pay more than $21 million in damages after ﬁnding him grossly negligent for texing while driving, causing a fatal crash. The unanimous verdict is one of the largest yet in a texing-while-driving lawsuit. (Small v. Vestal, et al.)
Ohio. A family ﬁled a lawsuit in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court against a 17-year old minor and his parents. The lawsuit is seeking more than $25,000 in damages. The vicim was walking west on Parkway Drive in St. Marys on Sept. 8 when the minor ran her over, killing her. The minor was convicted as a juvenile of negligent vehicular manslaughter and sent to a juvenile prison for 30 days, said Lima atorney Al Smith. Smith said he has other evidence, including the teen's cell phone records, to show the teen was texing. The lawsuit accuses the parents of failing to supervise their child despite being aware of his propensity to text while driving. (Hertenstein v. Sawmiller, et al.)
Florida. A Miami-Dade County jury awarded $8.8 million to the family of a mother killed in a collision with a teenage driver - believed to be texing - in 2008, according to lawyers involved with the case. According to evidence presented in the case, the teenager was driving between 61 and 69 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. Records showed an outgoing text at 8:19 p.m. Paramedics were noiﬁed at 8:21. "The (defendant) was clearly a chronic texter " the vicims atorney said, citing the 127 texts the teenager sent on the day of the accident.
Florida. A Miami-Dade County jury awarded a plaintiff $21 million for injuries she suffered in a life-threatening collision. The plaintiff successfully sued the driver and the driver's employer, Dykes Industries. She successfully argued the defendant driver was preoccupied to the point that he made no attempt to stop and slammed into the woman's car. The employee driver's cell phone records were subpoenaed and the plaintiff was able to prove he had been on the cell phone talking at the time. The case reportedly settled for $16.1 million after the verdict. (Bustos v. Leiva, et al.)
Pennsylvania. Smith Barney paid a $500,000 setlement after a broker who was allegedly trying to make a sales call on his cellphone ran a traffic signal and killed a 24-year old motorcyclist.
UK Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
It is an offense to ‘cause or permit’ a driver to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. Therefore, employers can be held liable as well as the individual driver if they require employees to use a handheld phone while driving.
Sanders Case, UK
A cyclist was injured after being hit by a company car driver while he was using a hands-free mobile phone. The company representative, who was not prosecuted, was ‘on hold’ to his bank when he hit the cyclist at about 70mph. The judge in the case approved a payment of £250,000 a year for life, alongside a £1.1m lump sum, which, it was calculated, could total more than £9m during the victim’s life.
Browning Case, Liverpool, UK
A lorry driver was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for five years when he caused a fatal accident whilst composing a text message when driving his lorry.. The company driver had made a series of phone calls on his hand-held mobile phone while on the move was jailed for five years. He was chatting to his wife when he made an illegal right turn into the path of a motorcyclist.
England. When Texting Kills, Britain Offers Path to Prison
Inside the imposing British Crown Court here, Phillipa Curtis, 22, and her parents cried as she was remanded for 21 months to a high-security women’s prison, for killing someone much like herself. The victim was Victoria McBryde, an up-and-coming university-trained fashion designer.
Ms. Curtis had plowed her Peugeot into the rear end of Ms. McBryde’s neon yellow Fiat, which had broken down on the A40 Motorway, killing Ms. McBryde, 24, instantly.
The crash might once have been written off as a tragic accident. Ms. Curtis’s alcohol level was zero. But her phone, which had flown onto the road and was handed to the police by a witness, told a story that — under new British sentencing guidelines — would send its owner to jail.
In the hour before the crash, she had exchanged nearly two dozen messages with at least five friends, most concerning her encounter with a celebrity singer she had served at the restaurant where she worked.
They are filled with the mangled spellings and abbreviations that typify the new lingua franca of the young. “LOL did you sing to her?” a friend asks. Ms. Curtis replies by typing in an expletive and adding, “I sang the wrong song.” A last incoming message, never opened, came in seconds before the accident.
With that as evidence, Ms. Curtis was sentenced in February under 2008 British government directives that regard prolonged texting as a serious aggravating factor in “death by dangerous driving” — just like drinking — and generally recommend four to seven years in prison.
The case reveals the tensions that arise when law enforcement and the courts begin to crack down on a dangerous habit that has become widespread and socially acceptable. Is texting while driving bad judgment, or a heinous crime? And what is the appropriate punishment?
Upon hearing the sentence, prosecutors — backed by the police and Ms. McBryde’s mother — quickly appealed to Britain’s highest court for a longer prison term, calling 21 months “unduly lenient.”
“She came across as a lovely young girl, and I’m sure it wasn’t a nice feeling for the judge to send someone like this to prison — but someone is dead because of a text message,” said Bill Sykes, the officer who responded to the crash and led the subsequent investigation.
