Punitive Damages Appropriate For Drunk Driving Texting?
As a frequent blogger on legal issues over the last several years, I spend a lot of time looking for stories and thinking of ways that I can can blog about topics that will be instructive to people (and particularly Floridians) who are in need of information relative to Florida personal injury law. Along these lines, I read a harrowing article in the New York Times that seems like a perfect illustration of a case where punitive damages should be available, and should be sought in a personal injury case.
In the case at issue, an avid bicyclist (who, ironically, was also an outspoken bicycle safety advocate) from the Baltimore, Maryland area, was hit and killed by a car being driven by a prominent Bishop in the Maryland Episcopal Diocese.
According to police, the Bishop was legally intoxicated at the time of the crash, and was also texting. In addition, the Bishop reportedly left the scene of the crash, and the bicyclist in the road, while she drove home and called one of her church colleagues to help her. Needless to say, the Bishop made several outrageous errors in judgment that lead to the death of the bicyclist.
The law in Florida is a little less settled when it comes to punishing drivers who injure someone while they are texting, although recent trends suggest that texting while driving should be cause for punitive damages. However, when those two clearly dangerous and life-threatening driving behaviors are combined, it would seem appropriate to levy some kind of extra punitive damages — if such a thing were possible. There is nothing more dangerous that I can think of than for a drunk person to drive and text at the same time. Catastrophic results are almost guaranteed to happen.
(As an additional aggravating factor in the Baltimore case, it appears that the Bishop had recently been charged in another case with driving under the influence. This, of course, suggests that the Bishop has a drinking problem and perhaps should not have been on the road.)
I certainly do not know whether a civil claim for wrongful death
was, or has been, brought against the Bishop on behalf of the Estate and survivors of the deceased bicyclist. I certainly hope that one has, and that the Bishop’s insurance company has adequately compensated the family of the deceased. For the sake of the surviving family, I also hope that the bicyclist carried plenty of Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage
. Many people do not realize that this type of coverage can be used to compensate injured people who own cars, even if they are not in their car when they are involved in a car accident.