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How an accident happens will largely determine who is ultimately held liable. If the at fault driver was found to have caused the accident while talking or texting, they will likely have more difficulty defending their case, and they may potentially face additional penalties. Nearly every state has laws on distracted driving, and most include some limitations on the use of cell phones by drivers.
Regardless of whether you have an ear piece, integrated Bluetooth, or speakerphone system, if you are talking or texting on a cell phone while driving, an officer or other party can claim that you were driving while distracted. According to the most recent report by the NHTSA, one in ten on the road fatalities involved distraction.
If a driver is found to be at fault for an accident, then they can also be found liable for the injuries and property damage they caused. While a majority of auto accident cases settle out of court, the facts concerning how the crash happened are relevant to establishing the injured party's case for damages. When a jury is asked to decide an auto accident injury case, they will usually be tasked with deciding two primary issues:
In most jurisdictions, if both parties are considered to be partly at fault, or fault is uncertain, the party that is found to be more than 50% at fault, generally is the party held responsible for the damages. If a party was on the phone when the accident occurred, they may be found some percentage (comparatively) at fault. In states like California, if a driver is found to be 25% at fault, any award they receive will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
There are some auto-accident cases where it won't matter if the victim was on the phone or texting. If you are stopped at a red light, and you get rear-ended while texting or talking on the phone, it is highly unlikely that your texting or talking had anything to do with causing the accident. In this sort of a situation, your phone use, while still potentially against the law, generally cannot be used to attack liability.
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