Friday, June 15, 2012

Coca-Cola Is Held Liable for Injuries Caused by an Employee's Distracted Driving

A Texas jury has awarded $24 million to a woman who was sideswiped in her vehicle by a Coca-Cola employee who was talking on a cell phone while driving on the job.

Vanice Chatman-Wilson, of Corpus Christi, was left with severe neck and back pain that required surgery. A jury found in her favor, with actual damages of $14 million and punitive damages of $10 million.

Coca-Cola has vowed to appeal the verdict, but plaintiff's attorney Thomas J. Henry says the company should step forward to help resolve the nation's distracted-driving problem. According to an article at, the case could be seen as a wake-up call for employers who have lax rules about employee use of cell phones on the job:

Thomas J. Henry, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, attributed the jury's verdict to the broader public safety issue. 
"Corporations big and small are getting a wake-up call that allowing your employees to use cell phones while driving is a big risk," said Henry, whose firm Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys has offices in Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas. "Basically, distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving."

Some news outlets have reported that the crash was caused by a Coca-Cola employee driving a delivery truck. It actually was caused by a female marketing employee who was driving a station wagon. Reports

The accident occurred in August of 2010 at an intersection in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas. Chatman-Wilson was on the way to her job at a payday lending shop. The Coca-Cola employee, Araceli Venessa Cabral, was on a business call on her hands-free cell phone, per company policy. 
She thought she had a green turn arrow and turned left into oncoming traffic, crushing Chatman-Wilson's car on the driver's side. 
Robert Hilliard, of Hilliard Munoz Gonzalez LLP in Corpus Christi, the other lead attorney for the plaintiff, said the driver was as stunned as his client by the crash. She had no idea she had done anything wrong. 
"She was so involved in that conversation, she had no clue she was turning against the light," he said. "The sad thing is that Coca-Cola driver will go to her grave thinking that she had that green turn arrow, even when her own lawyers admit she didn't."

What was the key issue in the trial? Here is an explanation from

At trial, Henry and Hilliard hammered home the point that just because a driver isn't physically holding a phone doesn't mean he or she isn't distracted by the conversation. Hilliard said the plaintiff's biggest hurdle was challenging jurors' views of appropriate safeguards in cell phone use. 
"This was not a group of people who fully appreciated the diverse risks of distracted driving," he said. "They told us afterward they were surprised to learn that there is just as much cognitive distraction with a hands-free set as with a hand-held cell phone. They knew it was bad to dial, or to text. You don't always appreciate the danger when you're not looking down, but you can be looking straight ahead but completely distracted by the conversation you're having."

The science behind distracted driving is not in dispute, and it was a big part of the trial:

To bolster their case, Henry and Hilliard cited study after study showing the toll of distracted driving due to cell phone use. For example, according to a 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and an estimated 448,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes attributed to distracted driving in 2009. Approximately 1 in 5 of the deaths was linked directly to cell phone use. 
The attorneys also pointed to studies that show the dangers of cell phone use are not limited to the manipulation of a handheld device. One of the seminal studies cited at trial indicated that cell phone use of any sort -- hand-held or hands-free -- creates a 37 percent cognitive distraction, stealing more than a third of the driver's attention.

Testimony showed that Cabral, the Coca-Cola driver, was on the road about three hours each work day, and for most of that time, she was using her cell phone. She testified that she thought the hands-free phone made it safe. Chatman-Watson, the driver of the car that was hit, knows differently. She is left with a 25-percent disability:

Henry said Coca-Cola now has an opportunity not to blindly defend its current policy but to become one of the leaders on the distracted driving issue. 
"There are some big mega corporations that have taken the lead," he said. "Those companies are going to keep their employees -- and the rest of us -- safe. It's a question of whether Coca-Cola is willing to be one of them."


Anonymous said...

How do the ruling elite protect themselves from also becoming dumber than a box of rocks?

Anonymous said...

At least a few people aren't blind and or dumb.

jeffrey spruill said...

How much is 33.3 of 24 mil Mr. Schnauzer?

Anonymous said...

Keep us posted. I bet the lady that was injured will NEVER see one penny.. I hope she does but I doubt it seriously. x

Anonymous said...

LS ET AL, Coca Cola is not going to lose and the cell phone industry is not either.

The CORPORATION OF AMERICA, that is, the United States of America is a corporation run in a deep systematic "underground" by and through all the varieties of "MILITARY." Our MILITARY RUNS OUR LIVES or else you can pretend it is not so.

However, LS you are not going to succeed in the old traditional approach to the problem.

Begin your own ON LINE service as a true American Entrepreneur.

Step One, what is a CIVIL SHEET to be filed in the Court, et Cetera.

LIVINGLIES WORD BLOG has been posted here, Neil Gardner is the ATTORNEY who has the site and his "entrepreneur" leadership is a definite best exercise in imagination. To go forward we must be brutally honest about our situation and Mrs. Schnauzer or you can count on "Alabama" other than what you choose to co-create now AND therefore, in the forward going -- US no such idea at this time -- America's lost imagination is not dead.

Anonymous said...

Mozart's nemesis said that he absolved mediocrity, because the masses didn't actually understand what Wolfgang's radical rants were, in that time.

The spirit of anarchy, which is a word for order that great spirits always insist to see happen during backwards going times, and this has been almost always since the beginning of time, violently misunderstood.

In studying the very "ancient wisdom," of "society," values as liberal and or conservative are simply a matter of relativity in the time past the time that the words are used to describe what cannot be seen until the tomorrow of living the simple first truth in complete transparency has been historical.

IMAGINATION LEGAL SCHNAUZERS, co-create workbooks for couples in a RED STATE as BLUE ANARCHISTS?

You have all that it takes to be the new entrepreneurs for the court system in Alabama.