Motorists who ignore the California law effective July 1 that bans the use of hand-held cellphones while driving could face huge civil judgments or even jail if fatalities result from an accident, says the Los Angeles Times. “If you cause a fatal accident and you are running a stop sign, speeding or crossing a double line, any additional violation would add to the possibility a manslaughter charge could be filed,” said W. Scott Thorpe of the California District Attorneys Association. “It all goes to state of mind and your recklessness.”
The cellphone law is moving the state into uncharted territory. Though other states have enacted such laws, prosecutors, trial lawyers. and insurance companies say it is still too soon to measure the effects. California has been more aggressive than some states in prosecuting drivers for causing fatal accidents, even when they are not impaired by drugs or alcohol. Dozens of vehicular manslaughter cases in Los Angeles County alone are brought annually against sober drivers whose conduct is negligent, prosecutors say. “If somebody kills three kids in an intersection and they were on a cellphone at the time, I can see the driver being charged with a felony,” said Prof. Stanley Goldman of Loyola Law School. In 2003, a jury awarded $7.3 million in a nonfatal case brought by a motorist who was struck by a teenager who was allegedly talking on a cellphone. The case was later settled, reportedly for about $6 million.