Published on:

USE OF CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING NOT ENOUGH TO SUPPORT PUNITIVE DAMAGES

Posted by Christina Cribbs
In Ellis v. Old Bridge Transp., LLC, defendant truck driver was on-duty when he was involved in an accident with plaintiff. 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177897 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 17, 2012). Plaintiff alleged that because the truck driver was talking on his cell phone at the time of the accident, showing a conscious disregard for the consequences of his actions, she was entitled to punitive damages. The Court quickly disposed of plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against the truck driver, relying on Lindsey v. Clinch County Glass, Inc., a 2011 Georgia Court of Appeals case that held that even when defendant was on his cell phone at the time of the accident and had a pattern of using his cell phone while driving, plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. 312 Ga. App. 534 (2011). In Ellis, the truck driver had no history of distraction related accidents or traffic violations, therefore, his use of the cell phone alone was not enough to prove punitive damages.

Next, the Court addressed plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against Old Bridge, the truck driver’s employer. Plaintiff alleged that Old Bridge was liable for the negligent training and supervision of the truck driver because Old Bridge had a policy against cell phone use while driving, and it knew that its drivers did not comply with the policy. The Court found no merit in plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against Old Bridge, finding that plaintiff was trying to “impose punitive damages upon an employer for failing to assure that its employee did not engage in conduct that is otherwise lawful and has been found by the Georgia Court of Appeals not to demonstrate a conscious disregard for safety.” Even in light of Old Bridge’s policy against cell phone use while driving, the Court found that use of a cell phone during an accident, without more, does not support an award of punitive damages. Accordingly, the Court granted both the truck driver and Old Bridge’s Motions for Summary Judgment on plaintiff’s punitive damages claims.

The Lindsey and Ellis cases are certainly good for our clients and clearly demonstrate the high burden necessary to hold defendants liable on a claim for punitive damages.