Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Texting While Driving – Is It Worthy of Punitive Damages?

In a Reddit post from a few months ago, a user posted a dashcam video of a driver looking at his phone. Each time the driver is distracted, the view goes black, representing the driver’s inability to see the road in front of him while looking at his phone. The video, although probably not scientifically accurate, does remind the viewer how much one can miss while looking at your phone. It also reminded me of an argument that causing a crash while looking at your phone is not only negligence, but also worthy of punitive damages. Are punitive damages viable in a distracted driving case? Here’s my take.

Exploring the Viability of Punitive Damages in Distracted Driving Cases

For punitive damages to apply, the plaintiff in a car crash case must show that the other driver “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.” MAI 6.02 [1998 Revision]. In addition, Missouri law prohibits car crash victims from alleging punitive damages in the petition. Instead, one must get permission from the judge to add punitive damages to the case. To do that, the plaintiff must file a motion “establishing a reasonable basis for recovery of punitive damages.” R.S.Mo. Sec. 510.261.5 (2020). The statute also adds a few more hoops a car crash victim must go through to get punitive damages.

Despite the roadblocks the law has placed in the way of punitive damages, I believe that causing a crash because of distracted driving qualifies for punitive damages. The universal truth is that distracted driving is dangerous. I believe another universal truth is that everyone knows it is. Therefore, when someone drives while distracted, they know they are disregarding other drivers’ safety. So long as the at-fault driver testifies under oath that they knew distracted driving was dangerous, then punitive damages should be awarded.

With careful preparation and discovery in a car crash case, I believe punitive damages should be available for anyone who has been the victim of distracted driving. If you or a loved one has been such a victim, please contact my office. We offer free consultations and will gladly help.

More Resources:

Distracted Driving: The Trouble With Texting

Texting While Driving Laws & Injury Cases