Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Punitive Damages for Cell Phone Use During Car Accident?

In an Opinion and Order dated January 14, 2010, in the case of Linehan v. Jaludi, No. 1865-2008-Civil (Pike Co. Jan. 14, 2010), Judge Gregory H. Chelak of the Pike County Court of Common Pleas addressed the issue of whether a plaintiff may pursue a claim for punitive damages on the basis that the defendant was jabbering away on cell phone to the point of distraction at the time of the accident.

In this case, the plaintiff was a police officer whose vehicle was stopped on the side of the road with the cruiser's flashing lights activated. Another vehicle was stopped in front of the plaintiff's police car. The defendant, while driving and allegedly talking on her cell phone, allegedly drifted off the roadway and collided with the police car while the plaintiff police officer was inside of the car, resulting in alleged injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff police officer later filed a negligence Complaint in which a punitive damages claim was asserted, in part, on the basis of the defendant using a cell phone at the time of the accident. The defendant filed preliminary objections.

Judge Chelak of the Pike County Court of Common Pleas sustained the defendant's preliminary objections and granted the motion to strike the claim for punitive damages. It was held that the allegations of the Complaint that the defendant was so distracted by her cell phone conversation that she crashed into the plaintiff's police car with its flashing lights were insufficient, in and of themselves, to support the punitive damages claim.

However, citing the case of Pennington v. King, slip copy, 2009 WL 415718, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12779 at 21 (E.D.Pa. 2009, Pratter, J.) as offering support for a punitive damages claim base upon a driver being distracted by cell phone use, the Pike County Court noted that, if discovery turned out to confirm the cell phone use and distraction, by way of cell phone records or otherwise, the plaintiff would have the right to seek to amend the Complaint in an effort to support the possibility of restating the punitive damages claim pursuant to Rule 1033.

I thank Attorney Paul Oven from the Moosic, PA law firm of Dougherty, Leventhal & Price for bringing this case to my attention.

Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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