In a recent case that we settled, our client suffered serious injuries that included an aggravation to prior neck conditions. At first, her doctors did not recognize the relation of the accident to the worsening condition of her neck. Importantly we were able to speak to her doctors and with their help, she was able to proceed with her medical care. We were able to obtain the necessary expert reports from them, and we were able to prepare her doctors for trial testimony. Surgery ultimately was not required, but nevertheless the doctors’ records and reports ultimately the seriousness and permanency of her injuries.
As it happens, the driver of the car that turned left in front of our client was on his cell phone at the time of the accident. He was therefore a distracted driver. We filed suit against the defendant-driver and included a claim for punitive damages. We ultimately settled the case for a confidential amount that was in excess of the defendant driver’s policy limits.
What Are Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Case?
Punitive damages may only proceed where the defendant’s conduct is “outrageous” or when a defendant shows “reckless indifference to the rights of others”. Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 555 A.2d 800, 803 (Pa. 1989). This is well known, and what lawyers call hornbook law.
Pennsylvania Laws Concerning Distracted Driving and Punitive Damages
Nevertheless, trial courts are generally reluctant to permit punitive damages claims to proceed solely on the basis of boilerplate allegations of the reckless conduct of the driver. For instance, in the case of Manning v. Barber, No. 17-7915 (C.C.P. Cumberland. County. 2018), the trial dismissed the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim (but allowed the negligence claim to go forward) because the plaintiff only alleged that the defendant was looking at his phone while driving.
How We Kept The Punitive Damage Claim in The Case
In our client’s case we were able to the defendant’s phone records and show he had made multiple phone calls preceding the moment of impact, was an inexperienced driver, and had accumulated speeding tickets in the months prior to the accident. This, and other evidence, was enough to keep the punitive damage claim in the case. We leveraged the potential of a punitive damages verdict in the settlement negotiations, thus getting out client more money than the insurance company would have otherwise paid.
What Are The Three Types of Distracted Driving?
We at Carpey Law handle many cases involving distracted drivers who injure our clients. Of course, with more drivers on the road, and with the prevalence of cell phone use, these kinds of cases are becoming more and more common. These cases can take the form of:
- Manual distraction (hands coming off the steering wheel to reach for cell phone/GPS/radio)
- Visual distraction (looking away from the driving path)
- Cognitive distraction (not paying attention to your driving)
Can you Get Punitive Damages in a Distracted Driving Settlement?
The Pennsylvania courts are moving towards allowing punitive damages claims to proceed in distracted driving cases. These claims are brought by showing reckless and dangerous behavior by the defendant. Just being able to show the defendant driver was inattentive or negligent is not enough to bring a punitive damage claim, although it is enough to proceed with a case in negligence. Additional evidence is necessary to prove a punitive damage claim, over and above the evidence needed to prove the other driver was negligent and caused injuries to the plaintiff. Insurance companies will fight to keep punitive damage claims out of a case, but we at Carpey Law know how to defeat the insurance companies and their attorneys and have been doing just that for over 30 years.
Why Choose Carpey Law if You’ve Been in a Car Accident
This case is a perfect example of the kind of lawyering Carpey Law is known for. We took a straightforward car accident case, dug into the facts, analyzed complex evidence, and maximized our client’s financial com.
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.