Imagine that you or a loved one were seriously injured by a driver who was talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident. Now imagine that the driver was operating a large commercial truck on behalf of a business with a nearly non-existent cell phone driving policy. Upsetting? That is what happened to a woman in Corpus Christi, Texas who was struck by a Coca-Cola truck driver who had been talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. Last month the matter went to trial and the jury awarded the injured woman $21 million in damages.
The attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Coca-Cola’s cell phone policy for its drivers which allowed “hands-free calling” was both vague and ambiguous. They also suggested that Coca-Cola was aware of the dangers of driving while on the phone but “withheld this information from its employee driver,” which led directly to the circumstances that caused the accident.
It became apparent during depositions, particularly during the deposition of the driver, that Coke had a real problem when it came to its cell phone use policy. The lawyer for the plaintiff used this to his advantage and made a plea to the jury to send a message to Coke and other corporations that any policy that allows drivers of a large truck to talk on the phone while driving is unacceptable. The jury obviously agreed and returned from their deliberations slamming Coke with one of the largest verdicts in recent memory.
Although Coke has pledged to appeal the $21 million verdicts as excessive, make no mistake that the verdict has raised corporate eyebrows across the country, and many companies are likely to reevaluate their “talking while driving” policy accordingly.
Ultimately, this case shows the usefulness of the American tort law system. In the wake of a jury verdict such as this, corporations will be making internal policy changes that are geared towards making the roads safer for corporate truck drivers and single automobile operators alike.
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