In a groundbreaking Atlanta car accident case, lawyers have received an unfortunate decision on whether a driver who causes a crash and injury because of cell phone use can be sued for punitive damages. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in Lindsey v. Clinch County Glass Inc. No A11A1313 that where a driver caused a car accident while talking on a cell phone, the injured party cannot pursue a claim for punitive damages.
Georgia law allows a party to sue for punitive damages when there is a “pattern or police of dangerous driving, such as excessive speeding or driving under the influence.” But the Court stopped short of finding that talking on a cell phone and causing a crash was anything more than a violation of the rules of the road. The decision did not bar a car accident victim from seeking punitive damages in cases where the at fault driver was texting and driving although no case has specifically said that texting enables a punitive damages claim either.
Studies abound showing that cell phone use distracts a driver on the same level that driving under the influence does. Those studies were cited in the case, but did not persuade the Court. There is stronger evidence that texting is bar far the most dangerous. While this ruling is a setback for car accident victims, there is sound logic behind the court’s decision. The case will now proceed onto the Georgia Supreme Court but I would be surprised if it is overturned.