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Miriam Schimmel
Miriam Schimmel
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Talking On a Cell Phone While Driving Is Not Only Dangerous, But A Driver Who Uses a Company Cell Phone Can Cost The Company Millions

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Cases across the country have held employers liable for employees who drive and cause accidents and injuries while talking on company cell phones.

International Paper Co. just agreed to pay $5.2 million to settle a personal injury claim for damages resulting from an automobile accident that occurred while its employee was talking on a cell phone provided by the company. The plaintiff alleged that the employee/driver was using her cell phone when the employee rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle, pushed it into a ditch and caused it to overturn. The plaintiff suffered severe injuries, which sadly included a near complete amputation of her right arm after it was crushed during the accident.

The company asserted through the deposition testimony of its employee/driver that the employee was not on the phone at the moment the collision occurred. However, a witness to the accident contradicted her claim and testified that he had seen the driver with the phone to her ear at the time of the collision.

The case was venued in Georgia, and while Georgia law prohibits drivers from doing “things that are distracting,” it allows reasonable cell phone use while driving. Here, however, the employee/driver was allegedly talking on the phone with her cruise control set at 77 miles per hour on a highway where the speed limit was 70mph. Her cell phone use was not only unreasonable, but it supported a claim for intentional negligence and punitive damages against the driver and against International Paper. Had this case gone to a jury, it was believed that jurors would not look favorably upon a driver who was speeding while talking on the phone.

Similarly, Dykes Industries had a $20.9 million verdict against it from an accident and injuries caused by an employee using a cell phone while driving. The state of Hawaii also settled a case for $2.5 million when a person was hit by a state employee talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. Even lawyers can find themselves at risk. A $2 million verdict came down in a Virginia case in March 2000, when an attorney killed a teenage girl in a hit-and-run accident while talking on her firm-provided cell phone. The driver’s firm, Cooley Godward, LLP settled for an undisclosed amount before the jury reached its verdict.

The impact of these cases is clear: not only is using a cell phone while driving dangerous, but employers can be held responsible for the damages and injuries that are caused by their employees who talk on company cell phones while driving.

Because accident victims may not be aware of this fact, many may be going without the full compensation and recovery that they have a right to receive. The law firm of Kiesel, Boucher & Larson LLP is experienced in such cases and can provide assistance to those in need.