Is A Distracted Driver Always at Fault in Ohio?

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If drivers are distracted and focused on something else, it's normal to think that any accident that arises from their inattention is their fault, right?

Not necessarily. While distracted driving may certainly contribute to a car crash happening, Ohio laws are more complex and tend to look at the bigger picture. So regardless of whether you are a driver accused of a distracted driver or a victim of a car accident caused by one, it's better to seek the assistance of personal injury lawyers because in the state of Ohio, no lawsuit is without its twists and turns.

What is Distracted Driving?

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Before we get to the legalities, let's first determine what constitutes distracted driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, defines distracted driving as driving while engaged in another activity that takes away your focus from the act of driving. Anything can become a distraction if it takes their attention away from the road and other motorists.

Distracted Driving can be broken down into 3 types:

  • Visual - This constitutes anything that takes your eyes off the road. Cell phone use, or looking at your passenger while talking to them is considered a visual distraction.
  • Manual - Any type of distraction that causes the driver to take their hands off the wheel. This can include sending a text message to someone else or eating while on the road.
  • Cognitive - This is when the driver has other things on their mind aside from driving. The driver might be physical there - their eyes might be on the road, and their hands are on the wheel - but their mind is somewhere else.

Common Types of Accidents Caused by Distracted Driving

  • Rear-End Collisions - Rear-end accidents are the most common type of distracted driving accident, and fortunately, most rear-end collisions result only in minor injuries. Usually, Rear-end accidents happen when a driver is too distracted to notice that the car in front of them has stopped and they fail to brake in time. While most fender benders are minor, if the distracted driver was speeding, it can also lead to serious injuries like neck and spinal cord injuries.
  • Head-on Collisions - Distracted drivers often crash into other vehicles head-on because their eyes are often somewhere else other than the road. For example, a driver is busy texting on their phone and failed to notice that their car has swerved into the other lane and into oncoming traffic. Sometimes, the other cars are caught unaware and are unable to swerve out of the way of the oncoming car. While most head-on collisions involve two or more vehicles, a distracted driver can also collide head-on with a solid object such as a lamppost, a sign, or a highway barrier. Head-on collisions are the most serious and can cause traumatic brain injuries and even permanent disability.
  • Side-impact collisions - Side-impact collisions are also called T-bone collisions, simply because of the shape they make. This usually happens when one car hits the side of another car head-on. This type of accident usually happens in intersections, where focus and concentration are of utmost importance. Intersections are busy and cars usually come from all 4 directions, so drivers must pay special attention when they are passing through an intersection. Side-impact collisions happen when a driver is too distracted to either pay attention to the changing traffic light or forget the presence of other motorists.

Who Is at Fault in a Distracted Driving Accident?

People often think that when it comes to a distracted driving accident, the at fault party is automatically the distracted or negligent driver. However, things are not as simple as that, especially in the state of Ohio. The state follows the Modified Comparative Fault Law, which assigns percentages to the degree of fault by all parties involved. For example, if both parties are equally responsible for the accident, the courts may say both are 50% at fault for the accident. If one party bears the majority of the fault, but the other party is also partly responsible, the courts may decide that one party is 75% responsible, while the other is 25% responsible.

At first glance, this comparative negligence law may seem unfavorable towards the victims of the accident. After all, insurance companies often rely on this law when they try to turn the tables on the victim in an effort to devalue their personal injury lawsuit or have it thrown out completely. For example, if you are a victim of a distracted driver, the other party's insurance company will try to find fault in you in an effort to get your lawsuit thrown out by the courts. This is because in Ohio, if you bear at least 51% of the blame, you can't sue the other party for damages and if you do, you will receive no compensation for it.

Filing a Personal Injury Claim in Ohio

Does this mean that filing a personal injury claim in the state of Ohio is biased against victims? Not really. The law is in place to prevent people from being lawsuit-happy, and to prevent the at-fault party from appealing or counter-suing after damages have been awarded. The law is there to ensure that money goes to people who are legitimate victims of distracted driving crashes.

If you are a victim of a distracted driving case, it's better to hire an auto accident attorney to negotiate on your behalf. An attorney will try to gather enough evidence to prove that the party is at least 51% responsible for the accident. If you hire an experienced car accident attorney, you can get fair compensation without taking things to court.

A personal injury lawsuit is a battle built on evidence. To prove that the other party is the at fault driver, there are two things you need to do. You need to prove that the other driver was distracted, hence causing the accident, and you have to prove that you were not responsible for the accident in any shape and form. 

Some pieces of evidence you may need to gather are the following:

  • Police report - the police officer who responds to the accident scene will usually file an accident report, which can be used as evidence later on. Because the report is written by a third party, the courts will see it as impartial and unbiased, and will most likely believe it over both party's testimonies. Police officers will also usually conduct breathalyzer tests if they suspect that one of the parties is drunk. Alcohol-related crash scenes are usually associated with distracted driving because alcohol-impaired drivers cannot focus on driving, and have diminished or blurry vision.
  • Paramedics testimony - The paramedics at the scene will usually administer first aid if the injuries are not that serious, and will usually take any seriously individual to the hospital. The paramedics can testify as to the seriousness of your injuries. Although it does not necessarily follow that the victim is always the party that's more seriously injured, it can help establish who hit who and why.
  • Phone records - Although these are hard to obtain from the other party, you can always submit your own phone records to prove that you were not using the phone while driving. Phone records also come in handy if you're the person being accused of distracted driving.
  • Dashcam Footage - Dashcam footage can also help in the determination of fault in drunk driving crashes. For example, dashcam footage can clearly prove if another car has swerved outside of their lane and into oncoming traffic, thereby hitting the victim's car head-on. It can also help clear you if you're being accused of distracted driving. In a rear-end crash, dashcam footage can prove if you're observing the proper spacing between cars and if the car in front of you did some sudden braking, causing the crash.
  • Traffic Cam Footage - Traffic cams provide solid evidence in distracted driving cases. Technology has come a long way, and nowadays it's possible to see if drivers were on their mobile phones prior to a motor vehicle accident. It can also prove if a vehicle was speeding, or if the driver's eyes were not on the road before the accident occurred.

Why You Should Hire a Driving Accident Lawyer

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While the OHio statute on Comparative Fault may seem like a hurdle preventing you from getting the financial compensation you truly deserve, it's possible to win a drunk driving accident lawsuit and get awarded for damages. Unlike criminal proceedings, you don't need to prove who the at-fault party is beyond a reasonable doubt. You only need to show evidence proving that the other party is responsible for at least 51% of the accident. Once you establish that, you're guaranteed that your lawsuit won't get dismissed, and you can then focus on showing evidence that establishes the gravity of your injuries to get you the compensation you deserve.

At Babin Law, LLC in Columbus, we have personal injury lawyers who are skilled at handling distracted driving accidents. Whether you're accused of drunk driving or are the victim of a drunk driver, you should never go through the process alone. Our personal injury attorneys will always be by your side throughout the entire process. We won't stop until your rights are acknowledged and justice has been served.

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