Thursday, March 8, 2018

Punitive Damages Claims Allowed to Proceed Based Upon Distracted Driving Due to Cell Phone Use

In the case of Hilliard v. Panezich, No. 1988 of 2015 (C.P. Lawrence Co. Dec. 1, 2017 Cox, J.), the court denied a Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by a Defendant in an automobile accident case where the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant was driving under the influence of marijuana and was also engaged in distracting driving due to looking down at his cell phone on his lap at the time of the accident.  

The court noted that the record before it contained evidence of recklessness including lab results indicated intoxication of the Defendant, the Defendant’s admission of a pattern of driving after smoking marijuana in the past, that the Defendant was traveling at 50 mph in a 45 mph speed limit zone, that the Defendant failed to observe a stop sign, and that the Defendant had looked at his phone on his lap to change music at the time of the accident.

In his decision, Judge Cox noted that Pennsylvania appellate courts have not yet addressed the issue of what standards allow for punitive damages claims to be raised in conjunction with fact patterns involving distracted driving and cellular phones.  

Judge Cox went on to review a number of state and federal trial court decisions from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which have indicated that additional allegations of recklessness beyond mere cell phone use may be required to allow a punitive damages claim to proceed beyond the summary judgment stage.   As noted above, the court also noted the above additional factors raised in this particular case to allow the punitive damages claim to move forward.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Cases,” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (January 9, 2018).

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