The $22 Million Dollar Cell Phone Call

California has laws preventing the use of cellular phones while driving. One prohibits all drivers from using handheld cellular phones. Another other prohibit drivers under 18 from using hands-free cellular phones. And all texting while driving is banned.

Most people understand that holding a cell phone and talking while driving is dangerous and we probably all know from personal experience that any time we are driving we can be distracted by our phones —even a hands free phone.

With the foregoing in mind, the $22 Million Dollar Cell Phone Call case involved a collision involving a Coca Cola Truck crashing into another vehicle. The employee of Coca Cola was talking on her cell phone at the time. Under the law and consistent with Coca Cola policy she was using a hands free device. The evidence showed that employee was so distracted by her conversation; she failed to notice that she did not have a green arrow and turned across traffic and slammed into an occupied passenger car hitting the driver’s side. The driver of the other car suffered a bad spinal injury and suffered permanent disabilities.

Studies have shown that driving while using a cell phone is as dangerous as driving while drunk1. Talking on the phone distracts the driver, and distracted driving causes over 5,000 deaths and almost 450,000 injuries every year in car accidents. The evidenced showed that Coca Cola knew this but had a policy allowing employees to talk on the phone while driving if they used a hands free device.

The case went to trial and the jury found the employee of Coca Cola and Coca Cola responsible and returned a verdict of more than $22 million for the injured driver.

1. Strayer, D.L., Drews, F.A., and Crouch, D.L. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 381-391; Collet, C., et al. Phoning while driving I: a review of epidemiological, psychological, behavioural and physiological studies. Ergonomics, 2010, 53(5), 589-601.

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