Monday, June 15, 2015

Smart Watches, Driving & Personal Injury: How Negligence Laws Likely Apply

Are smart watches considered a ‘hand-held device’ for purposes of determining driver responsibility in the event of collision?

As a general principle, technology is usually light years ahead of the law – and the law is usually playing catch-up after several accidents and issues have already arisen.

Over the past decade, nearly every jurisdiction – including Kentucky – has passed some form of legislation to address the epidemic of texting and talking behind the wheel. As studies have shown, texting and driving can be a combination as deadly as driving while intoxicated, and it has taken several fatalities and major accidents to convince lawmakers of this fact.

How then does the law apply to the advent of the ‘smart watch’ – a technology that does not easily fit within the definition of a “personal communication device” under Kentucky law which is designated as follows:

“A device capable of two (2) way audio or text communication that emits an audible signal, vibrates, displays a message, or otherwise summons or delivers communication to the possessor, including but not limited to a paging device and a cellular telephone.”

While the ‘smart watch’ is certainly capable of two-way audio or text communication, it is not necessarily the type of technology contemplated by lawmakers when making the Kentucky statute.

Establishing civil liability in an accident

Moving violations aside, does the definition of ‘personal communication device’ help or hurt a defendant named in lawsuit involving an accident occurring while actively using a smart watch? In true legal fashion, the answer depends on the facts surrounding the incident. In any negligence action, the trier of fact (e.g., judge or jury) must decide whether the defendant’s actions leading up to the crash were outside the realm of how a reasonable person would safely behave behind the wheel. Use of a smart watch – perhaps to communicate while driving – may not necessarily be unreasonably dangerous (i.e., negligent) conduct if the facts suggest that the driver was not in any way unduly impaired or distracted by the technological intrusion. If, on the other hand, the driver is alleged to have been engrossed in the device to the detriment of safely operating the vehicle, use of the smart watch may be considered negligent – thereby triggering liability.

If you were recently injured in an accident and believe use of a smart phone or watch may be involved, please contact Warren and Barren County, Kentucky personal injury attorney Flora Templeton Stuart today by calling 1-888-782-9090.