Business as Usual Via Cellular Equals $22 Million in Damages
A Texas woman was awarded over $22 million in damages by a state court jury who found Coca-Cola and one of their marketing representatives at fault, because the employee was driving distracted while conducting business via a hands-free cellular device when the crash occurred.
Vanice Chatman-Wilson, 37, was driving to work at a payday loan store when Araceli Venessa Caral steered into oncoming traffic, mistaking the red traffic signal for a turn arrow that was green. Caral’s station wagon impacted Chatman-Wilson’s side of the car substantially injuring the driver (Chatman-Wilson).
Facts presented by one of the plaintiffs also indicated that Caral was following Coca-Cola’s policy in handling business matters via cellphone while traveling between physical locations in her representation of the corporation when the crash occurred that August day in 2010. Evidence was presented by an expert who specializes in head trauma law, stating that engaging in any type of cellular communications while operating a motor vehicle, whether talking on a hands-free or a hand-held device, is distracted driving.
Also presented were statistical studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and University of Utah. Pursuant to the former data, 5,474 traffic deaths occurred in 2010 – cellular phone usage is directly linked to one in five of those deaths -- and approximately 448,000 injuries suffered in roadway crashes in 2009 are attributable to distracted driving. The 2006 Utah study demonstrated that driving while using a cell phone is statistically as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 (e.g., legally intoxicated).
The Nuences County, Texas jury awarded Chatman-Wilson damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages in the amount of $11.5 million, and punitive damages to be paid by Coca-Cola in the amount of $10 million.
Attorneys for the defense provided a written statement, he indicated that Coca-Cola’s policy, requiring employees to utilize hands-free cellular phone options while operating motor vehicles, is in compliance with Texas law. Coca-Cola plans to appeal the verdict, according to Barger.
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