New laws important to California personal injury victims is something I thought I would review here at the first part of 2014. It is not every year that new statutes are passed in the Golden State that may affect persons making claims for injuries or wrongful death but, this year there are a few, important new laws as follows:
Texting and Driving Restriction Loophole Has Been Closed for Teens in CA
The statistics don’t lie. Teenagers and young adults are statistically more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident where the driver has been distracted from the use of a cell phone, smart phone or other mobile device. For this reason, California chose to enact greater restrictions on persons under 18 than older drivers in this area. The prior statute, enacted in 2007, banned any cell phone use (whether by voice commands, wireless, hands free or otherwise) by any teenage driver. However, as the law was amended in 2012, there appeared to be a loophole which may allow for voice texting by teens. Therefore, the CA state legislature made the language of the law more clear and now any talking, texting, or use of a cell phone or mobile device whether by voice commands or otherwise, is now against the law.
Adults Can Now Text and Drive So Long As it is Done Hands Free
What the California legislature did to protect drivers and passengers with barring hands free texts and emails for teens, it gave way to pressure and allowed these practices for adult drivers. AB 1571 (effective since January 1, 2013) now allows for persons over the age of 18 to send and receive text and emails, and prompt their electronic devices for commands so long as this is done by way of a hands free feature. (i.e. voice to text and voice commanding).
“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or reada text-based communication, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, orlisten to a text-based communication, and it is used in that manner while driving.”
While many people lauded this new bill as a “victory for California commuters”, I think this is far from a foregone conclusion. Many studies have determined that any use of mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle even by way of hands free features can cause significant enough distraction to the driver to cause auto accidents. Drivers in the Golden State should bear in mind that, while it is technically legal to use voice commands, if they are involved in a car crash while doing so, they will be held to a negligence standard (i.e. were they acting reasonably prudent at the time of the incident) as well as to all other provisions and prohibitions of the California Vehicle code including those prohibiting excessive speed, following too closely, improper lane changes and all other rules of the road when it comes to imposing civil liability for personal injuries or wrongful death that result.
California Cyclists Get A Three Foot Buffer from Passing Motorists
On a bright note, after years of lobbying by bicycle advocacy groups and several prior failed attempts, the CA state legislature passed into law a provision which requires a reasonable distance between a motor vehicle trying to pass a cyclist on any California roadway. I wrote an extensive post on my related blog California Accident Attorneys Blog, explaining the new law. (See here: http://www.californiaaccidentattorneysblog.com/2013/10/06/bicycle-riders-will-get-three-foot-buffer-passing-motorists-new-california-law/). While the law does state that three feet is a reasonable distance between a passing motorist and the biker, the law does have a caveat that a motorized mode of transportation may still pass with less than three feet so long as speed and distance are reduced to a reasonable amount given all roadway conditions.
I think this is a great victory for all those cyclists in California who have been the victim of cars, trucks and SUVs passing them in ways that run them completely off the road or clipping them and sending them out of control and headed for a bike crash. As a bicycle accident attorney, I can say that this is one of the most common scenarios I see as a proximate cause of cyclists being injured and killed every year in the Golden State. This will provide additional protection by way of a heightened standard of care for motorists who cause cycle accidents and I intend to use the law in prosecution of my claims for personal injury and wrongful death on behalf of cyclists and their families.
Additional Requirements for Psychotherapists to Report Threats of Gun Violence
In response to several high profile mass shootings (the most prominent of which is the Sandy Hook Elementary case), California now requires psychiatric care professionals to immediately report any threats of gun violence by patients. While I think that existing statutes and case law already required this for the most part, this does make an explicit rule. This may provide an additional legal basis to hold psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health care professionals civilly liable for personal injury or death caused be assailants known by them to have threatened such violence.
Broader Definition of Sexual Harassment
SB 292 was enacted to clarify that, with respect to a sexual harassment claim under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the harassing conduct need not be “motivated by sexual desire.” This provides a broader protection for persons subjected to harassment in the workplace.
More Protection for Riders in Limousines
SB 109 requires limo operators to equip limousines with at least two doors and one or two push-out windows to serve as emergency exits. The bill was, no doubt, prompted by the tragic incident near San Mateo, CA where a party of six women were trapped inside a limo that caught fire due to mechanical failure resulting in the deaths of several occupants. I’ve done several blogs about this terrible event one of which is here: http://sco.lt/8V8RYf Wrongful death claims are presently pending against the Limo Co. related to this incident.