According to the Corpus Christi Caller Times, a Corpus Christi jury awarded $24 million last Friday to a woman that was catastrophically injured by a Coca-Cola driver that was using her cellphone at the time of the collision. Of the $24 million awarded, $14 million was allocated for actual damages (the damages to compensate the plaintiff for the terrible injuries she sustained – past and future medical bills, past and future loss of earning capacity, and past and future pain, impairment and disfigurement) and $10 million was allocated to punitive damages (those damages that are meant to deter such conduct in the future).
Vanice Chatman-Wilson was terribly injured in the collision with the Coke truck. She is only thirty-seven and has already undergone lumbar spine surgery for one of her injuries. According to the attorneys’ statements, Coca-Cola was hit with punitive damages for its cellphone policy and lack of enforcement. The driver of the Coca-Cola truck was using a cellphone at the time of the collision, despite the company’s policy of requiring a hands-free device for making or receiving calls when the drivers operate a vehicle. The evidence at trial showed that Coca-Cola Enterprises allows its drivers to use a cellphone for business whenever necessary and did not enforce the hands-free rule.
Attorneys for the injured victim argued that Coca-Cola should have had a no-cellphone policy in place for when its drivers are operating the vehicles. The attorneys also argue that the company should have informed its drivers on the risks inherent in operating a commercial vehicle while driving and outlawed the practice altogether. The $10 million in punitive damages was the jury’s way of trying to change Coke’s policy on allowing its drivers to talk on a cellphone while driving. This was a strong and clear message from the citizens of Nueces County.