Friday, October 12, 2018

Punitive Damages Claims Allowed Against Tractor Trailer Driver Allegedly Using Cell Phone in White Out Conditions

In the case of Ehler v. Old Dominion Freight Line, No. 2018 -00307 (C.P. Lebanon Co. Aug. 30, 2018 Charles, J.), the court denied Preliminary Objections filed by a trucking Defendant against claims of recklessness and punitive damages based upon allegations that the commercial truck driver was allegedly using a cell phone at the time of the accident. 

This matter arose out of a multi-vehicle accident involving 64 vehicles under wintry conditions on a highway.  

After reviewing the general law pertaining to punitive damages, the court also pointed to Pennsylvania’s Distracted Driving Law, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1622, which prohibited commercial drivers from utilizing hand held mobile devices while driving, except in emergency situations.  

The court otherwise noted that a review of case law from Pennsylvania and other jurisdiction did not provide a clear consensus as to whether the use of a cell phone while driving, in and of itself, constituted recklessness.

However, the court noted that, under the facts before it, driving a commercial truck while using a cell phone was a violation of state law.  

The court additionally noted that the weather involved white out conditions at the time of the accident.   The court included this factor in determining that the Preliminary Objections should be denied on claims of recklessness in terms of using a cell phone while driving a commercial vehicle in white out conditions.  

Although the court denied the Preliminary Objections, it noted that the issue could be subject to further review once discovery was completed on issues presented.  

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.”  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (October 2, 2018).

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