What Classifies as a Distracted Driver in an Injury Case

Posted by Ryan Russman | Jun 03, 2014 | 0 Comments

In New Hampshire an individual who is hurt in a car accident maybe entitled to seek compensation when the crash was caused by another party's negligence. In auto accidents, this usually means a negligent driver. But what exactly classifies as driver negligence? According to New Hampshire law RSA 265:79-b, a driver can be charged criminally for negligent driving if they operate a vehicle “in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property” or violates RSA 626:2 II (d) which states:

A person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he fails to become aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that his failure to become aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

One example of this type of behavior is being a distracted driver. Drivers are considered distracted when they take their hands off the steering wheel for any reason, take their eyes off the road or stop paying attention to the task of driving. A distraction can be caused by anything from a ringing cell phone, to a child in the backseat to a song on the radio. A distraction can even be caused by an object on the windshield.

The Trenton Times reports that the estate of a deceased woman who was involved in a 2006 car accident recently won an injury case against the driver who hit her.  The jury awarded $378,000 in damages after they determined that the driver was negligent because of a stuffed Garfield animal that was hanging from the rearview mirror. The jury believes that the plush toy blocked the driver's field of vision significantly enough to be a distraction and that having the object hanging from the mirror was significant enough to be considered negligent.

In 2006, 52-year-old Ellen Henkle was hit by Thomas Hill who was driving a black Ford Mustang. Hill changed lanes and collided into Henkle. His defense argued that he checked his mirrors and turned his head to check his blind spot but was not able to react quickly enough when he turned his head back and saw Henkle's vehicle. Henkle's lawyers argued that the accident could have been avoided had Hill removed a stuffed animal that was blocking his view.

As a result of the accident Henkle suffered debilitating injuries that required multiple surgeries and left her disabled. She passed away four years later from natural causes, but her injury case continued. Henkle's estate was awarded $378,000 and her husband, who cared for her after the accident, was awarded $95,000 by the jury this March.

When a driving error results in a serious or fatal accident, victims have the right to seek compensation for their injuries. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in an auto accident in Exeter, Manchester or Portsmouth, contact a New Hampshire injury attorney right away to find out more about these rights.

About the Author

Ryan Russman

Attorney Ryan Russman has dedicated his career to fighting for the rights of New Hampshire citizens. His practice, based in Exeter (Rockingham County) New Hampshire, is limited to cases involving DWI and DUI, other motor vehicle and criminal cases, and many cases involving personal injury. He is, however, best known as one of New Hampshire's leading legal authorities on DWI.


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