Do Cell Phone Policies Leave Companies Off the Hook?

Do Cell Phone Policies Leave Companies Off the Hook?

The recent uptick of distracted driving lawsuits and hefty jury verdicts provides a lesson for companies: have a clear cell phone use policy in place and consider banning all cell phone use by employees using company vehicles.

The May 2012 jury verdict in the ChatmanWilson v. Cabral case illustrates the hefty penalties being handed down.  A Texas jury awarded 37-year-old Vanice Chatman-Wilson several million dollars against Coca-Cola.  Chatman-Wilson’s vehicle was struck by a Coca-Cola company station wagon driven by Araceli Vanessa Cabral who was on a business call on her hands-free cell phone – allowed by company policy.

Not only did Chatman Wilson suffer a spinal injury, but she required back surgery and was assigned 25 percent disability.

Unfortunately, disracted driving accidents are becoming rather commonplace. A 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study states that in 2009, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and about an 448,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes attributed to distracted driving. Approximately one in five deaths was linked directly to cell
phone use.

The dangers of cell phone use are not limited to the manipulation of a handheld device. Studies show that both hands-free and handheld cell phone use creates a 37 percent increase in cognitive distraction.

In fact, a 2006 study from the University of Utah statistically supports the premise that cell phone use is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.

This brings us back to the Chatman Wilson v. Cabral verdict. Simply because CocaCola – or any other company for that matter – has a hands-free phone policy does not make it immune from liability.

Speaking to the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, Andrew Miller, truck accident attorney at Starr Austen & Miller, LLP in Logansport, Ind., says, “Companies have to recognize the danger their employees pose to the public when trying to simultaneously drive and carry on a cell phone conversation. Study after study has shown the danger of distracted driving due to cell phone use of any kind handheld or hands-free.  Companies not only need a policy prohibiting their employees from using cell phones while driving, but also need to enforce those policies.”

Source: “Cell Phone Restrictions: Exploring Liability for Inadequate Company Policies,” by Jeremy P. Taylor and Keith S. Rivers, in Tort Source, a publication of the Tort Trial and
Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association.

The recent uptick of distracted driving lawsuits and hefty jury verdicts provides a lesson for
companies: have a clear cell phone use policy in place and consider banning all cell phone use by
employees using company vehicles.
The May 2012 jury verdict in the ChatmanWilson
v. Cabral case illustrates the hefty penalties being
handed down. A Texas jury awarded 37yearold
Vanice ChatmanWilson
$21.5 million
against CocaCola.
ChatmanWilson’s
vehicle was struck by a CocaCola
company station
wagon driven by Araceli Vanessa Cabral who was on a business call on her handsfree
cell
phone – allowed by company policy.
Not only did ChatmanWilson
suffer a spinal injury, but she required back surgery and was
assigned 25 percent disability.
Unfortunatlely, disracted driving accidents are becoming rather commonplace. A 2010
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study states that in 2009, 5,474 people were
killed on U.S. roadways and about an 448,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes
attributed to distracted driving. Approximately one in five deaths was linked directly to cell
phone use.