Texting-and-Driving Lawsuit Could Change Law

According to the Department of Transportation, "distracted drivers" were to blame for 3,300 traffic deaths in 2012.

By Samia Khan and Beverly White
|  Friday, Mar 14, 2014  |  Updated 8:27 AM PDT
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The victim of a texting-and-driving crash speaks out for the first time about how he hopes to change the law. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Thursday, March 13, 2014.

The victim of a texting-and-driving crash speaks out for the first time about how he hopes to change the law. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Thursday, March 13, 2014.

A victim of a texting-and-driving crash is involved in a groundbreaking lawsuit that could impact drivers everywhere.

In 2010, a driver who was texting slammed into a Chevy Suburban driven by Los Angeles resident Joseph Schultz’s Chevy Suburban. The Suburban then crashed into a tree near the Ventura (134) Freeway and the Golden State (5) Freeway.

"I was lucky that I was in a two-and-a-half ton truck at the time because if I was not, If I was in a smaller vehicle, I wouldn't be sitting here," Schultz said.

No criminal charges were filed. Schultz filed a negligence suit seeking punitive damages, but a lower court rejected the lawsuit. His lawyers then filed an appeal.

"The court said that texting and driving is just like drinking and driving, but you can't get punitive damages for it," attorney John Kristensen said. "The courts of appeal have already held that you can get punitive damages for drinking and driving."

According to the Department of Transportation, "distracted drivers" were to blame for 3,300 traffic deaths in 2012.

"Whatever you’re doing on your phone, whatever it may be, if it’s texting, a phone call or a Facebook post…it can wait," Schultz said.

Schultz and his attorneys believe that campaigns against texting-and-driving are not enough and that the behavior deserves punishment.

"If it's not our case, it's going to be another case. It's going to happen," Kristensen said.

If Schultz’s appeal is successful and sets a precedent, it could eventually lead to higher insurance rates.

"If more and more people are allowed to sue for punitive damages, than claims payouts would be much higher. This over a period of time would force insurance rates upward," the Insurance Institute of America told NBC4.

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