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Driver distraction could have caused reporter's fatal accident

The recent death of "60 Minutes" reporter Bob Simon will spark investigations to get to the cause of the tragedy. He died while riding in a Lincoln Town Car that was operated by a 44-year-old Afghan immigrant. The fatal accident occurred on the West Side Highway in New York City when the Lincoln veered toward the center lane and hit a Mercedes that was stopped at a red light.

The collision sent the Lincoln out-of-control through the intersection, where it crashed into some barriers, killing Simon and injuring the driver. Simon was not seat-belted and was thrown from the back seat to the front, according to police. Apparently, the car was traveling at or near the speed limit just before the accident.

Seat belts don't have to be worn by rear-seat passengers riding in taxis or limos, under New York regulations. However, in a fatal car accident like this one, the wearing of a seat belt could possibly have saved the passenger's life. Nonetheless, Simon's family appears to have a viable wrongful death action against both the driver and the limousine company.

There must be negligence on the part of the driver in order for the passenger's estate to recover. Here, the accident likely would not have occurred without negligence by the driver. The most likely cause points toward being distracted, perhaps by talking on a cell phone just prior to the accident. However, there is no hard evidence and the cause will have to wait for deliberate step-by-step accident reconstruction efforts.

Reportedly, the hospitalized driver told a friend that he felt chest pains before the fatal accident, but that story will likely be challenged. It remains to be seen if the driver was simply attempting to set up a defense to potential criminal charges. Additionally, the driver's credibility may be challenged in that he has had several license suspensions and traffic violations, in addition to an aborted suicide attempt. In this case, if negligence is established against the driver it will likely be imputed to the employer and owner of the vehicle under New York agency-principal rules of law.

Source: New York Daily News, "Cabbie in Bob Simon's death has speeding conviction; cousin says he once tried to kill self as cops deny he had heart attack", Pete Donohue, Rocco Parascandola, Edgar Sandoval, Corky Siemaszco, Feb. 12, 2015

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