Are You Off The Hook? - Distracted Driving Lawsuits

By Daniel Croley Labor and Employment & Litigation, Futterman & Dupree | October 28, 2008

In a pending lawsuit in Virginia, a Palo Alto based law firm was sued for $30 million when an attorney, making business phone calls while driving, veered off the road killing a child. The child was not found until almost an hour later because she was thrown off the road by the impact. In defense of the claim, the employee claimed she thought she had hit a deer, and therefore did not stop her vehicle. At the time of the accident, the employee was making business calls while returning home from work. The family asserts that the employee is liable, and that the law firm is also liable as the attorney was billing the time spent on her cellular phone to a client at the time of the accident.

On June 2, 2003, a Los Angles jury awarded over $7 million dollars in damages against a driver who was using her cell phone when her car struck a patrol car and injured a Los Angles police officer. Jewett v. Johnson (MC013478) (Los Angles Superior Court, June 2, 2003).

Several other similar lawsuits have been brought. Some have produced multi-million dollar settlement and jury awards, including cases in Hawaii and Florida.

New Legislation

There has been and will continue to be a wrath of legislation to address the dangers of cellular phone use while driving. In 2001 and 2002, approximately 130 proposed laws regarding cellular phones and driving were introduced (a six hundred percent increase over 2000). Thus far, only one state (New York), as well as a few localities, has actually prohibited the use of hand held mobile phones while driving.

In New York, the penalty for use of a hand-held device is a fine of up to $100, with fines for repeated violations of up to $500.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.