Cell phone use leads to employer settlement

International Paper Co. recently settled for $5.2 million a lawsuit filed by a woman who lost her arm following an automobile accident. The plaintiff’s car was rear-ended by a car driven by an International Paper employee who was allegedly using her company-issued cell phone. The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that the employee’s use of the cell phone while driving at a cruise-controlled 77 m.p.h. in a 70 m.p.h. zone constituted intentional negligence under Georgia law. According to the article on Law.com:

The employee’s cell phone use had a “huge impact” on the final settlement amount . . .That’s true even though the exact timing of the employee’s cell phone use was never determined.

International Paper contended that the employee was not actually on the phone at the moment the collision occurred . . . The employee testified at deposition that she had used the cell phone just prior to getting on the interstate, and the accident occurred nearly two miles later. A witness, however, testified that he had seen her with the phone to her ear at the time of the collision.

“They were concerned the effect this would have on a jury, to know the driver was on a cell phone” . . .

8 thoughts on “Cell phone use leads to employer settlement”

  1. This is an unfortunate story, but it reminds me of some comedy bit I’ve heard about witnesses and cops. Everybody always likes to trash ‘the fuzz,’ until they witness a crime, and then they start giving their home telephone number to the police in case they need witnesses. All of a sudden they want to be best friends with the police at the prospect of helping to solve a crime or being called to court as a witness.

  2. In the article it states that there is “a cell phone statute in Georgia that says the driver is not to do things that are distracting.” It seems odd to me that McArthur considered setting cruise control only seven miles above the speed limit distracting. How is having your car set on cruise control distracting, especially since she claims she wasn’t even on the phone at the time of the accident?

    Also, if “juries have not reacted favorably to employers whose employee-drivers caused accidents while using a cell phone” as stated by McArthur, it seems like Georgia’s law should just prohibit using cell phones while driving. This would prevent unfair application of the law (they seem to give a higher weight of guilt to business employees) because after all, what is the difference between talking on the phone with a friend and talking with a business client?

  3. It is not just setting the cruise control above the speed limit but also the combination of cell phone usage that makes the act distracting. The employee could easily be lying since there is a witness account of the employee visibly using the cell phone at the time of the collision. The employee could have reasonably foreseen that speeding and being on the cell phone could “cause greater impairments than legal intoxication” which supports the case of intentional negligence. The woman did have to amputate her arm up to the shoulder following the accident and should be able to sue for damages.

    There is a vast array of technology available today including speaker phones and hands free devices so the need to keep a cell phone to one’s ear while driving and increasing the risk of an accident is unnecessary.

  4. I agree that there is a lot of technology out there that can reduce the risk of using cell phones while driving. However, unlike some states who ban cell phone usage without an ear piece, Georgia’s law permits any type of cell phone usage, even hand held. This means that the law permits driving a car, while using a hand held cell phone, as long as you are not doing something distracting. I agree with you that they interpreted going seven miles an hour over the speed limit as distracting.

    Speeding is negligence in itself, regardless of using a cell phone or not, because the state sets speed limits for safety and if you exceed that limit it can be reasonably foreseeable that there will be imminent danger.

    I think this case is a perfect example of why states should enact statutes that ban hand held cell phone usage. It is inevitable that people are going to drive above the speed limit, and in this age of technology and communication, that they are going to be using their cell phones. If states enforce laws that require head sets, it would benefit the greater good.

  5. It is not just that she was driving seven miles above the speed limit. Her use of cruise control is part of the negligence analysis. Cruise control disengages the driver from the act of driving. It removes the need to constantly monitor and adjust pressure on the gas pedal and one’s relationship to other cars on the road. At 77 miles an hour a half-second of delayed response can be critical. Talking on the phone can further distance a driver from her surroundings.

    There were articles in the news last week stating that the danger of cell phones does not turn on whether they are used hands-free or hand-held. The studies cited report that it is the act of talking on the phone with a person absent from the car that creates the danger. They suggest that requiring hands-free devices will not be a panacea.

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