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What is the texting while driving law in Illinois?

Because texting and driving so often causes car accidents, the Illinois texting while driving statute carries legal implications that go far beyond the risk of simply being ticketed and fined. If you are involved in an accident while texting and driving, it is very likely that the accident will be ruled in your fault and that you will be held liable for the damages of anyone injured in the accident, plus property damage. This is particularly unfortunate, because texting while driving accidents are highly preventable.

Liability is not automatic, however. There are two possible defenses: (i) you can try to prove that your acts were reasonable under the circumstances (there was an emergency, for example), and (ii) you can try to prove that your texting and driving was not a substantial cause of the accident.

In case (i), once it is established that you were texting while driving, the burden of proof will be on you to prove that your actions were reasonable under the circumstances. This means that if you can present no convincing evidence that your actions were reasonable, despite the fact that they were illegal, you will lose the case.

In case (ii), the burden of proof will be on the person suing you to prove that your texting was a substantial cause of the accident. In many cases, however, this can be presumed from the circumstances – if you hit another driver because you ran a red light while texting and driving, it will be difficult to resist the conclusion that texting caused you to run the red light.

Even if an accident was clearly the fault of the other driver, you could be held partially liable if you were texting and driving. At the very least, being ruled partially at fault will eat into the amount of your recovery. As long as you are ruled less than 50 percent at fault for the accident, an amount equal to your percentage of fault will be deducted from your recovery. If you were 25 percent at fault, for example, you will be responsible for 25 percent of your own damages and the other driver will have to pay only 75 percent.

If you were 50 percent or more at fault, however, you will receive nothing, no matter how high your damages were, and you might even have to pay the other driver. This dynamic applies to settlement negotiations, as well as courtroom litigation, since all bargaining takes place “in the shadow of the law.” A defendant is unlikely to agree to pay you more than what a court would order him or her to pay in a lawsuit award, and he or she would be unlikely to be willing to accept a settlement amount from you that is less than the amount a court is likely to award.

You could even be charged with a crime for a texting and driving accident, if (i) someone was seriously injured or killed in the accident, (ii) your texting and driving was a substantial cause of the accident, and (iii) your degree of negligence rose to the level of “criminal negligence.” No one can tell you exactly what constitutes “criminal negligence” and what constitutes mere “civil negligence” – the dividing line is ambiguous and a lot depends on the particular facts of the case. Texting during a snowstorm, for example, is more likely to be ruled criminal negligence than texting in clear weather.

The prosecutor or the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit can even subpoena cell phone records from your service provider to use as evidence to prove that you were texting at the time of the accident. Of course, the same logic applies if it were the other driver who was texting and driving at the time of the accident.

Additionally, the scope of civil liability is broader than the scope of the Illinois texting and driving law. You might be held liable, for example, for using a hands-free device immediately prior to the accident – even though the use of hands-free devices while driving is not against the law in Illinois – if your use of a hand-held device distracted you enough to operate as a substantial cause of the accident. The same can be said of other distracting activities such as shaving while driving, eating while driving, or even arguing with a passenger while driving.

Because of all of these ambiguities and complexities, it is critical that you involve a good Chicago car accident lawyer as early as possible in the process, regardless of whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant. Contact our experienced auto accident attorneys today.

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