Negligent Texting Yields Punitive Damage Award in Florida
A Florida Circuit judge awarded punitive damages last week to a plaintiff in a civil negligence suit who suffered damages in a car accident caused by the defendant who was texting while driving. This was the first such award in Florida history, where damages can be had for accidents caused by texting, but usually not punitive damages. Florida does not have laws prohibiting texting while driving and it is only one of eleven states that do not. States that have absolutely no ban on texting while driving, including texting by school bus drivers and inexperienced drivers, include: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota. Some of these states, however, have local laws that control distractions while driving.
Distractions in general are raising concerns over not only the safety of our highways and roads, but the safety of our sidewalks. Studies repeatedly show that most people can’t focus on two things at the same time. Pedestrians that are either texting or otherwise engaged with their smart phones pose a safety threat not only to themselves, but possibly to others as well. A New Jersey town recently passed a law prohibiting texting while walking. In Fort Lee, New Jersey, people caught texting while walking can be issued an $85 ticket. States and cities around the nation have been considering similar measures, most without success. Just how far should state and local governments go in protecting us from ourselves? So far, legislators and officials have been reluctant to control cell phone use beyond the confines of motor vehicles. Where legislators fear to tread, however, judges may walk without concern. Punitive damages could be an effective way to deter people from engaging in the risky behavior of texting while driving, even in states where such behavior is not outright prohibited by law.
Texting while driving is currently banned in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to learn more about the laws in your state regarding cell phone use and texting while driving.
Florida attorney discusses punitive damages in auto accident cases.