Ask the Attorney: I was on my phone at the time of an accident—does that mean I’m automatically at fault?

By David Hammond

Sometimes, who is at fault for causing a car accident is unclear. In fact, both drivers may have played a part in causing the accident. If this is the case, New York’s comparative negligence law is likely to come into play. While New York is a no-fault state, comparative negligence is often a confusing concept for both sides of an accident. This blog will give an overview of comparative negligence.

If You Were on Your Phone at the Time of the Accident, Are You at Fault in New York?

Being in a car accident can be traumatic. It can also be stressful and complicated. On top of dealing with accident injuries and everything else, you may be worried about who will be at fault for causing the accident. This may be especially true if you were on the phone at the time of the accident. After all, New York does recognize this to be dangerous driving behavior. In fact, New York law mandates that all drivers use hands-free devices when talking on cell phones and driving. Furthermore, texting and other comparable usage of handheld messaging devices is prohibited for all drivers.

As being on your phone and driving has been recognized as a risky driving behavior, it may very well be the case that you are found to be at least partially at fault for causing any subsequent accident. You will not, however, be found to be automatically at fault for causing the accident. Fault is a fact-specific determination that requires weighing all of the circumstances surrounding the accident. You being on your phone will only be one such factor.

So, what does fault determination have to do with available compensation after an accident? Well, New York is a no-fault state. That means drivers carry no-fault insurance which will provide insurance coverage for things like medical costs and lost wages following an accident regardless of who was at fault for causing the accident. If your no-fault insurance is insufficient to properly compensate you for the damages you sustained in the accident, you may be considering going after the insurance coverage of the other driver. This is where fault for the accident would come into play.

You may be found to be partially at fault for causing the accident because you were on your phone. Fortunately, this does not mean you will be barred from recovering from the other at-fault driver. New York is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that an injured person can recover against another person found to be partially at fault for causing an accident. This means that even if you are found to be 50% or more at fault for an accident, you will still be able to recover against the other at-fault driver. Your damage award will, however, be reduced by the percentage of fault you are assigned by the jury.

Central New York Personal Injury Attorneys

If you were on your phone at the time of a New York car accident, do not give up hope. You are still likely to have options for recovering full and fair compensation for the harm you have suffered. Reach out to the team at CDH Law. Contact us today.

About the Author
David is a former military prosecutor and defense lawyer with over a decade of experience fighting for service members and their families. He served nine years and two combat tours as an active duty US Army officer, then joined the Reserves and settled down in Syracuse to be near family. Now representing people across Central New York charged with serious felonies, misdemeanors, DWIs, and traffic offenses, he puts the same level of commitment into his civilian law practice. If you have any questions regarding this article, you can contact David here.