But many young people, among them the dead woman’s own siblings and friends, disagreed, sympathizing also with Phillipa Curtis. “I think Phillipa’s sentence was long enough, as she seemed like such a normal girl,” said Gemma Pancoust, the victim’s cousin and close friend, with whom she liked to sing karaoke to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” “Until Tory’s death I texted while driving, as have most people. I don’t think she realized the danger she was causing.”
Indeed, the victim herself had sent a text message and talked on her cellphone (using the speaker function) while driving before her car broke down, according to the testimony of a friend with whom she had the 20-minute phone conversation. It is illegal in Britain to use a hand-held phone while driving, and drivers using hands-free phones may be fined if they are deemed not in control of the vehicle.
Although most European countries and a minority of American states now ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, Britain has become one of the more aggressive countries in attacking the problem, according to Ellen Townsend, policy director for the European Transit Safety Council, which advises the European Commission.
Britain’s new guidelines state that using a hand-held phone when causing a death will “always make the offense more serious” in terms of punishment and lead to prison time. Texting is given special treatment.
Ms. Curtis was found guilty and sent to prison even though she was not texting at the time of the accident, because the new guidelines regard “reading or composing text messages over a period of time” as “a gross avoidable distraction.” Its effect, British judges have ruled, may go beyond the moment of composing a message. Such behavior is categorized the same as driving while drunk or high on drugs, as well as racing another driver.
On the night of Nov. 20, 2007, the victim, Ms. McBryde, was on her way to visit a friend when she got a flat tire at night on the highway.
She pulled to the edge of the road, two lanes in each direction, but because there was no shoulder where her car broke down, part of the vehicle extended into the outer lane. When the towing service she called could not respond, she was frightened and called her mother, Jennifer Ford, who said she would call the Automobile Club again.
In the meantime, Ms. Ford told her daughter to make sure the flashers were on and that she was pulled off the road. “She was like, ‘Mom, of course I did these things,’ ” Ms. Ford recalled in an interview.
When she called her daughter back 20 minutes later, no one answered. By that time Victoria McBryde was dead.
Police photos show an impossibly crumpled car. The belongings of its owner, a pet lover who designed wild outfits and paraphernalia for pets, were strewn about: bright pink scarves, a brown shearling coat, red gloves, a tangle of leopard skin print.
In court, the case centered on the fact that Ms. Curtis had made no effort to brake or swerve to avoid the disabled Fiat. She testified that she had never seen the other car, though road studies performed by the police demonstrated that it should have been visible from about 300 yards back on the highway.
Ms. Curtis said she believed she could drive and text at the same time, saying that she did not have to look at the keyboard or the screen to have a conversation. Like many phones, hers had predictive text — the phone would fix spelling and find the right word if she typed in a rough approximation.
“I don’t think I should be chatting away while maneuvering roundabouts,” she said in testimony, adding that she would probably have slowed down while composing messages and that texting while driving might be safe “in the right conditions.”
The police disagreed. “How could she not see it, given that the night was clear and the car’s lights were on?” Mr. Sykes said. “She was clearly distracted.”
During the trial, the lawyer who defended Ms. Curtis, Richard Latham, proved that Ms. Curtis was not sending a message in the moments before the crash. But a new text message had arrived just seconds before she plowed into the Fiat. And prosecutors contended that, in light of the long preceding text message conversation, the ping of the incoming message distracted her so that she did not notice Ms. McBryde’s disabled car.
Although cellphone records showed that the message was never opened, prosecutors said she was unable to resist trying to do so. “Since she had read all messages before, she was probably looking to read this one, too,” Mr. Sykes said.
The jury deliberated only 50 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Ms. Curtis and her family did not respond to requests for an interview through her lawyer.
The lord chief justice of England and Wales, Lloyd Jones, heard the appeal to extend the 21-month prison term. While concluding that the punishment was “lenient” and “arguably it was unduly so,” he declined.
He cited Ms. Curtis’s “positive good character” as well as her “genuine remorse” over the collision. Equally important, he said, she had already been assigned a release date from prison, making an extension cruel. But in an impassioned decision he also made it clear that the courts are now poised to take this crime seriously.
Victoria McBryde’s family, which used to celebrate holidays in their rural home with huge meals and Christmas trees they had cut themselves, has struggled. Her mother, who moved out of the family house, now lives in a shared home in Northampton and from a nearby Internet cafe wages a campaign for tougher laws.
Ms. Pancoust still posts loving messages to her dead cousin on her Facebook page. But she no longer sends texts while driving. By e-mail message, she added: “It’s sad as you have people out there who think they are invincible and things like that don’t happen to them. But it does.”