Friday, August 16, 2013

Judge Nealon of Lackawanna County Addresses Novel Issue of Viability of Punitive Damages Claim For Distraction by GPS While Driving

Judge Terrence R. Nealon has written an excellent and thoroughly researched Opinion on the novel case of first impression of whether a punitive damages claim may be pursued in an auto accident case against a defendant driver on the basis that the defendant was distracted by looking down at a GPS on a smart phone at the time of the accident.

In the case of Rockwell v. Knott, No. 12 CV 1114 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Aug. 13, 2013 Nealon, J.), the defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on this punitive damages claim.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County
In his detailed Opinion, Judge Nealon noted there were a few Pennsylvania court of common pleas decisions involving cell phone use (which does not divert the driver's eyes and attention from the roadway), but nothing involving texting while driving, or use of a cell phone GPS, which could cause far greater driver distraction. 

The court also reviewed similar cases from other jurisdictions to round out the analysis on the issues presented of driver distraction by mobile devices.

While Judge Nealon noted in his Opinion that looking away from the road at a GPS on a smart phone to the point of distraction could arguably amount to reckless conduct to support a punitive damages claim, the record before the court in this particular matter failed to contain any evidence to support the claim that the defendant driver was indeed so distracted at the time of the accident.

As such, the defendant's motion for partial summary judgment on the punitive damages claim was granted by the court.

This case has settled since the issuance of the Opinion and, therefore, there will be no appellate review of this case.

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion by Judge Nealon in the case of Rockwell v. Knott may click on this LINK

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