There is little dispute that serious and deadly consequences can, and do, result from distracted driving. The ability to stay in touch with anyone, from almost anywhere, makes cell phones an important business tool. However, like many corporations, Coca-Cola is realizing the negative consequences of distracted driving are not limited to individuals; in most jurisdictions, corporations are liable for the negligent actions of its employees. Further, even if they are not, they may be held liable for their own active negligence or participation in wrongful conduct.
A $21 million verdict has been handed down by a Corpus Christi, TX jury, in a 2010 auto accident in which a 37-year-old woman was seriously injured after being hit by a Coca-Cola Refreshments truck. The driver for Coca-Cola was talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. The innocent victim underwent lumbar surgery; she still suffers from permanent nerve damage in her back and has not been able to return to work. Coca-Cola plans to appeal the decision.
Attorneys for the seriously injured victim argued that Coca-Cola was aware of the dangers of driving while talking on the phone, but failed to adequately warn or educate its drivers of those serious dangers. The lawsuit alleged that Coke lacked a comprehensive cell phone policy for its delivery drivers. In fact, Coca-Cola required drivers to use their cell phone, via a hands-free device, while driving. The driver of the truck testified that she was using a headset, in accordance with company policy. She contended that had Coke made her more aware of the serious risks involved with talking on a cell phone while driving, she never would have used her phone.
Currently, laws in Texas make it illegal for all drivers to use a cell phone while driving within a school zone. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices and drivers with a learners permit are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving. School bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving only if children are present. To its credit, the Texas State Legislature decided that these measures did not go far enough; in 2011, it approved a bill which would have made texting while driving illegal throughout the state. True to form in his crusade against citizen safety, Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed the proposed legislation. He argued that the key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is “information and education“ (because that has been working so well, to date :)). Actually, Perry's not wrong about education (lots of it, much more than Perry would be willing to commit funds to), but, with him, it is just lip service to prevent citizens and government from shoving safety legislation down the throats of corporate CEO's
Governor Perry, as usual, has it wrong; as he has had it wrong from the minute he took office in Texas, he placed company profits over the safety of innocent citizens. His veto was meant to prevent Texas corporations from having to spend substantial money to implement a mobile phone ban. But, this time, both he and Coca Cola feel the sting of stupidity. In this case, passing the law would have not only been the safer result; it would have been the cheaper result, as well. And Coca Cola can give Perry 21 million reasons why that is true. While Governor Perry is not alone in his indictment of the civil justice system and innocent victims of corporate wrongdoers, he is, perhaps, the worst offender. Unfortunately, as long as the likes of Rick Perry hold public office, our citizens will be at risk.
America, every state in the union, needs stricter laws preventing cell phone use (of any kind) and other common distractions, while driving. Serious injuries and deaths are incurring all over the country while texting, talking on the phone, eating, applying make-up, changing the radio. In the long-run, protecting corporations at the expense of innocent victims, impacts EVERYONE. As citizens of the U.S., aren’t we entitled to better safety measures, especially with big rigs? Public safety should be addressed first and foremost.
Coca-Cola is now realizing the economic impact from not implementing and enforcing a strict no cell phone policy. It is impossible to tangibly express the emotional and physical toll an auto accident has on the victim, friends and family, but a ban on cell phones can have economic benefits in addition to saving lives. The National Safety Council president and CEO said “Employers should know a policy that prohibits handheld and hands-free cell phone use by all employees while driving is not only a best safety practice but also contributes to the bottom line.”
What can a business do to protect itself and avoid responsibility? Implement a cell phone policy as part of its employee handbook. The policy should prohibit employees from using a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether there are less stringent state restrictions. Remind employees to pull off the road if they must make or take a call. Additionally, businesses should hold periodic training on mobile phone safety. Policies should be in writing; employees should be required to provide written acknowledgement that training has been received. Vigorously enforcing the policy and monitoring employee compliance is crucial to protecting against potential company liability. If it can be determined that a cell phone distraction contributed to a death or injury, a company without a cell phone policy should be held liable. An employer can be held directly responsible because of its own negligent conduct in failing to properly train, encouraging mobile phone use while driving, or in failing to have a policy of discouragement of mobile device use while driving. Coca-Cola would have spent far less on a no cell phone policy training program than $21 million in damages and the loss of health of a young woman. Studies have shown that using a cell phone while driving can delay reaction times as much as a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08, yet most people wouldn’t put talking on the phone in the same category as driving drunk.
Lawsuit Financial strongly supports restrictions on driver distractions of any kind. We actively promote driver safety and publicly addressing the many driving distractions that exist in our daily lives. The more we educate, seriously educate, about the dangers of distracted driving, the better chance we have to improve the safety of our roadways. We also pledge to lend support to those who are trying to do something about this dangerous, life threatening, activity. The Casey Feldman Foundation (CFF) is one organization that seeks to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Organizations and charities like CFF were formed as a result of tragedies to precious family members. Why should it take a tragedy for us to take action? Do we think we're invincible? That it can't happen to us? That may be what Casey Feldman and/or her grieving parents believed before the unimaginable occurred. CFF was born so that something positive could result from a parent's worst nightmare. In additional to its efforts to educate, CFF also provides financial support to individuals, groups, and institutions whose missions are to prevent injuries and death resulting from distracted driving. For a list of causes that CFF supports or to make a contribution, click here.
Lawsuit Financial urges employers to adopt strict policies prohibiting employees from using these mobile devices while driving. If you won’t do it for the safety of your employees or other drivers, do it because you may be found liable for an employee’s negligent conduct and may be responsible for significant damages. It could be the most expensive lesson that any corporate CEO will learn. You think not? Ask the CEO of Coca-Cola what he thinks.
Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.