Cell phone liability is back in the news again. Last week the Fulton County Daily Report highlighted the recent International Paper personal injury settlement. International Paper ( "IP") paid out $5.2 million to settle a personal injury suit for an automobile collision that an IP employee caused by talking on a cell phone.
IP employee Vanessa McGrogan was talking on her company-supplied cell phone when she rear-ended a vehicle driven by Debra Ford. The collision pushed Ford into a ditch on the right side of the road. The car overturned and dragged the driver’s side across the roadway. Ford’s arm was caught between the door and the asphalt. Ford, a widowed mother of four, had to have her arm amputated at the shoulder.
McGrogan had her cruise control set at 77 mph. In addition to this, she was talking on her cell phone to the point of distraction. The plaintiff raised the issue of intentional negligence. The trial court in ruling on a motion for partial summary judgment allowed the plaintiff to seek punitive damages. The case was set for trial in March and settled this month.
Employer liability as a result of cell phone is on the rise. Dykes Industries of Little Rock, Arkansas lost a $20.9 million personal injury suit where its employee was talking on a company cell phone. The State of Hawaii agreed to a $2.5 million payout for an accident involving a state employee talking on her cell phone. Smith Barney paid out $500,000 in a settlement where one of its stockbrokers hit and killed a 24-year-old victim while the stockbroker was making cold calls on his cell phone. The Virginia law firm of Cooley Godward paid out $30 million in a settlement in a wrongful death case where one of its attorneys was conducting business on her cell phone when she struck and killed a fifteen- year-old girl.
According to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine, cell phone use while driving increases the risk of accident by four times. A Braun Consulting Study reports that motorists make 40 percent of all cell phone calls. The American Automobile Association attributes 330,000 highway injuries a year to cell phone use.
Georgia has yet to adopt a total ban on driving while talking on a cell phone. However, Georgia statutes do prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones on the job. Also, DeKalb County has adopted an ordinance that increases civil fines for automobile crashes where the crash is attributed to cell phone use. Neither Georgia nor few other states have adopted a total ban on cell phone use while driving. Only New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia ban the use of hand-held phones while driving. Georgia follows a reasonable distraction statute that drivers may not be reasonably distracted by other activities while driving.
Interestingly, a public opinion poll of Georgia citizens conducted by the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government in 2002 revealed many citizens would vote in favor of a state ban on hand-held phones while driving. Surprisingly, forty percent of those polled admitted to using a hand-held phone while driving, but supported a ban on such conduct. The majority admitted that they used a cell phone while driving for business and personal reasons. Eighty-seven percent of those polled believed that using a hand-held phone while driving was very or somewhat dangerous. Seventy-one percent of responders believed that other drivers using a cell phone had compromised their own safety.
If you have been involved in an automobile accident, it may be the cause of a cell-phone distracted driver. Further, it is possible that driver was conducting business on the cell phone and his or her employer may be vicariously liable for your injuries. If you want to discuss your claim contact the law firm of Robert N. Katz for free initial consultation.