As you certainly know, there are many laws and programs designed to stop the practice of driving while talking on cell phones, texting, reading e-mails on blackberrys, programming GPS devices and the like. Even talk show hosts like Oprah have announced national campaigns to convince drivers to stop driving while distracted by these devices. Given the accident statistics, there is a good reason for these laws and programs, distracted driving must stop. Very simply, people are getting hurt and, when you think about it, driving while distracted by these devices is really no different than driving while drunk or under the influence of narcotics. All of these practices can end in the same tragic result.
Recently, a jury in Texas apparently wanted to send the message that enough was enough. In that case, a 21 year old college student and her best friend and roommate were in a vehicle that was struck by another driver who was at that time using his cell phone. One student was killed, the other sustained very serious injuries. The jury returned verdicts in favor of the deceased student’s Estate and family as well as the injured student which included amounts for past and future physical pain and suffering, and past and future medical bills. Those damages, which also included funeral and burial expenses and damages for the parents of the deceased student, amounted to a total of 1.8 million dollars. Significantly, however, this jury also awarded 20 million dollars in punitive damages.
A punitive damages award of that size will likely be reversed on constitutional grounds. In fact, I will explain some of the law surrounding punitive damages in the near future. But for now, the point is clear. Everyday people, your fellow citizens, are simply fed up with distracted drivers to the extent that one jury in Texas wanted to make a driver who was using a cell phone when he caused a tragic accident to pay 20 million dollars in punitive damages. Keep your eyes on the road and be careful out there.
John A. Orlando, Esquire can be reached in his office at 115 Fayette Street, by phone at (610) 897-2576 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.