Man texting while driving in car.

“Cuban, American or Mexican? Pick one.” That is the text message New Jersey resident Alexandra Mansonet received shortly before causing a car accident that killed pedestrian Yuwen Wang. In Mansonet’s draft messages was a response reading “me,” which prosecutors allege she was texting at the time of her accident. 

Mansonet was charged with vehicular homicide, which has typically been associated with drunk driving. However, New Jersey amended its laws in 2012 to add the use of hand-held devices to the list of behaviors that may be interpreted as criminally “reckless.” A jury found her guilty, and she now awaits sentencing. 

In addition to facing criminal charges, Mansonet may also be sued in civil court by her victim’s surviving family members. This is a classic wrongful death scenario. 

In New Jersey, a wrongful death is “a wrongful act, neglect or default” that causes a person’s death. The key is proving that another person’s action or inaction led directly to the victim’s death, and that said action or inaction violated the “duty of care” owed to the victim by the individual against whom the charge is brought.

How a Criminal Conviction Could Be Used for Wrongful Death

Mansonet’s criminal conviction could be used as evidence that she committed a wrongful act that resulted in Wang’s death. If they choose to bring a lawsuit, Wang’s surviving family members may be able to seek compensation for:

  • Loss of financial support as projected into the future if the deceased had lived
  • Loss of companionship, care, comfort, and guidance
  • Loss of household services like cleaning, gardening, childcare, auto repair
  • Medical, funeral and burial costs tied to the deceased’s end of life
  • Property replacement (e.g. for a car that has been destroyed)
  • Future inheritance for children of the deceased

Filing such a lawsuit will not bring the victim back, but it may help the victim’s family members get some closure, and help them grieve their loved one. It could also bring some needed attention to the growing problem of cell phone distracted drivers. 

Is Texting a Common Cause of Fatal Crashes?

Unfortunately, Yuwen Wang’s death is not unusual. More and more fatal crashes are being caused by distracted drivers. According to data collected by the National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 10 percent of the fatal crashes in the country between 2013 and 2017 involved distracted driving. Of these crashes, about 14 percent were linked to the use of a cellphone. 

According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, other distractions include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

“But, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.”

Thankfully, it is possible to hold texting drivers accountable for the harm they cause in both criminal and civil court. At Levin & Malkin, we have helped victims of texting drivers and other distracted drivers seek compensation for their injuries. When appropriate, we help a victim’s loved ones bring a wrongful death suit. We are here to help if you or a loved one has been injured. 

Posted in: Car Accidents