Punitive Damages for Texting and Driving

A Collier County circuit court judge has ruled that the punitive damages can be sought in a case where the driver who ran over and killed a cyclist was alleged to have been texting and driving. Typically, only compensatory damages are permitted.

The O’Brien Law Firm represents families of those killed by the negligence of car and truck drivers.  We have handled wrongful death cases involving car and truck drivers injuring and/or causing the death of bikers.

Recently, in a case involving a car vs. bicyclist crash that caused death, Attorney Aaron O’Brien wrote a warning to the insurance company of the driver.  Mr. O’Brien asserted boldly that although it may not have been done yet in Florida, he intended to seek and collect punitive damages from the driver, whom O’Brien alleged was texting and driving at or near the time of the crash.

Whether or not another law will do any good, if texting and driving is as reckless as driving while intoxicated, the civil damage consequences should be just as high.

Related to this news story, unfortunately, the News-Press has since removed their article from their website. However, we’ll print that News-Press article in full below:

James Caskey Jr. was riding his tricycle on a clear August morning in North Naples when he was struck by a car and died from head injuries.

In what the 62-year-old Caskey’s widow, Margaret S. Caskey, 64, and her attorneys say is a first in Florida, a Collier circuit judge has ruled that punitive, or triple, damages can be sought in her lawsuit because of her claim that the driver in the crash was text messaging. The driver and defense attorneys deny the allegation. The case is scheduled for trial in March.

About the same time that case is going to court, lawmakers will once again debate whether they should make texting while driving illegal. The odds are long that the bill — being co-sponsored by state Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, a highway safety advocate whose daughter, Dori, died in a car crash several years ago — will even get out of committee. It went down to defeat last year, partly because legislators question how it can be enforced and partly because of the anti-government regulation atmosphere that prevails in Tallahassee.

Highway safety advocates say if legislators fail to act, the legal system will have to deal with the problem in cases such as Caskey’s.

Laws against texting and driving are mounting throughout the United States and other countries. Thirty-five states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have bans on texting and driving, as do Germany and the United Kingdom. Locally, the Lee and Collier school districts are among agencies that have personnel policies prohibiting texting by employees while driving agency vehicles.

The reason for the backlash is statistics. Texting while driving resulted in 16,141 deaths from 2001 to 2007, according to a study released last year by the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that long-haul truckers increased the risk of crashes by 23 times when texting.

And a 2009 Car and Driver magazine experiment found that texting while driving had a greater impact on safety, including longer stopping distances, than driving drunk.