Earlier this year a Corpus Christi jury awarded $24 million to a woman struck in 2010 by a Coca-Cola driver who was using a cellphone. Vanice Chatman-Wilson, 37, was awarded $10 million in punitive damages and $14 million in actual damages.
Chatman-Wilson was left with severe pain in her neck, lower back, upper back and in February 2011 she had lumbar surgery, said Thomas J. Henry, one of her attorneys.
Bob Hilliard, Chatman-Wilson’s other attorney, said Coca-Cola had no enforcement of a cellphone policy. “Not only does Coke need to change it, but when other companies hear the verdict they will take a look at their policies,” he said.
But will they? We certainly hope so. Coca-Cola’s cellphone policy requires the use of a hands-free device when operating a vehicle, according to a statement released by the company.
In a stunnning display of arrogance, Coca Cola issued a statement claiming that there is no connection between Chatman-Wilson’s injuries and the damages awarded. What it should have recognized is that its employees were unaware of the risks of distracted driving because the company had failed to communicate them.
Henry said the company allowed its employees to use a cellphone for business whenever necessary, but failed to inform them about the risks associated with talking on a cellphone while driving.
Araceli Vanessa-Cabral, 30, the driver of the truck, testified that if she knew about the risks she never would have used a cellphone while driving, Henry said.
The attorneys said the $10 million in punitive damages was the jury’s way of telling Coca-Cola Enterprises that it needs to change its cellphone policy.
This may be the largest amount ever to hit a U.S. employer.
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“We really need better rules, regulations and laws,” Henry said, “and corporations need to have a no-cellphone policy while operating a vehicle.”
Coca-Cola said it plans to appeal. Good luck with that.
$10 million in punitive damages. Isn't that message loud and clear?