By Scott Perry
I would like to go out of business. But I do not think it will happen. I am a catastrophic-injury lawyer who represents brain-injury survivors whose injury was caused by another’s negligence. As March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month, it is an excellent time to talk about distracted driving and our general lack of focus as we go through our daily lives. From what I have seen representing brain-injured people, the proliferation of smartphones has contributed to our distractedness, which often leads to needless injuries.
The statistics are astounding. In 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 3,477 people were killed by distracted drivers nationwide. 391,000 people were injured. The fatal crash rate for teens is three time greater than for drivers aged 20 and over. The American Automobile Association found that driver distraction is responsible for 58 percent of teen crashes. And it is not just distracted drivers who are doing damage. Several years ago, I represented a family whose daughter drowned in a local swimming pool. When we investigated the case, we learned that the lifeguard on duty had sent/received over 300 texts in her first hour on duty.
Traumatic brain injuries (“TBI”) are an all-too-common result from our distractedness. While the public has become more cognizant of TBIs given our recent knowledge about football concussions, TBIs are not limited to professional athletes taking violent hits. TBIs change life in many ways. For one, the TBI survivor looks normal. There are no outward signs of a TBI. Thus, when a TBI survivor tries to order a cup of coffee, she often gets curious stares when the words come out jumbled. Similarly, while we have made great strides in TBI treatment, there is still a long way to go.
While the medical profession is doing a good job of getting certain people back to “baseline,” baseline is only as good as how it is defined. We all have different baselines, which is why some TBI survivors can return to work while others cannot. Further, the effects of TBI can range from temporary to permanent, and there is no way to determine who will be affected and how severely.
Given my profession, it is my job through litigation to obtain resources the TBI survivor will need to get through the life. As you can imagine, the costs can be staggering, particularly if the TBI survivor was a high-wage earner and can no longer support the family. And sadly juries (a reflection of society) have hardened in their response to brain-injury survivors. While I can only rely on my personal and anecdotal experience, I believe this is fueled by virtually unlimited advertising budgets of large entities seeking to avoid the full responsibility of their negligence. They have convinced too many people to void the social contract.
Historically, one of America’s greatest attributes has been our social contract with one another. Our social contract relies on common sense, our sense of community, and our belief in helping one another. Personal interaction not only enriches us, but also fosters camaraderie. And camaraderie mandates looking out for one another. Distractedness not only invites danger, it also weakens the social contract.
Our social contract does not just apply to one another, but to collective groups of individuals. As one famous institution reminds us, corporations are people too. As corporations and their products have further infiltrated our daily lives, those corporations also bear responsibility for their negligence. The concept of corporate responsibility, whether administered through the social contract or litigation, is central to keeping us safe.
How can we change this? If you are engaging in an activity where distractedness could result in harming another, avoid the distraction. You have, no doubt, heard the ad campaigns noting that the text message you got while driving “can wait.” This is true. But you won’t likely hear an ad campaign about the myriad of other activities that require concentration: bike riding, tending to children, mowing the lawn, etc.
There are many resources available to those who want to learn more, or teach others, about avoiding distractions. One organization that I rely on to give talks to students about distracted driving is ENDD (www.enddd.org). There are also amazing people and groups that provide resources and comradery to brain-injury survivors and to their caretakers. My favorite local group is Brain Injury Services of Northern Virginia (www.braininjurysvcs.org).
So, let’s use March — Brain Injury Awareness Month — to become a little less distracted. You may save a life or avoid an injury, and you will re-discover life beyond the screen in front of you!
Scott M. Perry is a Falls Church resident, father and lawyer.