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Distracted Drivers February 12, 2009

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Personal Injury Law, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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I’ve emailed comments on a couple list serves about my opinion on what set of facts would allow punitive damages in Wisconsin.  In Wisconsin, the standard is set forth in the Strenke decision.

The majority opined:

In response to the issues presented, we conclude that
a person acts in an intentional disregard of the rights of the
plaintiff if the person acts with a purpose to disregard the
plaintiff’s rights, or is aware that his or her acts are substantially certain to result in the plaintiff’s rights being disregarded. Furthermore, we determine that a defendant’s conduct giving rise to punitive damages need not be directed at the specific plaintiff seeking punitive damages in order to recover under the statute.

I’ve been thinking about this language as it applies to drivers on cell phones.  The National Safety Council has a few studies about cell phone ban laws across America.  According to nsc.org:

Driver inattention is a leading cause of traffic crashes, responsible for about 80 percent of all collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Check out the link and especially the videos of the drivers who are on their cell phones.   I argue that each one of those drivers were very aware of the risks of driving while on a cell phone  (this applies to driving while texting too).  If they were aware of the risk doesn’t it follow that the punitive damages law would apply to their actions?

Is that a bad thing?  Punitive damages are meant, in part, to prevent individuals and corporations from acting in a manner that will cause harm to others.  So, don’t drive while on your cell phone, or buy a bluetooth headset.

  I’d like to know your thoughts.

Jon Groth is a Wisconsin Personal Injury Attorney handling cases throughout Wisconsin and most recently in West AllisSheboygan,  Plymouth,  and Germantown.

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