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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