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Cell Phone Use and Car Accidents in Pennsylvania-What is the Law?


Posted on Feb 07, 2012

Cell Phone Use While Driving May Give Rise to a Punitive Damages Claim
A recent, January 2012 Northampton County court case supports what our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers do for victims of cell phone use car accidents in Pennsylvania – seek all possible avenues of financial compensation for serious injuries. One type of claim which can be made in these types of car accidents is a claim for punitive damages, or damages meant to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior which shows a conscious disregard for the safety of others on the road.  To read about other possible claims in a cell phone car accident case, read our free legal article:  Car Accidents Due to Cell Phone Use – What Types of Claims an Injured Party Can Make in PA or NJ.

The first Pennsylvania court to address the issue of punitive damages in a cell phone use car accident case was Linehan v. Jaludi, a 2010 Pike County case. There, the plaintiff was a police officer whose marked patrol car was pulled over to the side of the road with its flashing lights on.  It was a school zone.  The defendant was talking on her cell phone and struck the plaintiff’s car.  In allowing the punitive damages claim, the court reasoned that since the officer’s lights were on and it was a school zone, the plaintiff should have been more aware of her surroundings and showed the requisite conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.

Just two weeks ago, another Pennsylvania court addressed the issue of allowing punitive damages in a cell phone use car accident case.  In Xander v. Kiss, a Northampton County case, the defendant’s mere use of his cell phone at the time of the accident did not rise to the level of outrageous or egregious behavior.  The court found that since there were no other factors, such as speeding or running a red light or stop sign, there was no basis for the punitive damages claim.

The Xander v. Kiss case, in conjunction with the Linehan case, certainly support a claim for punitive damages in cell phone use car accident cases in Pennsylvania. Merely talking on a cell phone will not subject the defendant to a punitive damages claim. There must be some other negligent factor, like driving through a school or construction zone, speeding or running a red light or stop sign. However, these two cases only deal with the situation where a car accident is caused by someone talking on their cell phone.  

What About Punitive Damages for Texing, Emailing or Web Surfing While Driving?
Punitive damages claims are likely to survive in cases where a defendant driver was texting or surfing the web or responding to an email while on the road.  This type of behavior is much more dangerous than simply talking on a cell phone, since they require looking down at the phone and punching in letters/numbers.  Looking away from the road when texting, emailing or web surfing likely rises to the level of outrageous conduct that shows a disregard for the safety of other drivers on the road.  It is only a matter of time before a Pennsylvania court specifically allows it.  For now, our car accident lawyers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey review the facts of each case to determine if this type of claim can be made. 

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