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Distracted Driving Lawsuit Blames Cell Phone Companies

By Minara El-Rahman | Last updated on

The daughter of a victim of distracted driving is suing the cellphone provider and the maker of the phone used by the driver who killed her mother.

According to the New York Times, Jennifer Smith has sued both Sprint, Nextel and Samsung for the unfortunate death of her mother, Linda Doyle. This not the lawsuit placing blame on a cellphone service provider for someone else driving while talking, but the plaintiff hopes her case will fare better than its predecessors due to increased knowledge of the danger of mixing cell phones and driving. 

Linda Doyle was killed in a car accident that involved another driver who was distracted with his cellphone while he was driving. The complaint (which you can read here) alleges that both Sprint/Nextel and Samsung were negligent because they failed to properly warn the distracted driver of the hazard of cell phone use while driving. The complaint also claims that such an accident was foreseeable in the course of business of both companies.

The New York Times  reports that while Samsung has refused to comment on the lawsuit, Sprint Nextel has claimed that it rejects the allegations of negligence listed in Ms. Smith's complaint because it supplied safety warnings on its packaging, user manuals, websites, and its advertising.

Currently, there has been a lot of discussion about the dangers of distracted driving because of cellphones. Findlaw has noted that that safety experts think that cellphones are the main cause of distracted driving. Distracted driving causes 600,000 annually, 2,600 deaths, and more than 300,000 injuries on the road.

Distracted driving costs the nation approximately $40 billion dollars a year. The Obama Administration held a Distracted Driving Summit in Sept. 2009 and plans on introducing federal laws banning cellphone use and texting. In fact, we wrote  how 97% of Americans polled by the New York Times/CBS poll supported a ban on texting while driving.

Where do cellphone companies fall in the blame game? Kenneth A. Bamberger, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law told the New York Times, "This is a compelling type of legal claim. It deals with the widespread use of a product we now know is involved in significant risk and deals with the ultimate question of who should contribute in minimizing the risk."

While at least one previous cases has dismissed the claim that cell phone service providers should be held liable for the actions of those driving while talking, due to the unforeseeability of the accident coupled with absence of a legal relationship between the company and the victim, there might now be a more compelling argument for Ms. Smith. Legislation, surveys and sheer numbers provide Ms. Smith with a more viable argument that everybody, including cell phone makers and service providers know the risks associated with driving while talking.

Ms. Smith is seeking over $10,000 in damages.

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