In 1979 the California Supreme Court ruled that a defendant’s “conscious disregard of the risk” of Driving under the Influence was enough evidence of the malice required by the law to justify the awarding of “punitive damages” against the person who caused the accident. One who voluntarily commenced and continued to consume alcoholic beverages to the point of intoxication, knowing from the beginning that he/she thereafter had to operate a motor vehicle, demonstrated “such a conscious and deliberate disregard for the interests of others that his/her conduct might be called willful or wanton” so as to justify the imposition of “punitive damages”.
Numerous studies have suggested that using a cell phone, either hands-free or otherwise, is even more dangerous and more likely to lead to an accident than a person operating a motor vehicle (Driving while Intoxicated – DWI) above the legal limit of the .08 blood alcohol level. So – maybe the same logic should apply to DWT – Driving While Talking (or Texting)? If a person insists on talking on a cell phone or texting on a cell phone they should arguably be forced to pay punitive damages as is the case with someone who causes injury while driving under the influence.
A Virginia Tech study by the Transportation Institute found truckers who talk on cell phones to be 23 times more likely to have an accident than someone who is not distracted by texting or talking. Psychologists from the University of Utah said “We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit” of .08 percent.
The University of Utah psychologists, like the others who have published similar studies, state that, “If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving.” The legislators in California have already passed a weak version of this idea which bans the use of hand-held devices in California.
We have all been on the street or driving and seen driver after driver talking or texting on their hand-held cell phones. Many drivers are not getting the message, or worse, ignoring it. Something else is necessary if this practice is going to be, if not curtailed, at least significantly reduced.
Would you believe a woman recently suffered multiple injuries after taking a 60-foot fall off of a cliff? She was texting while walking when she fell. We all should know that Texting while driving claims far too many lives – but did you ever consider the potential danger of texting while walking?
If people realized they were putting their own assets at risk every time they drove and spoke on a cell phone or text on a cell phone, then they might think twice about doing so. Remember, insurance cannot cover punitive damages, and, punitive damages are not dischargeable in Bankruptcy. In other words, your own assets would be at risk if you DWT (or T).
It seems logical that sooner or later, some court will let a jury award punitive damages based on the same logic as that which allows punitive damages for driving under the influence of alcohol. The issue would then become: Is it worth the risk?


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