Truck and car accidents, as well pedestrian and bicycle accidents, are being increasingly caused by texting while driving. Drivers who send text messages while driving divert their eyes from the road, thereby drifting and becoming disoriented. Simulations show that texting and driving are as dangerous as drunk driving. I have handled several of these cases and am currently handling a new one with a twist — a police officer diverted his eyes from the road while typing on his in-car laptop computer and made a left hand turn into my client’s lane of travel. My client suffered a significant traumatic brain injury as a result.
Our roads are dangerous enough as is, with the following scenarios being all too common: drunk driver, fatigued truck driver, physically impaired driver, speeding driver, inexperienced driver with a carload of passengers and the radio cranked, and on and on. With the inception of text messaging, a new hazard was born. As a long distance runner, I am so wary of these road hazards, that I confine my running to suburban streets in broad daylight where traffic is light and the speed limit is low. Yet, I have been run off the road several times by texters.
I recently researched Ohio law on this topic to see if any cases have been published where an Ohio court allowed a jury to consider punitive damages in a case of texting. (All of my texting cases are pending or have settled thus far.) Surprisingly, there are no published cases on point. Next, I posted a request for similar cases on a listserve that I belong to where my colleagues who regularly represent injured Ohioans share information. Again, no success other than one colleague who was able to get the issue of punitive damages heard by a jury but no published opinion resulted from that case.
Intuitively, I think most Ohio trial courts will allow a jury to consider awarding punitive damages against drivers who cause truck and car accidents by texting while driving rather than paying attention to the road. I am less confident that the Ohio Supreme Court will uphold such a ruling given that they resolve most disputes in favor of insurance companies and big corporations.
Still, in every case it is important to subpoena text records, as well as acquiring the police report and witness statements, to see if texting was involved. Even if punitive damages are not available, the fact that a driver was texting and driving improves the chances of a favorable result at trial and in settlement discussions.