Tuesday, January 5, 2010

City settles car accident case involving cell phone use for $1.5 million

The city of Palo Alto, California recently settled a case involving an automobile accident caused by one of its employees who was talking on a cell phone while driving. The Palo Alto Daily News reports that the accident left the plaintiff, Silvio Obregon, with spinal injuries after being rear-ended by city employee Rubin Salas in 2006. The settlement was "the largest we've had in a long time on a personal injury claim," according to a city attorney.

Across the country, reports indicate an increased number of drivers are talking, texting, emailing, and viewing the internet from cell phones while driving. And a growing number of studies implicates such cell phone use with dangerous driving, such as a report by D.L Strayer et al. from the University of Utah determining that in some cases drivers using cell phones are more impaired than those intoxicated by alcohol ("Fatal Distraction? A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver,” Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Summer 2006). In fact, some courts, including courts in Georgia, have allowed injured parties to recover punitive damages against drivers who are found to be responsible for auto accidents as a result of cell phone use, just as in the case of intoxicated drivers.

Turkheimer & Hadden has successfully represented numerous victims of reckless driving caused by cell phone usage in Georgia. Although the at-fault drivers often deny being on the phone at the time of an accident, we can usually disprove this claim via a subpoena of their cell phone records. We hope that an increased awareness of the dangers of talking (or texting) while driving such as the Palo Alto settlement and a $5.2 million settlement in Fulton County, Georgia in 2008 will lead to a change in drivers' behavior, as publicity of the dangers of driving while intoxicated did for an earlier generation, leading to safer roads for the public.

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