A driver in Alabama who was paralyzed from the chest down after being rear-ended on a highway was awarded $13 million in compensatory damages last month. Phone records show that the defendant driving the other vehicle was sending text messages around the time of the accident.

He’ll Never Walk Again

Miguel Gutierrez was a migrant worker from Mexico, armed with a green card and driving through the South looking for work. In February 2010, on his way from Florida to Montgomery, Alabama to pick up a new job, Gutierrez was abruptly hit from behind on the highway just as he entered the city, shattering two of his vertebrae and leaving him with no motor functions below his chest.

“He’s a 53-year-old guy who just loved to work,” says Gutierrez’s attorney, Keith Belt. “Now he’ll never walk again.”

During the trial, defendant Lisa Franklin argued that Gutierrez had actually caused the accident. “Basically, it was a he-said-she-said,” Belt says. “She claimed that my client pulled right out in front of her from a gas station. My client said he had been driving in that lane for over a mile and just got hit from behind. One of them was not telling the truth. It’s pretty obvious who the jury believed.”

Both sides brought in experts to recreate the accident scene for the jury, with conflicting accounts of how the events went down. However, Franklin’s testimony brought up questions of consistency.

“She basically said she didn’t see my client until a second before impact. She didn’t stop, didn’t even drop a skid,” Belt says. “The question she could never answer, based on the visibility of the accident scene, was how she couldn’t explain how she didn’t see him until one second before.”

Truth Found in Phone Records

The answer may have been found in Franklin’s phone bill. According to the records, she had both sent and received a text message within a two-minute window around the time the accident took place. “That gave an explanation to the jury for why she never saw him,” says Belt. “She was certainly not paying attention.”

The phone bill was enough for the jury, who handed Gutierrez a $13 million award, all compensatory for his past and future medical bills and other losses.

Unfortunately Gutierrez is far from alone as a victim injured by a driver texting while driving. According to the National Safety Council, 23 percent of car crashes, or 1.3 million per year, are caused by phone calls or texting. Phone use was involved in 3,092 highway deaths in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.

While laws against distracted driving have proliferated in the last five years, some states still have no such measure in place

By: Aaron Kase

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