Driver texting just before fatal collision with motorcyclist

As reported by the New Castle News, a 68-year-old former volunteer fire chief was traveling east through Hickory Township on Route 956 in the early afternoon of May 18. His motorcycle was struck from behind by a SUV driven by a 42-year-old woman. The rider and his motorcycle were dragged under the SUV before the vehicle stopped. A bystander attempted to give CPR to the motorcyclist, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The SUV driver admitted to police officers at the scene that she had been texting at the time of the motor vehicle accident. Police obtained a search warrant for the driver's cellphone. The search revealed that the phone received a text message that the SUV driver had opened at the time she collided with the motorcycle.

SUV driver facing criminal charges

Criminal charges were filed by township police against the driver of the SUV, including:

  • Homicide by vehicle
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Prohibited text-based communication
  • Careless driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Aggravated assault by vehicle

While the accident remains under investigation by state and local police, the SUV driver's admissions and the results of the cellphone search confirm that she violated Pennsylvania's law prohibiting texting while driving. That law, enacted in November 2011 and effective March 2012, prohibits all drivers from sending, reading or writing a "text-based communication" while their vehicle is in motion. A text-based communication includes text messages.

SUV driver may be civilly liable for motorcyclist's death

Violating the text-based communication ban by reading a text message while driving is negligence per se. This means proof of the violation is all that is required to show the SUV driver's negligence. Negligence per se stems from violating a law passed to protect the public safety, like a speed limit. Texting while driving, like speeding, violates Pennsylvania's traffic safety laws.

Accordingly, the driver of the SUV could be facing civil liability for the wrongful death of the motorcyclist. A wrongful death action may be brought by the relatives of a motorcyclist killed in a crash against the negligent driver of the other vehicle. Pennsylvania statutes define who may bring such an action and the types of damages that may be recovered. Damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death action include:

  • Medical, funeral and estate administration expenses
  • The value of the lost loved one's services, including society and comfort
  • The emotional and psychological loss suffered upon the loved one's death

SUV driver could also be liable for motorcyclist's fatal injuries

The SUV driver may also be sued in a separate survival action to recover damages for the injuries suffered by the motorcyclist that led to his death at the scene of the accident. A survival action is brought on behalf of a deceased motorist's or motorcyclist's estate by its legal representative. Damages for conscious pain and suffering sustained by a driver, passenger or motorcycle rider between the time of an accident and the time of his or her death, however short, can be recovered in a survival action.

As illustrated by this terrible accident, collisions of motor vehicles with motorcycles frequently result in death or serious injury to the motorcyclist. If you are injured or lose a loved one in a motor vehicle crash, you should contact an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney who can help obtain full and fair compensation for your injuries or loss.