Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill that increases penalties for drivers whose texting behind the wheel leads to crashes that involve serious injury or death.
The law provides that a driver whose texting causes a fatal crash can receive an extra five years behind bars. If texting-related distraction leads to a crash that causes serious injury, an additional two years can be added to the sentence.
State legislators passed the bill, dubbed Daniel’s Law, partly in response to a 2013 fatal crash that killed volunteer firefighter Daniel E. Gallatin in Hickory Township, north of Pittsburgh. The distracted driver who struck Gallatin’s motorcycle, Laura E. Gargiulo, served just 60 days in jail — a sentence that inspired legislative efforts to toughen penalties for texting while driving.
After obtaining a search warrant, police located an open text message on Gargiulo’s phone that corresponded with the time of the collision, according to an Associated Press report.
Gallatin’s heirs have filed a lawsuit against Gargiulo, her husband Joseph, their landscaping firm because it owned the SUV that she was driving, and Timothy J. Fend, the landscaping firm’s employee who had sent the text.
According to the Washington Post, the suit is especially noteworthy because it’s testing the legal theory that the text sender shares some responsibility for the crash because he knew or should have known that Gargiulo was operating a vehicle at the time he sent the text.
When contacted by the newspaper, Fend’s lawyer dismissed the lawsuit’s arguments as illogical. Attorney Michael E. Lang argued that Fend didn’t really know whether Gargiulo was driving at the time, and she was the one who decided when to read the text. Additionally, Lang said, it’s unknown whether Gargiulo actually viewed the text while she was driving. The evidence only shows that she opened the text around the time of the crash, he said.
To learn more about the lawsuit, click here.