A DeKalb County State Court Jury (Case No. 99A60090-2) awarded punitive damages to the victims of a car accident caused by a motorist who was distracted by talking on the cell phone. Both victims were in their 20s and treated for muscle injuries with a chiropractor. Defendant admitted he was at fault for the collision and the trial went forward on the issue of causation and damages. The defendant motorist admitted to me that he ignored the stop sign as he was speaking on the cell phone at the time of the crash. On this basis, I requested that Judge Antonio DelCampo let the jury decide if Defendant should be punished for his conduct by the award of punitive damages (damages meant to punish). The judge agreed.
The jury deliberated for 1.5 hours and came back with a verdict for pain and suffering, medical bills and punitive damages. At the time of the jury award in 2002, this was the only known case in Georgia where a jury had awarded punitive damages against a motorist who was using a cell phone at the time of the car wreck. Obviously, this was a newsworthy decision and the jury decided to protect their local community in DeKalb County, Georgia by publicizing this verdict as a warning to other motorists.
Five years later, I was interviewed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution for a front page news article pertaining to a new DeKalb County law prohibiting improper use of a cell phone that contributed to an auto collision. My take on the law at that time was that it was a good idea in theory but difficult to enforce in reality. Although a DeKalb County Officer could write a traffic citation for a motorist’s use of a cell phone which contributed to an auto collision; generally, a motorist is not going to admit he or she was using a cell phone at the time of the wreck. So unless the police officer actually witnessed the motorist on the cell phone at the time of the wreck (highly unlikely), I think it would be difficult for the officer to write a ticket that holds up in court.
Nowadays, I see folks, both young and old, texting or speaking on the phone at all hours of the day on the roadways in Georgia. This trend is both disturbing and dangerous. Some experts have likened this conduct akin to drunk drivers in terms of the lack of attentiveness and lessened reaction time that driving on the roads clearly deserves. Part of the solution involves educating all drivers of the dangers of speaking or texting on the mobile phone while operating a vehicle. Of course, the support of the cell phone manufacturers and service providers would certainly help.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford are accepting cases involving distracted motorists using cell phones and causing collisions.