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The Five Elements of a MN Distracted Driving Claim

by | Jan 21, 2019 | Brainerd, Car Accidents, Firm News

Increased distracted driving is almost directly related to increased smartphone use and capability. It’s amazing how much these gadgets have advanced since the first iPhone came out in 2007. To keep up with these changes, Minnesota has one of the broadest device distraction laws in the county. MS 169.475 prohibits sending or viewing any text-based message, or accessing the internet in any way, while the vehicle is part of traffic. The law even applies if the driver is stopped at a red light.

Nevertheless, there are some significant gaps. As broad as it is, Minnesota’s device distraction law does not apply to some common activities, such as:

  • Using an app,
  • Recording audio,
  • Taking a selfie,
  • Recording video, or
  • Playing a game.

Sometimes, these activities may constitute reckless driving. MS 169.13 applies if the driver’s behavior “constitutes a significant deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” But officers usually only write reckless driving citations if the driver violated several traffic laws at about the same time (e.g. changing lanes illegally while speeding).

So, in most device distraction cases, Brainerd car accident lawyers must rely on a traditional five-point negligence case. The victim/plaintiff must establish each element by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).


Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care. This legal obligation means drivers must obey the rules of the road and, as my grandfather said, watch out for th’ other fella.

A case from the 1930s, Donoghue v. Stevenson, laid the foundation for this concept. In Donoghue, a woman sued a beer bottler after the found a dead snail in her beer bottle. The court held that a person “must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbor.” According to the court, neighbors were “persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.” The so-called neighbor principle evolved into the duty of care.

Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and other commercial drivers have a higher duty of care. Essentially, these drivers must do whatever it takes to avoid accidents. For example, a non-commercial driver must slow down in the rain. But a Brainerd car accident lawyer can argue that a commercial driver has a duty to pull over in a heavy rainstorm.


A Crow Wing County judge usually determines duty. It is a legal question. But a jury usually determines breach. The violation of that duty is a fact question.

Let’s return to the list of device distractions which the law does not cover. Most people would consider something like snapping a selfie on the highway to be a breach of the duty of reasonable care. But if the driver’s phone went off and the driver swiped the “ignore call” icon, most people would not consider that action to be a breach of duty, even though the act technically constitutes device distraction.

Brainerd Car Accident Lawyers and Cause

To win a distracted driving negligence case in Minnesota, driver inattention must be the underlying cause of the vehicle collision.

Assume Tim was so into PUBG Mobile that he ran a stop sign and collided with Carlos. Running the stop sign was the direct cause, but device distraction was the underlying cause. And, since it’s technically legal to play PUBG Mobile, or any other game, while driving, Carlos’ Brainerd car accident lawyer would also have to establish all the other prongs of a negligence case.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is a legal term which basically means foreseeability. Benjamin Frankin was a smart guy, but he was clearly not an attorney. He had an extremely broad view of foreseeability, as evidenced by this poem which he wrote.

As far as Brainerd car accident lawyers are concerned, foreseeability has a rather narrow meaning. Assume that when Carlos went to the hospital after a crash, the doctor made a medical mistake. Even though Carlos would not have gone under the knife if Tim had not hit him, Tim is not legally responsible for that injury. A medical mistake is not a foreseeable consequence of a car crash.

In that situation, Carlos might have a separate negligence claim against the doctor.


Generally, the victim must suffer a physical injury to have a claim for damages. That physical injury could be either property damage or personal injury. Obviously, the greater the damage, the more compensation a Brainerd car accident lawyer is able to recover.

In some cases, victims may be able to pursue negligent infliction of emotional distress claims if they suffered no physical injury. But these situations are limited.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

Device distraction crash victims may be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd car accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.