Here’s proof that allowing employees to talk on cell phones for business purposes while they’re driving can be costly.
A Texas jury says Coca-Cola Enterprises should pay a woman more than $22 million because one of the company’s employees struck the woman’s car while she was talking on a cell phone about business.
Vanice Chatman-Wilson sued the other driver, Araceli Cabral, and Cabral’s employer, Coca-Cola, after she suffered neck and back injuries due to a 2010 car crash in Corpus Christi, Texas. Chatman-Wilson had lumbar surgery as a result. She continues to have a 25% disability.
Cabral was on a business call on her hands-free cell phone when her car struck Chatman-Wilson’s in an intersection. Cabral said she thought she had the right of way, but it turned out she did not.
Chatman-Wilson’s attorney successfully argued that just because Cabral wasn’t holding a phone didn’t mean she wasn’t distracted by the conversation.
The attorney presented studies that showed there is just as much distraction for a driver using a hands-free phone as a hand-held one.
In a statement following the jury verdict, Coca Cola said its “cell phone policy, which requires the use of a hands-free device when operating a motor vehicle, is completely consistent with, and in fact, exceeds the requirements of Texas law.” Coca-Cola plans to appeal.
The jury awarded Chatman-Wilson more than $11.5 million for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Jurors also awarded her $10 million in punitive damages.
Chatman-Wilson’s attorney, Thomas Henry, said, “Corporations big and small are getting a wake-up call that allowing your employees to use cell phones while driving is a big risk.”
Does your company have a cell phone policy, and if so, what is it? Should states ban the use of cell phones while driving? Does hands-free or hand-held matter? Let us know what you think in the comments below.