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PA and NJ Car Accident Law Update: Cell Phone Use and Distracted Driving

Car Accidents Due to Cell Phone Use-What Types of Claims an Injured Party Can Make in Pennsylvania or New Jersey

Cell phone use while driving is reaching epidemic proportions.  Each day in the U.S., there is a death or serious injury resulting from talking, texting or otherwise using a cell phone while driving. Teens are particularly at risk. In fact, car accidents are the number one cause of death for teens.  

Some of the claims which can be made in a cell phone use car accident case in PA or NJ include:

  • negligence
  • negligent entrustment
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • punitive damages
  • loss of consortium

Negligence claims are based on a driver’s failure to adhere to common standards of conduct on the road.  

Negligent entrustment claims are what they sound like, negligently entrusting a car to someone who should not be driving.  The most common example is a parent who provides their car to their minor child who has a history of accidents and irresponsible driving.

Negligent infliction of emotional distress claims are made in a situation where a family member sees another family member become injured, like a passenger-wife who sees her driver-husband seriously injured in a car accident.

Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the defendant for outrageous actions and also serve as a deterrence for future conduct.  

Loss of consortium claims are made by the spouses of the injured, and are meant to compensate for loss of comfort, society and relationship as a result of the injuries.

In the past few years, as cell phone use has continued to cause car accidents, there have been several Pennsylvania court opinions dealing with the viability of certain types of claims.  

Punitive Damages - Linehan v. Jaludi (Jan. 2010)

In this Pike County case, the court allowed a punitive damages claim against the defendant driver who was talking on her cell phone in a school zone, where the plaintiff’s patrol car was pulled to the side with its flashing lights on.

This case clearly supports a punitive damages claim where the defendant driver used a cell phone at the time of the accident, in a school zone, construction zone or where other warnings were indicated, like flashing lights.  Cell phone use in and of itself will not subject a defendant driver to a punitive damages claim, but using a cell phone where the driver should be paying particular attention to the road, very well may.

Negligent Entrustment - Good v. Whitt (Oct. 2011)

In this Berks County case, the court shot down a plaintiff’s negligent entrustment claim against a car owner who allowed a young/inexperienced driver to use their car.  That driver used a cell phone and caused an accident.  Importantly, the court found that since there was no history of the young driver’s use of a cell phone while driving or reputation for irresponsible driving, the owner could not be held liable for negligent entrustment.  

This case is an important teaching tool in car accident cases caused by cell phone use.  It shows that a claim against a car owner for negligent entrustment could survive where the actual driver had a history of using their cell phone while driving. 

It is crucial to have a knowledgeable and experienced car accident lawyer assess the facts of the case to determine all types of claims which can be made under the laws in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. 

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a PA or NJ area car accident caused by texting or cell phone use, our lawyers will provide answers to your questions and legal advice on whether there is a case and how to proceed. Contact a Pennsylvania and New Jersey personal injury lawyer at White & Williams LLP today. We will provide a free, no obligation consultation on your case - 1-877-944-8396.


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