Billings residents may be aware of recent safety campaigns trying to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. Unfortunately, an August 8 auto accident serves as a stark illustration of the risks that young drivers take when they pay more attention to a cell phone than to safe driving.

The single car accident took place just before midnight on a stretch of I-94 near Custer. The 22-year-old driver asked his 21-year-old passenger to take the wheel so that he could enter numbers into his cell phone. In the awkward position of driving from the passenger’s seat, the 21-year-old overcorrected after drifting into the highway median. The vehicle rolled over and the driver and front seat passenger were ejected.

The driver and a third passenger, who had been riding in the back seat, were transported to a hospital in Billings. The front seat passenger paid with his life for his friend’s desire to use his cell phone.

The accident remains under investigation, but if early reports have the facts straight, the careless driver will almost certainly face a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his deceased passenger along with claims seeking compensation for injuries to his back seat passenger.

Although this tragic accident might seem like a clear-cut case of driver negligence, Montana law assigns liability in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to both the victim and the at-fault party.

In all likelihood, the driver’s insurance company will fight to reduce its liability by shifting blame to the front seat passenger for agreeing to take the wheel in the first place. If an accident investigation concludes that the passengers were not wearing seatbelts, the driver’s insurance company may use that fact as grounds to shift fault to the passengers.

Insurance companies have a good understanding of Montana’s laws relating to negligence and damages. The injured passenger and the family of the deceased passenger will need competent legal assistance to make sure they are fairly compensated for the value of their injury and loss.

Source: KULR 8 News, “DISTRACTED DRIVING CAUSES FATAL WRECK,” Lindsey Gardner, Aug. 8, 2012